For many fish, winter is a time of rest. They head down into deep waters, slow their heart rates and eat far less often. Walleyes, on the other hand, love cool waters and remain active all winter long. They are a popular catch for fishermen, not only because they can be caught year-round, but because they are considered very delicious.
Walleyes are the largest member of the perch family. Long and slender, they can grow to lengths of up to 3 feet. Adults weigh between 10 pounds and 20 pounds. They are flecked with olive and gold and have several black bands across their backs. Their bellies are white. Walleyes have two dorsal fins, which are the fins on their backs. Their front dorsal fins are spiny, and the back fins have soft rays.
Walleyes are named for their opaque, cloudy-looking eyes that face sideways. Their eyes are covered with a layer of pigment called the tapetum lucidum. It helps them see in low light. This is perfect, because they are most active at dusk and dawn. In the daytime, they dwell in the shade of tree roots, logs or vegetation in the water.
Armed with sharp, pointy teeth, these carnivorous fish are not very picky eaters. They will eat what is available, including small fish like perch and minnows and large invertebrates like crayfish, snails and insects. Adult walleyes are usually the top predator in their habitat, and they are only actively hunted by humans.
While much of their time is spent in cool, deep and quiet waters, in the spring walleyes are ready to reproduce. At this time of year, they head to shallow waters with gravelly, sandy or rocky bottoms. Their spawning area needs to be in a location where there is enough water current to bring oxygen to the eggs and keep sediment away. The females, which are larger than males, will lay about 100,000 eggs, which are then fertilized by the male. Neither parent cares for nor guards the eggs, which hatch about two weeks after they are fertilized. Those that make it to adulthood have a lifespan of about 10 years.
Walleyes have healthy populations in many waterways. Many private and public lakes and reservoirs stock their waters with walleye after being farm raised. They are important members of their community because they serve as a host species to many freshwater mussels.
Glochidia, the microscopic larvae of mussels, will attach themselves to a fish host and hitch a ride to a new territory. Their attachment does not last long and does not harm the walleye. Adult mussels are filter feeders and help keep the water clean. This is why taxiing the baby mussels around is such an important job for walleyes. It benefits all the species that live their habitat.
____________ Follow Willy's Wilderness on Facebook for more kid-friendly nature stories and activities.