Catching a trophy fish is a thrill. Catching a state record fish is fantastic. But smashing the old state record is indescribable. On February 19, 2016, Wes Carlton experienced all these emotions when he caught a new state record walleye. Wes’ fish weighed 14 lb 2 oz, which smashed the old record of 11 lb 6 oz by a staggering 2 lb 12 oz. The old record was set in 1995. So what’s changed in Georgia to allow a walleye to grow so much bigger?
About 12 years ago—threatened by an invasive species and the loss of spawning habitat—native walleye were almost nonexistent in Georgia. Blueback herring had been illegally introduced into North Georgia waters, and populations were emerging in many North Georgia mountain lakes.
Although blueback herring can have a negative impact on the spawning success of many fish species, they also provide an abundant and calorie-rich food source when compared to traditional walleye prey items like yellow perch and bluegill. So the Georgia WRD began an aggressive restocking program. From 2002-2004, walleye fry were obtained from Linesville State Fish Hatchery in Pennsylvania and reared in tanks and ponds at Burton Hatchery. Walton and Summerville Hatcheries produced walleye for the first time in 2004. From 2005-2012, walleye fry were obtained from Normandy State Fish Hatchery in Tennessee and reared at Burton, Walton, Summerville and McDuffie Hatcheries.
Since 2013, Georgia’s walleye stocking program has been entirely self-sufficient. Today, more than half a million walleye fingerlings are stocked in nine lakes across North Georgia. The WRD walleye program is a true statewide effort. Fisheries biologists and technicians capture brood fish from north Georgia reservoirs each March and transport them to the Go Fish Hatchery in Perry. Go Fish staff spawn the broodstock, care for newly hatched fry, and transport them to fertilized growout ponds at Walton, Summerville and Lake Burton state fish hatcheries. Those hatchery staffs maintain the ponds for 30 days and then harvest and stock 1-inch walleye fingerlings into targeted public waters.
In about two years, surviving fish have grown large enough for harvest by Georgia anglers. Without this statewide effort by WRD Fisheries staffs, there would be no walleye fisheries in Georgia.
Many walleye anglers are now wondering if the new Georgia walleye record could ever be broken. Many state-record walleyes from across the nation weigh in the neighborhood of 14 to 18 lb. Georgia’s warm climate allows walleye to grow faster than anywhere else in the world. On the flip side, this same climate causes Georgia walleye to die sooner than anywhere else in the world. It would probably take 14 to 16 years for a female Georgia walleye to reach a weight of 18 lb, which may exceed their life expectancy in our state. Although some southern-strain Tennessee walleye have been reported to live for 20 years, it is extremely rare. 14 to 18 lb is probably the maximum growth a female walleye could attain in Georgia. Therefore, as far as breaking the state record goes, the odds may be stacked against it, but yes it’s possible!
For a behind-the-scenes look, catch the O’Neill Outside episode about Walleye Survey and Stocking in Georgia. Watch here.
For more information about Georgia walleye fishing, download our free guidebook. Now is the perfect time of year to fish for walleye.