Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Miracle of Constantia, 2013

Spider Rybaak

Blue heron waiting for a walleye dinner at the dam.

Up until around the turn of the century, the walleye was one of the culinary world’s best kept secrets. Anglers knew they tasted great and so did chefs; but the fishermen kept their mouths shut to protect their game and limit the competition; and native stocks were protected--still are--and couldn’t be sold, so there was no incentive for professional  cooks to rave about them.

The tournament angling craze that swept the country in the 1980s changed everything. “In-Fisherman,” the world’s most popular angling magazine even started a “Walleye Insider” edition, complete with recipes. Walleyes became the apple in the eyes of fish lovers everywhere. Now, everybody wants them.

Fortunately, NY anglers have had a love affair with the species since white men first set foot in the place. Indeed, the first hatchery on Oneida Lake was built on Frederick Creek in 1895. It proved insufficient in meeting the state’s needs and a new one was constructed a little east of here, on Scriba Creek, in 1942 (even war couldn’t put a dent in our love of walleyes). Completely overhauled in 1992, the Constantia hatchery is the world’s finest walleye rearing facility.

Each April, the operation collects between 200,000,000 to 300,000,000 eggs from adults it nets in the lake. Most are allowed to develop into fry and are released soon after into waters throughout the state. Roughly 400,000 are raised to 50-day-old fingerlings averaging two inches long; and 100,000 are reared to advanced walleye fingerlings ranging from four to six inches long.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation plans on launching the collection process this coming weekend.  Hatchery personnel hope to net 25,000 adults ranging from two to 10 pounds, and will strip them of their spawn back at the hatchery. The collection process is expected to take until April 15.

The first half of the month is the most exciting time to visit the facility, and it’ll be open from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., seven days a week from April 1 through September 30.

But there’s more.

Walleyes start ascending Scriba Creek to spawn right after ice-out. Still, the vast majority doesn’t start running until April. After checking out the common miracles performed at the hatchery, including the rearing tanks holding rare and unusual critters like paddlefish, sturgeon, mud puppies  and round whitefish, step outside to see the natural process going on in the creek.

If walleyes aren’t in the little tributary that runs under the hatchery, or in the creek running alongside the building, drive or walk upstream along Hatchery Road for a couple hundred yards to its intersection with the Oswego County Recreation Trail. Head east through the field to the creek and walk quietly, stealthily upstream to the dam. If you hit it just right, you’ll  see the floor carpeted in walleyes; and even if you’re a little too early or late, there should still be a few. But don’t wait too long; the peak run generally occurs in the second and third week of the month. Wear polarized sunglasses to see through the water’s glare.

Bear in mind, walleye season is closed and it is illegal to fish for them, even catch-and-release.  The season opens on the first Saturday in May (May 4) and runs until March 15.

For more information, call the hatchery: 315-623-7311.

Employee holding one of the hatchery's resident sturgeon.

Employee checking jars of eggs.


Forrest Fisher said...

Great article Spyderman! Enjoyed hearing the tales of the mighty-minnie walleye from before egg hatch to fingerling size....exciting and thanks for the reminder. The same will be happening in similar streams across NYS. Do walleye, like salmon, return to the same stream because of scent detection?

Venetta said...

This is cool!