Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Hatchery operations underway

Huge run of suckers this year providing plenty for local sale

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 4/25/19

PIKE RIVER HATCHERY—A bumper run of white suckers has been the big story so far in 2019 as Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff ramped up operations here for another season of walleye …

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Hatchery operations underway

Huge run of suckers this year providing plenty for local sale

Posted

PIKE RIVER HATCHERY—A bumper run of white suckers has been the big story so far in 2019 as Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff ramped up operations here for another season of walleye egg harvest.

This year’s sucker run is already more than ten times bigger than experienced last year at the hatchery, which is located at the confluence of the Pike River and Lake Vermilion’s Pike Bay. DNR fisheries staff estimated the sucker harvest at about 6,000 pounds just this past weekend, with an additional 1,800 pounds of suckers caught in the hatchery’s nets as of Monday morning.

Last year, the DNR caught only about 650 pounds of suckers the entire season, although a very late start to the season last year may have contributed to the light harvest.

The suckers, like the walleye, swim up the Pike River in the spring in order to spawn and so are easily captured in the nets that DNR staff deploy to capture breeding walleye. The Vermilion Lake Association conducts an annual sale of the suckers, which local residents typically purchase for canning.

The sucker run had diminished signficantly as of mid-week, but plenty of suckers still remain for purchase since supply seems to have outstripped demand this year.

While the sucker run appeared to be waning, the walleye activity was ramping up quickly as of Wednesday, according to Hatchery Manager Jeff Eibler, who oversees this annual rite of spring. The fisheries staff keep the captured walleye in large underwater pens until they’re ready to harvest for either eggs or their fertilizing milt.

Eibler said the fisheries crew started their egg harvest on Monday, and had gathered about 180 quarts as of Wednesday.

“Right now, I’m shooting for about 600 quarts this season,” said Eibler. About half of those eggs will be stored and hatched at Pike River, while most of the remaining eggs are currently destined for the DNR’s St. Paul hatchery, where they’ll be hatched and raised to fingerling size for later stocking, mostly in northern Minnesota. “We try to keep these fish in the Hudson Bay drainage,” noted Eibler.

With the water temperature in the river now up to 47 degrees, Eibler was expecting the peak of the walleye run within a day or two. If so, the fisheries staff could well wind up their operations sometime this weekend.

DNR fisheries staff aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the springtime fish run. Cormorants and bald eagles are also clustering at the mouth of the river, taking advantage of the relatively easy pickings.

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