SULLIVAN, NY (WSYR-TV) — As the ice slowly melts away, anglers will have at least one million reasons to fish on Oneida Lake this year.
“One million walleye in the lake is a huge milestone,” Oneida Lake Association Director Matt Snyder said. “If those fish are biting, it’s going to be a great year for fishing on Oneida Lake.”
The walleye population hasn’t always been this abundant. Cormorants, a fish-eating bird, preyed on the walleyes, and there were only about 200,000 adult walleye in Oneida Lake just 20 years ago.
Snyder said, “We’ve seen this fishery take a huge dent, specifically from cormorants in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and it was no sure thing that we would come back to a million.”
But with stronger fishing regulations and cormorant management, the walleye on Oneida Lake have reached levels the lake hasn’t seen since the mid-1980’s.
David Lemon, the Region 7 fisheries manager for the New York DEC, said, “We implemented a more restrictive regulation of 18 inches and three per day. Prior to that, it was 15 inches and five per day, in terms of what you could keep.”
Cornell Senior Research Associate Randy Jackson said, “The cormorants have been managed pretty intensively for the last 20 years, which has left the door open for recovery. I think what has probably helped this recent boost is the white perch, which are one of the big predators of the larval walleye, have also declined.”
The adult population mainly depends on how many young walleye fry survive, and in 2020, Oneida Lake could see the population continue to climb.
“We know there’s another strong bunch of fish coming up that are three years old right now, they’ll be four years [old] next year,” Lemon said. “So, the population should increase.”
Can there be too many delicious walleye swimming in the lake at once?
“[Walleye] are the primary consumer of the yellow perch,” Jackson said. “Right now, that population is down from historic levels, and they’ll suffer greater predation from the increased walleye population. So, it’s really not desirable to have a walleye and perch [populations] that are out of balance.”
Once ice fishing season ends, walleye fishing season begins on May 2, and even though there are a million of them, you will want to get on the water early.
Lemon said, “Fishing is good when they’re hungry, and they’re usually more hungry in the spring.”
So, while you are taking in the sun and enjoying the water this fishing season, remember all of the people who help monitor the lake as they continue to manage the walleye population.
“This walleye fishing depends mightily on the good work done by Cornell University, the DEC and a small group of dedicated sportsmen,” Snyder said. “It was no sure thing that we would get back to a million, so we have to keep the pressure on, we have to keep the heat on, and continue to manage what we can manage to ensure a good fishing future on Oneida Lake.”
David Lemon of the DEC also told NewsChannel 9 that they may increase the bag limit back to five walleye, if the population stays consistent.
Fishing season for walleye in New York State ends on March 15, and then opens back up on May 2.
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