Putting Some Teeth Into Connecticut Lakes
One predator has reflective eyes that enable it to see its prey in the dark. The other is torpedo-shaped and ambushes its prey with incredible speed. Both have large, razor-sharp teeth and are found in more Connecticut lakes than ever before. While these may sound like creatures in a summertime horror movie, they are really prized gamefish that have been stocked into Connecticut waters by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Big teeth and shiny eyes, a walleyeís two most distinctive characteristics.
These two predators are the walleye and the northern pike. Both species grow very quickly and are always active, providing year-round fishing excitement for Connecticut anglers. The DEP began working with northern pike in the 1970s and with walleye in the early 1990s to increase angling opportunities and to control over-abundant populations of smaller fish. Initial efforts were limited to a small number of waters. Based on the success of these experiments, the DEP, water companies, lake associations and municipalities have now begun stocking walleye and pike into additional lakes.
"Not only do walleye and northern pike increase the variety of fishing opportunities for Connecticut anglers but catching a huge pike or walleye can be the experience of a lifetime," said Edward C. Parker, Chief of DEPís Bureau of Natural Resources. Connecticut walleye can grow to 30 inches in length and weigh 14 pounds. Northern pike are even larger, growing over 40 inches long and weighing up to 25 pounds. The state record is 29 pounds.
Both walleye and northern pike are among the many fish species that have been introduced to Connecticut. Populations of both species have existed in the Connecticut River since the mid 1800ís. Popular walleye fisheries now exist at Squantz Pond, Gardner Lake, Lake Saltonstall and Saugatuck Reservoir. Northern pike populations have been established in Bantam Lake, Mansfield Hollow Reservoir, Quaddick Reservoir and Pachaug Pond. Northern pike also remain an excellent fishery in Connecticut River coves and pike originating from Massachusetts can also be found throughout the Housatonic River in western Connecticut.
The decision to stock walleye and pike is frequently driven by both fishery and water quality concerns. "Establishing populations of walleye and northern pike has multiple benefits. In addition to providing large gamefish, they can also improve fishing for other species and increase water clarity," says William Hyatt, Director of DEPís Inland Fisheries Division. Pike have improved fishing in Bantam Lake tremendously. Walleyes were established in Lake Saltonstall and Saugatuck Reservoir by the DEP and local water companies to address both water quality and angling. Walleye stockings of several local lakes by the Town of East Hampton and the Town of Marlborough were motivated primarily by water clarity concerns.
Both walleye and northern pike are large, efficient predators that help improve both fishing and water clarity by thinning out overabundant yellow perch, sunfish and landlocked alewife. As more of these forage (prey) fish are eaten, growth rates increase for the remaining fish. Anglers are rewarded with larger perch and sunfish. When forage fish numbers are reduced their main food, small algae eating crustaceans called zooplankton, become more abundant. The zooplankton can then eat more algae, improving both water clarity and quality.
"An added bonus of having walleye and northern pike in Connecticut is that they are both very good to eat," notes George Babey, DEP Fisheries Biologist. "Pike are a favorite in the Midwest and walleye are considered to be the tastiest freshwater fish in North America."
The DEP is currently busy establishing walleye and northern pike fisheries in even more Connecticut lakes. The most recent (2001) stockings of walleye have occurred at Batterson Park Pond, Beach Pond, Coventry Lake, Lake Housatonic, Mashapaug Lake, and Tyler Pond. Winchester Lake received its first stocking of northern pike in 2001. Anglers should be catching legal-sized fish next year.
DEP reminds anglers that the minimum length for walleye is 15 inches, with a daily creel limit of 5 fish. Two northern pike can be taken per day, with a minimum length of 26 inches (24 inches in the Connecticut River). For more information on walleye, northern pike and other freshwater fisheries programs in Connecticut, contact DEPís Inland Fisheries Division at 860-424-3474.
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