See the fish at the DNR spring fish trap

Every spring, the DNR sets up a fish trap on the northwest side of the Whitefish Chain so they can collect the eggs and sperm of spawning walleye. But the event isn’t just good for the DNR or the anglers who will benefit from stocked lakes- it’s also great opportunity for members of the public to see fish of all kinds on their spawning journey.

Suckers, northerns, walleye and more all swim into the trap, and the view of the fish rivals the fish pond at the Minnesota State Fair. The array of fish, big and small, is fascinating. Some of the fish are downright massive, catching the attention of anglers of all ages.

The DNR walleye egg take site is located where the Pine River enters Upper Whitefish lake, near Pine Knolls Circle (see address below). A large, V-shaped grate is placed across the river to funnel all the fish, which are headed upstream to spawn, into a cage.

The fish trap is set up and ready to go on Upper Whitefish. Soon the trap will be filled with fish and the docks bustling with activity. Photo by Kate Perkins

The fish trap is set up and ready to go on Upper Whitefish. Note the V-shaped grate at right that guides the fish into the trap. Soon the trap will be filled with fish and the docks bustling with activity. Photo by Kate Perkins

DNR Fisheries staff from the Brainerd office are on hand 24-7 to inform the public and to accomplish their goal: to collect eggs and sperm from walleye, which will be hatched in Brainerd. While many school groups visit the site, anyone is welcome to see the process and the fish.

The DNR picks out a walleye from the trap, holds it over a bucket and gives it a squeeze. If the fish is ready to spawn, eggs or sperm will come out of the fish. If not, the fish goes back into the trap for a few days.

This video explains what the DNR is doing at the trap (though it’s not as good as seeing it first hand!):

The process of collecting eggs and sperm, combining them in a specified ratio, and preparing them for transport is a routine science for the fisheries staff. After the eggs hatch at the Brainerd hatchery, they’re called “fry” and are about the size of mosquitoes.

This video shows what happens at the hatchery:

Just days after they’re hatched, the fish are gathered up and brought to lakes across Crow Wing County and beyond, where they’ll grow to become a lucky angler’s catch. Literally millions upon millions of the walleye fry are stocked into area lakes. In 2015, Upper and Lower Whitefish Lakes were stocked with 5 million fry. Cross Lake got 880,000.

They’re brought out to the center of the lake, where they disperse in a shimmering cloud of tiny scales and fins. Studies have shown that walleye raised in a hatchery have a much higher hatch rate. That’s because they’re guarded from predators and given the ideal conditions to hatch.

Some of the fry are taken to designated ponds to grow for the summer before they’re trapped in the fall as “fingerlings.” As the name suggests, the walleye at this stage are about the length of an adult’s index finger. Often the fry that will become fingerlings are put in ponds that experience winter kill, so there are fewer predators to face as they grow into fingerlings. While fingerlings are more expensive for the DNR to raise and distribute, they often face better chances of survival in the long run.

The fish trap on the Pine River is staffed by the DNR 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is open to the public. DNR officials say they believe fish will begin entering the trap around Saturday, April 9. The trap is located at 36765 Pine Knolls Circle. Night time can also be a good time to view the fish, as they’re more active in their upstream journey after dark. Lights set up over the fish trap docks make it possible to see the fish.

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