Walleye with a twist

PERRY LAKE — Few Kansas anglers have caught a sauger in their native habitat of a few rivers and streams in far eastern Kansas.

This year many will catch their offspring in most corners of the state.

The man-made mating of sauger and walleye — called saugeye — seems to bring the best of both species.

Walleye have been stocked in Kansas for around 50 years. They grow fast and fat and taste fantastic.

One knock is their spawning on a lake's dam. That often leads to the majority of a lake's walleye population getting flushed with massive water releases after spring rains.

Walleye eggs can get left high and dry if water levels are lowered. That's not a problem with sauger.

"One of the best things about sauger is they spawn away from the dam, usually on some small gravel closer to mid-lake," said Kyle Austin, Kansas Wildlife and Parks fisheries management supervisor. "They also do better in (murkier) water than walleye."

For those reasons and more, Kansas biologists will be fertilizing about 8 million walleye eggs with sauger semen this spring.

Saugeye were first released in Kansas in the early 1990s because of the reputation of being aggressive predators.

"They were stocked in Norton Reservoir for a way to control a crappie population that was full of little fish and maybe provide another fishery," Austin said. "It worked. There's no longer a stunted crappie population up there."

And anglers are catching saugeye in dozens of Kansas waters.

Locally they're stocked and doing well in Council Grove and Kanopolis lakes, both of which are high flow-through impoundments.

Austin said they're doing well in many local waters where a voracious predator is needed to control panfish and shad populations.

Harvey County East and Lake Afton have solid populations, as do many community lakes.

As they catch the saugeyes on everything from fly rod-cast streamers to worms, few Kansas anglers wonder what it took to start the process that ends with the fish to their dinner plates.

It begins on a cold spring morning, with biologist Kirk Tjelmeland tugging a long gill net into his boat at Perry Lake.

About 10 years ago, fish from the Missouri River were stocked sauger in Perry and a few other eastern lakes prone to high flow-throw.

Tjelmeland said the stockings provide an easily-accessible brood stock for the saugeye program.

The goal is mostly go get males. Often only around a foot in length, the guy sauger are taken to a metal shack in a nearby state park and their semen is collected.

From Perry the valued sauger vials are taken to the department's Milford fish hatchery and mixed with millions of eggs taken from walleye gathered from various Kansas lakes.

Within a few weeks, millions of tiny saugeye will be released into Kansas waters.

"As long as it's a fish of legal length and tastes like a walleye, most don't care," Austin said. "They just set the hook and go for it."