to grow to record proportions. And theintroduction of alewife into the reservoirin 1986 to help alleviate the boom-and-bust cycles that can come with gizzard shad,McConaughy’s primaryprey fish to that point,“literally super-sized everything”in the lake,helpingwalleye grow fast and fat,Bauer said.The Commission gives Master Anglerawards for kept walleye weighing eightpounds or more or released fish measuring 28 inches or longer. While awalleye can reach eight pounds in justsix years in ideal habitat conditionsstocked with abundant food,Bauer saidit takes eight to 10 years for most toreach that size,and it may take 15 to20 years for a walleye to reach state-record proportions.Historic sampling records haveshown that good walleye fishing inMcConaughy is tied to lake levels,said Bauer. When the lake is full,reproduction is high and results in good fishing in the years that follow. Cutshall’s fish could have been theproduct of the first high-water period atthe lake,Bauer said. While KingsleyDam was completed and LakeMcConaughy began filling in 1941,thereservoir didn’t reach capacity until1951. Twenty years later,Nebraska’swalleye record was set.Another high-water period stretchedfrom 1983 to 1987,resulting in thehighest walleye abundance to date in1988. In 1996,the number of trophywalleye caught in Big Mac began to takeoff,and between 1997 and 2002,anaverage of 333 Master Angler awardswere issued annually,making it one of the best walleye fisheries in the Midwest.Bauer said those fish,which included a15-pounder caught in 1996,were likelysurvivors from excellent production inthe late 1980s that grew up on alewives.“I expected that if we were going tobust the record,the early 2000s wereprobably the best time,”Bauer said.While that window of opportunityclosed,another appears to be opening.Drawn to what seemed at the time tobe abysmally low levels in 1991,BigMac’s water rose significantly in 1993and stayed there through 1999,againproducing an abundance of walleye.“We’re 17 years out from that,”Bauersaid,“so that’s probably those 15-pound fish we’re seeing now.”Bauer is happy to see those big fishbeing caught. He’d worried chancesweren’t as good at setting a new recordthis time around due to the nature of therecent drought-induced,record low waterlevels at Lake McConaughy. At thesame time,however,with lake levelsnow recovering and expected be to thehighest since 2000,the stage is alsobeing set for another glut of big walleye in the years to come.Whether the next record walleye isswimming in Big Mac,the MissouriRiver or somewhere else,setting it maycome down to timing. The 18-poundwalleye biologists netted in the
f the 50hook-and-linerecords on thebooks inNebraska,onlysix have stoodlonger than the 16 pound,2 ouncewalleye Herbert Cutshallof Ogallala landed onLake McConaughy inJuly 1971. Of those,only one– a 10 lb.-11 oz. largemouthbass caught in 1965 – rankswith walleye among the top five gamefish most sought by anglers.Will the state walleye record ever bebroken? Nebraska Game and ParksCommission fisheries biologists saybased on some recent catches,it could.And if it is,it will most likely happen inone of two waters:the unchannelizedMissouri River in Boyd County orLake McConaughy. Of the two locations,the odds maybe better on the Missouri River. InMarch of 2009,an 18-pound,egg-ladenfemale was caught in gill nets set bybiologists studying paddlefish belowFort Randall Dam,just five miles fromthe Nebraska state line. In the samenet,they caught a 15-pound walleye,and in July they netted another thatweighed 15-9. All fish were releasedand could still be alive and even larger.Another fish caught in the Fort Randalltailwaters in November 2002 matchedNebraska’s record and set a new onefor South Dakota.“There are some mega-giant walleyeup there in the Fort Randall tailwaters,”said Brenda Pracheil,the University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student wholed the Commission’s sampling crew.Jeff Schuckman,who manages northeastern Nebraska fisheries fromthe Commission’s Norfolk office,saidtagging studies have shown walleye doindeed move up and down that reach of the Missouri River,some long distances.Fish tagged in the Fort Randall tailwatershave been caught as far downriver asLewis and Clark Lake and vice versa,although most fish stay where theywere tagged.“There’s an opportunity for a bigwalleye anywhere in that system upthere,”Schuckman said,adding thatwhile fish tend to stack up below thereservoirs,there are also sections of theriver downstream from the dam that arealso good walleye fisheries,especiallythe area where the Missouri first flowsinto Nebraska. Daryl Bauer,fisheries outreach program manager for the Commission,said of all the state’s reservoirs,McConaughy has the best chance of producing a new record,largelybecause three fish caught there inrecent years came within a pound of the mark:a 15-8 walleye in 2008 and a15-4 in 2009,both of which were kept,and a 35-incher that was released in2001 after tipping the angler’s scale at15-12.Being the state’s largest reservoir,Big Mac also has the most walleye,upping the odds that one can live longenough
Kansas13.161996Iowa14.51986North Dakota15.751959Nebraska16.131971South Dakota16.132002New Mexico16.561989New York16.562009Michigan17.191951Idaho17.382006Wyoming17.421991Minnesota17.51979Pennsylvania17.561980Montana17.752007Wisconsin181933Colorado18.811997West Virginia18.972004Oregon19.151990Washington19.32007Missouri21.11988Kentucky21.51958Arkansas22.691982Tennessee25.01960
A lucky angler could pull a state record walleye from Lake McConaughy this year.
By Eric Fowler
Year of the
Nebraska’s state record walleyewas caught almost 40 years ago,but indications are there may be anew record swimming aroundeven as you read this.
PHOT O COURTESY OF BRENDA PRACHEIL
P H O T O C O U R T E S Y O F R A N D Y R I C H A R D S
P H OT OB Y B OB GRI E R
Nebraska’s walleye recordranks favorably among othermidwestern states, according toDaryl Bauer, fisheries outreachprogram manager for theNebraska Game and ParksCommission.The list below contains allMidwestern walleye records aswell as those from other statesthat top Nebraska’s.In anapples to apples comparison on habitat, only Colorado andWyoming top Nebraska.Bauersaid the records fromsoutheastern states, includingMissouri, are from a largerstrain of walleye.As one wouldexpect, records from traditionalwalleye-belt states such asMinnesota are bigger thanNebraska’s.As for Montana andother points to the west, Bauersaid those fish grow bigger thanours thanks to a diet of trout.
E X C E RP T E DF R OM2 0 0 9 F RE S HWA T E RF I S HI N GHA L L OF F A ME OF F I C I A L W ORL DA ND U S A S T A T E F RE S HWA T E RA N GL I N GRE C ORD S
NEBRASKALAND APRIL 2010APRIL 2010• NEBRASKALAND
Above:RandyRichards of NorthPlatte holds a 32-inch,14.98-pound walleyehe caught from LakeMcConaughy lastApril,the secondlargest walleyesubmitted for aMaster Angler awardin 2009.Right:BrendaPracheil holds the18-pound walleye a fisheries researchcrew caught in theMissouri River below Fort RandallDam last March,aphoto Pracheil saysdoesn’tdo the fishjustice.