Here's why Lake Pueblo anglers will be hooked on walleye fishing for years to come
The future of walleye in Lake Pueblo is looking bright after Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials recently collected an estimated 130 million eggs during the agency’s version of “March Madness.”
Although it’s not basketball, the sport of catching walleye will be a slam dunk for anglers in the coming years thanks to the successful harvest which is being billed as a record-setting collection of roe (or eggs) by aquatic biologists, said Bill Vogrin, Colorado Parks and Wildlife public information officer.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials, with the help of volunteers, head out at dawn on Lake Pueblo for several days in March to glean walleye that have gotten caught up in one of the 32 gill nets set out the night before.
Pulling in the 400-foot long nets into boats is cold, tiring work. Once caught, the walleye are taken to a small boathouse at the reservoir where biologists harvest milt (semen) and roe to help propagate the species at fish hatcheries, Vogrin said.
The fish are then returned to the reservoir.
At the hatcheries, the eggs are hatched and the resulting walleye fry (juvenile fish) are grown to a quarter-inch size before they are returned to Colorado reservoirs. The walleye will grow 6 to 8 inches their first year and are usually longer than 15 inches by their third year of life.
At 18 inches, anglers are allowed to keep the walleye at Lake Pueblo, Vogrin said.
Wayde Bear Vialpando of Pueblo West told The Pueblo Chieftain that he has caught numerous walleye during his time fishing at Lake Pueblo.
“I catch them all at about 15 to 18 inches — usually no bigger,” he said. “If I do eat them, I take them home clean them and grill them.”
Vialpando preps the fish with equal parts brown sugar and butter to make a maple-syrup like paste.
“Cook until flaky and enjoy. They are great,” he said.
Julie and Mark Hazelton of Pueblo also enjoy fishing for walleye on Lake Pueblo. Mark Hazelton caught a 27-½ inch walleye in 1998 which he had preserved by a taxidermist for display.
“He has caught several walleye in Pueblo Reservoir. We fillet them, dip them in egg wash and seasoned flour mixture, then fry them,” Julie Hazelton said.
Carrie Tucker, aquatic biologist based in Pueblo, said she has never seen so many walleye as she did during this year’s March Madness event.
“It was an absolutely monster year,” Tucker said. “It’s great to know our anglers are going to have a lot of success catching fish this summer.”
“Honestly, it’s hard to believe what our team was able to accomplish this year at Lake Pueblo State Park,” said Josh Nehring, senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We weren’t sure what to expect, but we never expected to catch so many fish and produce so many eggs, so fast.
"It’s remarkable. And anglers ought to be thrilled because it’s going to mean great fishing in the coming years in Colorado,” Nehring said.
The annual effort has gone on at Lake Pueblo since 1988. The banner harvest is especially welcome after the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc on the effort last year.
One day into the 2020 walleye spawn, wildlife officials aborted operations as the worldwide pandemic reached Colorado. The human intervention is critical because walleye eggs spawned naturally in the lake only have a 10% survival rate, while those at the hatcheries have more of an 80% survival rate, according to Vogrin.
To see a video about how the walleye are raised, visit youtu.be/QVH-e9yEbQo.
Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon covers business news. She can be reached by email at email@example.com or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.