We take pride in proclaiming Lake Erie as the “walleye capital of the world.” Anglers from across the state take to the Maumee and Sandusky rivers during the spring runs and bounce the big lake’s waves while in search of the fish during the summer.
Sportsmen and women from all around the Midwest have long taken notice of the fishery and flock to the lake like seagulls to spilled french fries at a Port Clinton McDonald’s. The ever-popular walleye is also a tempting target at many of Ohio’s inland lakes for those who can’t make regular treks to the northland.
Buckeyes go so far as to gather by the thousands to celebrate the “Madness at Midnight” on New Year’s Eve as the city of Port Clinton drops a huge walleye effigy while the final seconds of the year tick down to the last. Revelers celebrate with a toast and a wish for solid ice to support a winter’s worth of ice fishing until the spring thaw when the spawning runs begin the cycle again.
It’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t be in piscivorous awe when reeling in their catch or watching fresh fillets sizzling in a cast-iron skillet. Well, guess what “¦ there’s a favorite fishing lake in Idaho where experts and anglers have declared the presence of walleye as unsavory as an alligator in a swimming pool.
Lake Cascade, which includes Lake Cascade State Park, is quietly nestled in the mountains of central Idaho approximately 75 miles north of Boise. A walleye was caught from the lake during the end of August, surprising the angler and local game officials because the closest water known to harbor the species is over 200 miles away.
So, what’s the big deal? It’s really pretty simple from a biological point of view. What’s wonderful in one habitat may sometimes prove to be a disastrous introduction in other areas.
How disastrous? Dale Allen, a regional fisheries manager, explains: “This incident is particularly disheartening for Cascade. Fish and Game spent years rebuilding a world-class perch fishery, and the reservoir is also full of big trout and trophy smallmouth bass. Adding another top predator like walleye will almost certainly impact these other sport fish.”
The result may well overstress the trophy fish populations the biologists had worked so hard to establish. What we understand to work in Ohio lakes does not translate to Idaho lakes with their shorter growing seasons and their longer, harsher winters. Armchair biologists have to leave these decisions to those with a solid understanding of the resources.
Now, the Payette and Snake rivers may also be at risk from the presence of walleye in Lake Cascade, impacting native fish populations in those areas.
While the Fish and Game department has stocked the non-native (to Idaho) walleye in a few select isolated reservoirs where there’s no threat of them spreading, the department’s research has shown that there are limits to the species’ adaptability and suitability to further introductions.
The department issued a press release to update its concerns and to inform anglers in the state: “It is because of their potential threat to existing fisheries that walleye have not been more widely stocked in other Idaho waters. The department receives angler requests to establish new walleye populations every year. For the reasons noted, these requests are courteously denied. Unfortunately, some self-serving anglers are not willing to take ‘no’ for an answer, instead taking matters into their own hands.”
If found, those hands may well end up in handcuffs. What someone thought was a favor to Idaho anglers may actually threaten the very fisheries they obviously enjoy. Idaho Fish and Game is offering a reward to try to solve the unsettling mystery of how walleye ended up in the lake while hoping to possibly file charges against the responsible culprits.
Officials believe that the fish had to have been illegally stocked, and resources will be diverted to expand fish sampling later this year to see how big of a problem has been created. Their law-dogs have also been unleashed to look into the issue.
How much trouble was it for these armchair biologists to toss walleye into Lake Cascade?
“The walleye traveled so far to Lake Cascade that a significant effort was required by whoever is responsible,” Allen said. “To survive the extended transport time, this fish — and possibly others — would have required clean, cold, aerated water for a number of hours.”
Could some ne’er-do-well have just tossed one fish in the lake and it happened to get caught? Considering that Lake Cascade has a surface area of 47 square miles, which translates to 30,080 acres, I seriously doubt it’s likely. If I liked those odds, I’d buy more lottery tickets.
“Just because man no longer understands his place in the universe, don’t let him assume all God’s creatures have become equally confused or trivial.” — Bill Tarrant
Along the way:
For many in Ohio, if you mention a journey north they’ll think you’re headed to a major football game. Well, that’s not the only season going on this fall. To name a few, there’s deer season, rabbit season, squirrel season, duck season and monarch butterfly migration season.
That’s where Journey North becomes important.
Journey North is one of North America’s premier citizen science projects for children and the general public that monitors the migrations of many wildlife species. The project has broad participation, with over 60,000 registered sites in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico that include families, teachers, schools, nature centers, professional scientists and novices.
It provides an easy entry point with simple protocols, strong online support and immediate results. Reported sightings are mapped in real time as waves of migrations move across the continent. People report sightings from the field, view maps, take pictures, and leave comments.
Founded in 1994 by Elizabeth Howard, the project is funded by Annenberg Learner, a division of the Annenberg Foundation. To get involved, learn more about wild things or to work on a science project as a student or teacher, visit www.journeynorth.org
• Tomorrow: Trap shoot, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186.
• Today: Hunting season openers: Squirrel (ends Jan. 31), Canada goose (ends Sept. 9), teal (ends Sept. 16), dove (ends Nov. 4, reopens Dec. 15 and ends Jan. 8), rail (ends Nov. 9), common moorhen (ends Nov. 9), snipe (ends Nov. 25, reopens Dec. 15 and ends Jan. 4). Visit www.wildohio.gov
• Wednesday: Rimfire challenge, 5 p.m., HCCL, 13748 Jackson Township 168, Findlay.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Sept. 10: Ball metal trap shoots, begins 9 a.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186. Contact Denny Snyder at 419-722-7846. Everyone is welcome.
• Hunter and trapper education class information and registration available at www.wildohio.gov.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at email@example.com.