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The Birds and the Bees of Arkansas Walleye

No one knows for sure whether the walleye is native to the Ouachita River. It's common in the northern United States and Canada, regarded there much as we regard bass here. But the elusive walleye is, in fact, in Arkansas waters, and, thanks to the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission and, in part, Entergy, is growing in population. And their popularity as a challenging game fish is catching on.

While walleye are quite capable of breeding on their own, their efforts at reproduction are being greatly multiplied with a little help from the staff of the Andrew Hulsey Fish Hatchery on Lake Hamilton. In this state-of-the-art facility, for which Entergy donated the land several years ago, hundreds of thousands of walleye are getting their start in life.

Here's how it works:

First, you obtain mother walleyes and father walleyes at the right time, which is generally in March, and generally during a nighttime fishing expedition. How do you get them? This is the fun part. The Game & Fish Commission has several flat-bottomed boats rigged with electric generators, which feed a controlled flow of voltage through long poles that extend forward from either side of the bow and down through wires that dangle in the water.

As the driver trolls, the electric current stuns any fish that gets between the terminals or near them. Illuminated by spotlights, some fish float to the surface belly-up, while some -- at the edge of the electric current's reach - do spinning jumps out of the water, undoubtedly wondering what the dickens THAT was. The operative word here is "stun." All the fish recover after a few seconds.

To collect walleye specimen, two people, long-handled fish nets in hand, lean against a rail on the bow and watch for walleye. When they see one, they just scoop it up and put it in a live well on board.

On one night in March, a group of Game & Fish employees, along with several members of the media there for a fish story, trolled the waters below Carpenter Dam. (This was possible because Entergy worked with the Game & Fish to cease generation at the dam for a few hours so the waters below it would be safe.) On this evening two shocking boats collected maybe a dozen walleye in about an hour and a half. Those fish were chemically tested on-site to see if they're ready to reproduce.

Those that were ready were then taken immediately to the Hulsey Fish Hatchery where the staff gently squeezed about 250,000 eggs from the females and sperm from the males, mixed them together, and placed them in a carefully controlled aquatic environment overnight.

The fertilized eggs were then placed in bags somewhat like what you'd take a goldfish home from the pet store in, and driven to another hatchery, the Charlie Craig Hatchery at Centerton, where a cold natural spring provides the perfect environment for the eggs to incubate.

About nine days later the fish hatch and grow for four days, after which most of them are transported back to the Hulsey Hatchery, where they're placed in outdoor nursery ponds, which are free of predator fish and rich in the plants the little walleye eat. (While most come back to the place of their conception, many are shipped to other locations all over the country for stocking programs there.)

Four to six weeks after the fry are released into the nursery ponds, Game & Fish personnel partially drain the ponds, net thousands of two-inch walleye, and release them at select locations in the lakes and streams around the hatchery. Under ideal conditions, as many as 10 percent of the initial eggs grow into adult fish, according to Don Brader, Hulsey Hatchery Manager.

"It's a real privilege to have a role in improving life on the lakes, both for the fish and wildlife that make their homes here and for the people who come here for recreation and great fishing," said Bobby Pharr, Hydro Operations Process Superintendent. "We're considered a very good neighbor around here, and we've earned that."