Arkansas Fishing-Norfork-Bull Shoals Lake-White-Buffalo-North Fork River

Checking for tags in a walleye's snout on Norfork Lake.

Lake Norfork Walleye Evaluation

Walleye Stocking Evaluation. In 1990, Missouri Department of Conservation and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission cooperated in a joint assessment of the walleye stocking effort on Norfork Lake. About 67,000 3-to 4-inch walleye fingerlings were injected with tiny slivers of wire, called microtags. These tags are etched with a binary, identifying code and magnetized. A machine injects the microtag into the cartilage in the snout of the young walleye. Most of these tags will remain for the fish’s lifetime. A special device (ours is a type of wand) is used to detect the tag. When the walleye got old enough to spawn, we began to sample them during the spawning run. We compared the number of 1990 year-class walleye with tags to those without to determine what percentage of that group were our stocked fish. The stocked fish usually averaged 30-35 percent which is substantial and indicates that stocking is worthwhile.

Walleye Telemetry. In 1994, The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Missouri Department of Conservation, and the University of Arkasas’ Cooperative Fishery Research Unit cooperated in a project to determine the annual movements of walleye. This information was wanted because of our beleif that walleye were an underutilized species in Ozark lakes. We felt that information such as this would help the anglers locate concentrations of walleye in the time of year when walleye are hard to catch. We surgically implanted radio or sonic transmitters into twelve walleye. The walleye were then located periodically using boat or airplane mounted receivers. As is often the case in scientific studies our assumptions proved incorrect and the original project goal was unmet. However, information even more valuable was obtained so the project was not a failure. Nine of the twelve walleye tagged in March had been caught by anglers by September and their transmitters (clearly labled as worth a $25 reward) returned to us. One other trasmitter failed or the fish was caught without returning the transmitter. While the project failed to determine the annual movements of walleye (you cannot track a fish if it is not there), it clearly demonstrated that walleye were not an underutilized fish in Norfork Lake. Instead, it appeared that the species was actually overharvested.

Walleye Tagging. The percentage of the Lake Norfork walleye population being harvested each year was once thought to be insignificant to the quality of the fishery. However, the transmitter project’s failure due to 9 of 12 tagged fish being quickly harvested indicated that the species might be overharvested instead. The result was the initiation of an intensive project to determine their harvest rate. In the springs of 1995 and 1996 (and continuing), the Missouri Department of Conservation and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission cooperated in a tagging project to better determine the catch and harvest rates as well as other information. Walleye were collected by electrofishing when they are spawning in the North Fork River (in Missouri) or on shore near the dam. They are measured, sexed and tagged with orange-colored anchor tags. These tags are easily visible and provide the MDC’s phone number and promise of a reward. To date approximately 1,200 walleye have been tagged. It appears that the annual harvest rate will be around 50%, high but not the disastrous harvest indicated by the transmitter study. Of special importance to Arkasas anglers is information that only 3% of the tags were returned by spear fishermen. Spear fishing by scuba divers for walleye has been an ongoing controversy. Rod and reel anglers feel that the scuba divers are wiping out "their" walleye. That is obviously not the case. If the walleye are being overharvested, rod and reel angling is the culprit not scuba divers. One interesting finding was the collection of a healthy tagged walleye below Norfork Dam. We have always wondered if the walleye in the North Fork River below the lake were a remnant population or escapees from the lake. Now we know.