in the Desert: Feast or Famine?
For the past 25 years, Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) has stocked
walleye in three Salt River reservoirs with the goal of developing
a productive walleye fishery in central Arizona. Maintaining a walleye
fishery in Arizona's low elevation, warm water reservoirs is challenging
for managers since this cool-water species is more typically found
in northern U.S. and Canadian lakes. In 2000, AZGFD Research Branch
initiated a three-year study that ended June of 2003 to evaluate walleye
populations in the three reservoirs and develop management strategies
with goals of providing a more satisfying walleye angling experience.
Saguaro, Canyon and Apache lakes are water
storage and hydropower reservoirs located east
of Phoenix along the Salt River. Apache Lake
located furthest upstream of the three reservoirs,
approximately 65 miles east of Phoenix, and
is the largest and deepest of the three reservoirs.
Canyon Lake, the smallest of the three reservoirs,
is located downstream of Apache Lake, approximately
50 miles east of Phoenix. Finally, Saguaro
Lake, shallowest of the three reservoirs, is
approximately 40 miles east of Phoenix. All
three reservoirs experience high recreational
use, with Saguaro receiving the heaviest use
due to its proximity to Phoenix.
the study we monitored fish abundance, primary
productivity, zooplankton, and water quality.
From these data we determined the age and growth
of walleye, what food they eat, the level of
walleye condition or health, success of previous
walleye stockings, and success of walleye spawning
in the Salt River reservoirs. With this information,
managers can assess the status of the fishery
and detect significant changes comparing current
findings with long-term records collected by
Our findings indicate walleye in the Salt River reservoirs live to approximately
6 - 7 years of age, and reach up to 13 inches by the end of their first
year, and 21 inches by the end of their third year of growth, after which
growth slows dramatically. Walleye diet consists primarily of threadfin
shad, as they tend to avoid eating spiny-rayed fish such as bass and catfish.
Although sexually mature walleye were collected there was no evidence of
successful walleye reproduction in these reservoirs. Consequently, continued
stockings will be required to maintain the walleye fishery in the future.
Walleye are one of the three most abundant large-bodied fish in these reservoirs
along with yellow bass and channel catfish. Summertime is stressful for
walleye because the reservoirs stratify and the fish are restricted to
a narrow band of tolerable habitat with overlying water being too hot to
enter without experiencing considerable energy demands or even death, and
underlying water not having enough dissolved oxygen for respiration. Consequently
walleye exhibit lower condition during summer because, less food is available,
and more energy is required to forage for, capture and digest food. Furthermore,
other fish species are also compressed into this band, and the walleye
must compete with them for space and food. Winter conditions in Arizona
are similar to those during summer at northern latitudes. During this period,
temperatures are optimal for growth, food is abundant, and walleye condition
Because a majority of nutrients entering the reservoirs originate upstream
in the Salt River watershed, nutrients are filtered by each reservoir as
the water flows downstream from Apache, through Canyon to Saguaro Lake.
Consequently, Apache Lake receives the highest amount of nutrients, and
Saguaro, the lowest. Walleye condition reflects this nutrient trickle-down
effect with Apache Lake walleye having the highest condition and growth
rates, and Saguaro Lake having the lowest.
Walleye in Saguaro, Canyon and Apache Lakes generally have higher condition
than their counterparts in northern Arizona lakes and reservoirs. These
differences may be a function of the lower productivity of northern lakes,
and warmer year-round temperatures of the Salt River reservoirs.
Findings from this study enable managers to effectively stock and manage
walleye in the Salt River reservoirs, thereby providing a unique angling
experience to the state. Furthermore, study findings enable managers to
confidently age walleye to assess growth and status of the walleye fishery
in these low elevation reservoirs.
For more information
Marianne Meding, Arizona Game and Fish Department, 5000 W. Carefree Highway,
Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000.
Phone: (623) 236-7672 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Diana Rogers, Arizona Game and Fish Department, 5000 W. Carefree Highway,
Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000.
Phone: (602)789-3664 Email: email@example.com