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Getting a closer look at a Pa. fish hatchery as Walleye season begins

A woman in a yellow apron holds and dries a female walleye before its eggs are harvested.
Aimee Dilger
Jessica Andolino, hatchery foreman, dries a female walleye before its eggs are harvested.

A truck full of walleye arrived at the Pleasant Mount State Fish Hatchery before noon on a cold April day.

The gold and olive fish were plucked from Lake Wallenpaupack that snowy morning to help produce another generation of the freshwater fish for anglers to catch across Pennsylvania. The season began Saturday, May 4.

"You would not catch a walleye in most of Pennsylvania without this facility," said Tim Schaeffer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Schaeffer spoke to a group of Wayne County representatives before touring the facility on April 5. The hatchery is on the west branch of the Lackawaxen River. It opened in 1903 and since then, more than 20 different species of fish have been raised there.

Walleye are in the perch family. They’re native to Canada and the upper Midwest.

The hatchery spawns walleye 20 times during the spring. They’re netted out of the trucks and into hatchery tanks to begin a trippy overnight vacation.

Walt Yetter, hatchery manager, led the tour. He said males and females look similar. So they’re squeezed to find out their sex.

The females release eggs and the males, sperm or milt. The ladies are put in an anesthetic solution to relax their nerves. Then their tens of thousands of eggs are massaged out of their swollen white bellies. The males are put in circular tanks in a separate room.

Water and milt are added to a bowl of eggs. It’s mixed with a turkey feather and left to fertilize. The eggs are delicate and the feather doesn’t break them. The tiny yellow eggs go into bubbling egg jars to wait for the baby fish to hatch.

The adult fish go back to Lake Wallenpaupack the next day. Yetter said they've probably been to the hatchery many times before. Their offspring grow up in a 30-acre pond at the hatchery, eventually, they’re stocked in cool waters across the commonwealth and the east coast for anglers to try and catch.

A variety of factors go into where the fish will be stocked including water temperature and the apex predator in the water. Fish & Boat stocks the walleyes locally in Lake Wallenpaupack and Duck Harbor Pond in Wayne County and Fords Pond in Lackawanna.

Yetter said only 1% of their eggs survive in the wild, even in the best conditions.

"This boosts those numbers significantly," he said.

Copyright 2024 WVIA.

Kat Bolus | WVIA News