A metro-area group hopes to make Lake Minnetonka a top spot for anglers that want to reel in the state fish.
The Westonka Walleye Program, with approval from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, uses privately funded donations to stock the lake with walleye in an effort to sustain and improve the walleye population, which has dwindled in recent years due in part to the lake's changing ecosystem.
Johnny Range, who started the Westonka Walleye Program last year because he wanted to fish in his backyard, told WCCO that "if we want walleyes in the lake we've got to stock them," noting only 5 percent of the fish in the lake come from natural reproduction; the rest are stocked fish.
The Westonka Walleye Program isn't the only privately funded group that's stocking walleye in the state, but it is one of few – if not the only one – doing so in metro-area lakes, according to the DNR's 2013 walleye stocking report.
Part of the reason groups and the DNR are stocking walleye in lakes is because the population around the state is down. Lake Mille Lacs, one of the most popular places to fish for walleye, has seen its lowest population numbers in decades, however the DNR recently called population numbers "encouraging."
The Westonka program
In its first 12 months, the Westonka Walleye Program raised $30,000 and has used the money to stock the lake with 8-inch to 13-inch walleye – the organization hopes by using larger fish it'll increase the walleye survival rate.
The DNR stocks the lake using fingerlings, but Range estimates that 80 percent of the smaller walleye are eaten by predators, while fewer than 10 percent of the larger walleye meet such an end, according to the organization's website.
Range commends the DNR for its efforts, telling the Star Tribune the DNR is doing the best it can with its budget. The DNR told the newspaper it can't afford larger fish and it's unclear if the fingerlings have a lower survival rate.
Last month, the Westonka Walleye Program let about 10,374 8-inch walleyes loose in the north and west bays of Lake Minnetonka. The organization says it added 11 percent more fish to the lake on top of the DNR's efforts, which added 164,337 walleye fingerlings this fall, according to the DNR's website.
In 2013, the Westonka program's first year, the organization (through a private permit issued by the DNR) released 2,502 walleye yearlings into the lake, according to the DNR's website. The DNR stocks the lake with walleye every two years.
There are no hard facts on if the Westonka Walleye Program's efforts have significantly increased the number of fish in the lake compared to the DNR's efforts, according to the Laker and Pioneer, but Range told the Star Tribune anglers have told him they've seen more walleye in the lake compared to past years.
Range hopes to continue stocking the lake every year if fundraising money allows. The Westonka Walleye Program plans to hold a fundraising event next spring, similar to the event it held in April 2014, according to the Lakeshore Weekly News.