PIERRE – Warm weather has pushed many walleye in Lake Oahe to deeper depths. Anglers searching for these elusive fish may inadvertently be killing them, according to Game, Fish and Parks officials.
Conservation Officer Rick Martin of Pierre said once a fish has been retrieved from deep water (30 feet or deeper), it has been injured. "We are finding dead walleye floating on Lake Oahe as a result of anglers releasing damaged fish," he said.
According to Martin, more anglers are fishing in water 40 feet or deeper. "They know the larger walleye are in deeper water, but, the smaller walleyes are there also. Many anglers are trying to release the small fish, thinking they are practicing good conservation, when actually they are contributing to the problem--many of these fish are not surviving."
Martin reminds all anglers that if they must fish in deep water, they must keep everything hooked and count it as part of their daily limit. This is why minimum size limits for walleye are not in effect during July and August on the Missouri River reservoirs. "Fish thrown overboard that are not going to live is a violation of wanton waste laws," he added.
Game, Fish and Parks is trying to reduce unnecessary fish mortality. Wildlife Conservation Officer Lee Leuning of Pierre said even if a fish caught from deep water has no visual signs of injury, internal damage has probably occurred. Visual indicators that a fish will not survive if released include the fish^s eyeballs protruding from their sockets and its air bladder protruding from the fish^s mouth.
Fish uninjured or caught in shallow water (30 ft. or less), can be successfully released if handled carefully and put back into the water immediately.
The warm weather can also create problems with storing the fish anglers catch. Leuning said surface water temperatures during July and August can easily reach 80 degrees or higher, even in cold-water lakes like Oahe.
"Livewells pick up this hot, top layer of water, and using it to store fish only degrades the quality of the fish," Leuning said. "Placing fish on ice is the best way to prevent spoiling."
Leuning reminds anglers that walleye cannot be returned from a livewell or stringer for a walleye caught at a later time. "Putting fish on ice reduces the temptation to exchange a fish," Leuning said.