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Mozingo Toll Road?

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May have to put up a toll road to keep people from flocking to the lake! laugh

St. Joseph News Press on Mozingo

Survey shows walleye fry stocked into Bilby, Mozingo growing to lunker sizes

by Jeff Leonard

Friday, April 10, 2009

Like a kid in a candy shop, I looked on with amazement as biologists from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) busily scooped one fish after another from the 42-degree waters of Bilby and Mozingo Lakes. After several passes with the electro-fishing boats, I could not believe the sheer size and numbers of walleyes seen. Best of all, they were right here in our own backyard.

This awe-inspiring night started when I received an e-mail from Tory Mason, one of MDC’s fisheries biologists, asking if I’d like to head up north to the Maryville area lakes while they tagged and collected important data on the stocked walleyes there. My only response was, “Just tell me when and where and I’ll be there.”

When Mason said the weather should be perfect last Thursday night we headed north. The sun was beginning to set over the horizon as the two MDC trucks and their electro-fishing survey boats pulled up to the ramp at Bilby Ranch and prepared for what we hoped would be a successful night.

As we bundled up in the cool night air and launched, Mason pointed out a sign next to the ramp that informs anglers there are tagged walleyes in the lakes and how to receive a $25 reward if they catch one. For those lucky enough to be in this position, they simply have to send the tag, along with an information card found at the ramps, to the local MDC office.

As complete darkness settled across the lake, the guys planned their strategy for finding the largest concentrations of fish and then fired up the on-board generators to power the electric rigs used to momentarily stun the fish, causing them to float up so they can be caught, inspected, tagged and released.

After the first pass alone, I could not believe my eyes. The large empty live well in the boat was instantly packed full of giant mature walleyes. I’ve been to Canada, Minnesota and other walleye hotspots, but in all those trips the largest fish I’ve ever caught barely compared to the smallest now swimming in the livewell in front of me.

As each one of the fish was carefully taken from the live well, it was checked to see if it had been tagged previously. Mason replied that normally less than 20 percent of the fish caught have been previously tagged. While he enjoys tagging new walleyes, recapturing older, previously tagged walleyes is also vital to determine growth rates and general health of the population.

On this night, health concerns were obviously not an issue. Fish after fish was pulled from the live well, measured, weighed, tagged and released. By the end of the night, the smallest fish brought in from either lake was a keeper at the length of 15 ½ inches. The average fish was closer to 20 inches and more than a few pushed the two-foot mark.

These fish had obviously put on the feed bag and packed on the pounds. Through the course of the night many fish in the 21- to 22-inch range tipped the scales at around 4 or 5 pounds; several more pushed the needle over the 8-pound mark. Mason was excited about the night’s catch but says he’s seen bigger. In fact, just last week they caught and released a fish that approached 10 pounds. In prior years he’s even seen a 12-pounder.

By the end of the night, Mason had placed his 200th tag of the spring into another big walleye and released it. The success of around a decade of work was clearly evident on his face. Thanks to the several hundred fish that were tagged the previous year, anglers also will reap the reward of MDC’s labor.

Mason was amazed at the growth he was seeing. The walleyes are stocked into the lakes as fry that are only about an inch or so long. Mason said these fish are growing upward of 9 inches in their first year and reaching 15 inches (which is the minimum length to possess them) in less than two years. By four to six years, these fish are growing in excess of 24 inches long.

The spring of 2008 was the first time the walleyes were tagged. Mason said he received more than 30 tags from anglers on Mozingo and 10 from Bilby in the first year alone. Each angler was issued a reward of $25 for every tag sent in. Mason said the majority of tags were sent in during the months of May, June, and September, which indicates the fish were more actively feeding then.

Mason himself fished these lakes on several occasions last year and caught around 25 fish that never had been tagged. He knows another angler who’s caught 17 with no tags. This tells him the fish they’re catching during electro-surveys are just a small sample of what’s really out there.

While walleye fishing employs some techniques that differ from many other native species, anglers who know how to find and target these big fish may be rewarded with not just a catch that any serious walleye angler could be proud of, but an added monetary bonus to boot. On top of all that, Maryville is significantly closer than a trip to Canada, and the walleyes are ready and waiting to be caught.

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