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“Just incredible”: Bay of Green Bay evolves into world-class walleye fishery

Published: Apr. 2, 2021 at 4:31 PM CDT
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DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) - The spring walleye run on the lower Fox River is peaking right now. State fish biologists are using the opportunity to build up a world-class fishery.

When you have electric probes in the water, catching walleye below the De Pere dam is easy. It allows Wisconsin DNR fish biologists to collect a tank full of fish to retrieve important data. They’re looking for length, sex and age of each fish before releasing them back into the river.

“The spawning population on the Fox River, 100,000-200,000 a year, it’s crazy,” says Mike Donofrio, DNR Fisheries Supervisor. “And the Menominee is probably next at 50,000-100,000, and then Peshtigo and the Oconto are probably less than 50,000, but it’s incredible.”

DNR Fisheries Supervisor Mike Donofrio says it was 40 years ago that signs pointed to the Bay of Green Bay having a special walleye fishery.

“We stopped stocking in the 80s for Green Bay, so it’s been self-sustaining and it’s just one of those things, the fishery just takes off, there’s a lot of food there, there’s rich food source, forage fish in the bay and it’s just incredible,” says Donofrio.

Within in a few decades, the bay and its tributaries would be considered world-class walleye fishing.

“In the 90s, it was building, but by the early 2000s it had really taken off,” says Donofrio. “One of the anglers told me last week that he saw somebody catching two fish with one lure, that’s how thick they are.”

Donofrio says the Fox River clean up over the past decade has only enhanced the fishery.

“Not only the PCB clean up is going to make a fish healthier so to speak, less contaminants for anglers, and the other aspect is there was a lot of habitat that was put in as a result of that, capping whether it was rocks or woody habitat, just going to make things better,” says Donofrio.

And the impact of a healthy fishery that attracts anglers from around the Midwest goes far beyond the water.

“We had a professor from UW-Whitewater evaluate the value of the fishery, not only walleye but the whole Green Bay fishery, it’s over $300 million a year it brings to the local economy. It’s incredible, it’s a win-win for everybody,” says Donofrio.

On average, the DNR processes and tags 500 walleye on the Fox River each spring.

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