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Walleye are similar in shape to yellow perch, but can be identified by the presence of a dark spot at the bottom of their first dorsal fin, by a white area on the tip of the lower lobe of the caudal (tail) fin, and by their large canine teeth. Most walleye have a yellow hue, but occasionally a variation occurs which gives the fish a blue color, called "blue phase".
Walleye feed at night, and have large, light-sensitive eyes to help them locate their food. To protect their eyes from the sun, walleye stay in sheltered or deep water during the day and move into shallower water at night. They also prefer turbid water, as it allows them to take advantage of their ability to see under low light conditions. Walleye are well-known predators, and use their large canine teeth to catch yellow perch (a favorite Oneida Lake meal), gizzard shad, and other young fish. They are also known to eat clams, snails, and invertebrates that may be in the area.
Walleye spawn between mid-March and early April, not long after ice-out. They are broadcast spawners, depositing their eggs across the bottom instead of building nests. Walleye spawn over rocky bottoms or on gravel bars where the eggs can fall into crevices. In Oneida Lake, walleye spawn in tributaries (e.g. Fish Creek, Chittenango Creek, Scriba Creek) and on shoals in the lake. In the spring, walleye spawning can be observed at the Scriba Creek dam and is spectacular to watch. A large female may lay up to half a million eggs, but it is common for fewer than 5% of the eggs to hatch. Eggs hatch in 2-2½ weeks. The young walleye initially feed on zooplankton, but quickly change to a diet of fish.
Found in every major watershed in New York (except on Long Island), walleye play an important role in New York State’s tourism industry. Despite pressure from a growing cormorant presence that diminished the local walleye population in the 1990’s, Oneida Lake has been regarded as the state’s premier walleye fishery. Today, DEC stocks about 150 million walleye fry annually in Oneida Lake to maintain this high-quality recreational fishery.
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