An Affair of the Heart
a whopping 440 percent increase from the stocking average in the 1980s.
In 1998 and 1999, large numbers of the fingerlings went into Stockton, Lake of the Ozarks, Bull Shoals, Norfork, Smithville, Long Branch, Long View, Mark Twain and Pomme de Terre reservoirs. The St. Francis and Eleven Point rivers also received walleye in 1998.
Fisheries biologists are staggering the stocking schedule both to get the most from the supply of fingerlings they have available and to mimic the natural formation of strong year classes among fish. Strong year classes bulge their way through the population, in the manner of the human Baby Boomers.
The first stockings should start paying off this year and next. Normally it would take at least three years for walleye to reach the former legal length of 18 inches, but a part of the walleye initiative is a lowering of the statewide length limit to 15 inches beginning March 1.
The 18-inch limit will continue to be in force on some waters - Bull Shoals, Long Branch, Norfork and Table Rock lakes and the Current and Eleven Point rivers - but it will be in the form of a special regulation and not the statewide limit. There is no minimum length limit on walleyes taken from the Mississippi River.
In Missouri, young walleye grow to about 8 inches at the end of one year and reach about 15 inches at the end of their second growing season. This means that the huge stockings of 1998 should result in plenty of legal-sized walleye for anglers this year.
I hope to personally benefit from this bonanza. On my last outing to Stockton Lake in August, I caught more than a dozen sub-legal fish for every legal one. This year, with the fish growing larger and the length limit declining to 15 inches, I believe I may do better. And for the next several years, walleye fishing will just get hotter and hotter.
Walleye anglers have developed plenty of tricks to catch fish. Some of their techniques work better on some waters and times of the year than others. Some days none of them will work, but that's part of the allure of the walleye.
My favorite approach, except when the water is frigid, is to use my boat to drag around a spinner rig baited with a nightcrawler. Spinner rigs are composed of a few beads, a blade spinning on a clevis (see sidebar)