LPO walleye anglers target monitored fish in northern lake

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The Idaho Fisherman photo Gracie Ueckert, 19, of Huntsville, Texas, caught a 13-pound walleye in Lake Pend Oreille this month.

Finding fish has never been so easy.

Although catching walleye has slowed down on Lake Pend Oreille, anglers can locate walleye in the northern part of the lake from the Clark Fork delta west, downstream in the Pend Oreille River to the Washington border, because the state fishery department has them mapped.

Idaho Fish and Game is monitoring the whereabouts of walleye using acoustic transmitters, and marking the spots where the fish are found, so anglers can catch them.

The information is posted on the Idaho Fish and Game website’s Panhandle Region page.

The department, which also pays anglers to turn in walleye heads, wants to learn more about the species that invaded the lake within the past two decades, and which the department fears could jeopardize Lake Pend Oreille’s kokanee population.

Since the warm water predators moved from their spawning grounds at the Pack and Clark Fork river deltas last spring and early summer, many of them have moved west, Pete Rust, Fish and Game research biologist said.

Rust began following walleye movements in Lake Pend Oreille last year, and he has marked the spots this summer where biologists have located walleye. He thinks the next location update, due in a couple of weeks, will find the fish pretty close to the same spots.

“I don’t expect there will be a great change,” Rust said.

The department tagged 26 walleye with acoustic transmitters this year, switching from radio transmitters that didn’t provide a reliable signal.

“Acoustic transmitters work better in deeper water,” Rust said.

Most fish stick to water depths of 50 feet or less, but the department wants to know if walleye are pelagic, and if the toothy predators will chase kokanee into the open water depths of 200 feet or more.

So far, Rust said, none of the monitored fish — the transmitters are surgically embedded — have moved to the lake’s deeper, southern end. Instead, the fish have stuck to the shallow sandbars and structure on the lake’s northern edges, and the river, where they have fed primarily on perch.

Receivers at the Clark Fork delta, Sheepherder Point, Sunnyside, and the Long Bridge had the highest concentrations of walleyes during a 10-day period that ended June 26, Rust said. Several walleye were found in Denton Slough and Oden Bay, and biologists found individual walleyes in Morton Slough, Murphy Bay and in the main Pend Oreille River by Priest River, he said.

“If we find concentrations of our sonic tagged walleye in a small bay, there are likely many unmarked walleye in that area as well,” he said.

Angler Chad Landrum of Go Fish! Charters said that many people seem to be fishing for walleye, especially around the U.S. 95 Long Bridge at Sandpoint, but the bite seems to have slowed down.

“They have always been a low density fishery,” Landrum said.

His walleye take in the Clark Fork Delta and the main river dropped dramatically this year compared to a year ago, Landrum said. And although he caught several fish over 8 pounds, there appeared to be fewer fish in the same areas they frequented a year earlier.

“I caught 10 percent of the walleye this spring compared to last year, with the same amount of effort,” he said.

Fish and Game’s push to eradicate the fish in Lake Pend Oreille, Landrum thinks, may be working.

“Something is definitely happening there,” he said.

Rust said some of the walleye heads that Idaho Fish and Game has collected from anglers have come from the southern end of the lake, according to the fishermen who turned them in, but so far no transmitter fish have finned south.

If they did, Landrum said, they wouldn’t be difficult to find because walleyes prefer shallow sandbars, drop offs and ledges. In the southern lake the depths fall quickly from around 50 feet near shore to over 500 feet a quarter mile from shore.

“There is not much walleye habitat for a lake that has the vast surface area of Lake Pend Oreille,” he said.

Rust said by next year the department should have a pretty good idea of walleye patterns in the lake based on the transmitter data.

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