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Mason County Walleye Association has raised 1 million walleyes since 2011

The Mason County Walleye Association has become pretty good at raising walleyes in the last four years.

Every year the DNR drops off more than 300,000 walleyes in the group’s Pere Marquette Township pond and for each of the last four years, more than 80 percent of what went in came back out when it came time for harvest.
The result has been more than a million walleyes stocked in lakes as close as Hamlin and Hackert to lakes as far as Houghton Lake.  Next Saturday, the organization will conduct its primary fundraiser — a dinner at the Ludington Boat Club.  The group needs about $5,000 a year to operate and with that money, the walleyes for lakes from Fremont Lake north to Grand Traverse County’s Silver Lake have been raised over the years.  Since 1989, the group and the DNR have partnered to try stocking walleyes in local lakes including Hamlin Lake, Round Lake, Gun Lake, Hackert Lake, Long Lake, Big Star Lake, Portage Lake, Bear Lake, and this year, Oceana County’s Silver Lake.  The group’s focus is still Mason County, but the pond raises about three times as many walleyes as area lakes can support each year.  Hamlin Lake is planted with 150,000 fish in two out of three years and Hackert Lake gets about 7,500 fish every other year.
The DNR has had to close various rearing ponds around the state because of budgetary limitations, leaving the Mason County Walleye Association pond responsible for the entire northwest Lower Peninsula.
And the MCWA is handling the responsibility well.

“They’re kicking ass,” said Michigan DNR Fisheries Biologist Mark Tonello.  “It’s pretty hard to argue with their results.”

Tonello said the importance of the local group can’t be overstated.

“They are critical to inland walleye fishing in the northwestern Lower Peninsula and I say that in the strongest possible terms,” Tonello said.  “Our personnel has been greatly reduced and our ability to run walleye ponds ourselves has been greatly reduced.  That’s why having them available to run that pond is critical.”

Tonello and Fisheries Technician Supervisor Scott Heintzelman were impressed enough by the efforts of the group that they nominated it for a Michigan DNR Outstanding Partner award, which was presented this winter.

“It’s an outstanding example of a cooperative project where people that care take ownership of a project and give back to anybody that walleye fishes in the northwestern Lower Peninsula,” Tonello said. “Anybody that does walleye fish in the northwestern Lower Peninsula owes a debt of gratitude to the Mason County Walleye Association.”


Every year, the DNR delivers fish for the MCWA pond in late April or early May and every year, it comes to take those fish out about 45 days later.  What happens to those fish in between and how many fish are left at the end of the 45 days are the responsibilities of the MCWA.

In the last four years, the survival rates on the pond have been outstanding.

“We’ve had a bunch of things that we’ve learned over the last 26 years that we put together in the last four and one is how to use our food pond,” Mason County Walleye Association President Carter Koles said.  “That’s kind of unique because we have a facility that has that incorporated into it.  “The “food pond” is a small pond where water fleas are raised to feed to the walleyes.  The water fleas, called daphnia, are extracted out of the Ludington water treatment plant each summer and then placed in the small food pond.  The food pond is drained slowly into the main rearing pond, leaving daphnia encapsulated in the soils for when the ponds are refilled the following year.

The result has been the walleyes are doing much, much better.

“We’ve always had trouble raising food and that’s why we’ve had so much variability,” Koles said.  “I thought this year was going to be really bad because of the cold weather but it’s been as good as it has in the previous three years.”

The harvest has also changed at the pond.  The MCWA pond was designed as a drainable pond to make harvesting the young walleyes easier.  The trouble was that the harvest went into the wee hours of the night, costing DNR overtime and stressing volunteers to the point of exhaustion.  The other problem was that the fish were also stressed because so many came through the drain pipe as the last part of the pond was drained.  Survival was not good.

“What the DNR started doing about six years ago was using the Fyke nets and they’d come in and set nets on a Monday, harvest fish on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

“We found out that if you get 2/3 of the fish with the Fyke nets you don’t get them all at the very end,” Koles said.

The pond still gets drained after the fish are netted out and this year the pond produced 33,500 more fish after the pond was drained.

Those fish were transported by a DNR trailer during daylight hours to surrounding lakes.

A hurdle that appears to not be a problem as much anymore is cannibalism.  The group members and the DNR keep a close eye on fish growth during the 45-day period.  If some fish are larger and some are smaller, it’s time to harvest right away because that’s when cannibalism kicks in.

“We’ve gotten around the cannibalism problem by taking the fish before they got to be cannibalistic,” Koles said.  “We didn’t see any cannibalistic fish this year.  Usually we get about 15 that you can see one fish eating another.”


The $5,000 annual budget for the pond includes about $1,200 for electricity and about $1,200 for soymeal. The soymeal goes on the pond bottom before the pond is filled and helps start the young walleyes off with a good population of daphnia.

Why does the pond use $1,200 in electricity?  Big pumps.

“We’ve got a three-phase power drop so we can run our pumps on the site,” Koles said.  “That’s the big power need, we need pumps to fill the pond.  They drain by gravity.”

The pond also needs lots of maintenance.  Every year or so it is disced and dragged with a tractor and large stones are removed from its bed.  There’s planting of rye grass that decomposes to feed the daphnia and there’s never-ending mowing of the pond edges where willow trees always want to encroach.  Why are the willow trees a problem?  Dragonflies like willow trees and if there are willow trees around the pond, there are dragonfly nymphs in the pond feeding on the young walleyes.

Kole noted that while many people joined the association because they were fishermen interested in catching walleyes, there are very few hardcore anglers in the ranks.

The people who have stayed are good at various aspects of pond maintenance, fund raising, accounting or whatever else is needed, Koles said.

“A lot of people think that we’re a club,” Koles said. “We’re not.  We’re an association that raises fish for the DNR.  Some people do fish for walleyes, but not at our pond.  They go out and fish like recreational anglers anywhere else.  They’re doing it because they want to see the fishing in the county remain good or get better.  We’ve got a lot of other people who recognize that it’s a major contribution to the fishing and the local economy. People come here to fish.'

Two of the two-inch walleyes that went to lakes in the region Monday afternoon.

Mason County Walleye Association directors Wayne Finholm and Tim Sniegowski scoop walleyes from the spillway at the MCWA pond on Monday. The group has a fundraiser today at the Ludington Boat Club.


June 21, 2014


  “Making Mason County A Fisherman’s Paradise”