Larry Pachulski is hooked – on walleye

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If an angler pulls a hefty walleye out of Wabasis Lake in Kent County next summer, he or she can probably thank Larry Pachulski and his colleagues at the West Michigan Walleye Club. Pachulski has helped raise, harvest and plant more than 800,000 walleye in area lakes since beginning the project in 2009.

“I used to fish for walleye with my dad in the Muskegon River,” recalled Pachulski who serves as the club’s vice president. “It involves more skill than using a worm, hook and bobber to catch a bluegill. It’s the challenge I enjoy.”

Walleye will not reproduce in many West Michigan lakes due to their murky bottoms, says Pachulski, an operations qualifications evaluator for DTE Energy. They like rocks, gravel and moving water. To get around that, the club utilizes area ponds to raise walleye fingerlings provided by the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The ponds, once used to raise trout, were abandoned by the DNR years ago.

Pachulski and club members receive about 300,000 young walleye each spring that are taken from the Muskegon River by the DNR. The fry as they are called – about the size of a mosquito – are placed in the ponds where they feed on algae. By June, they’re about 1.5 inches.

“That’s when they turn from salad eaters to meat eaters,” joked Pachulski. “If we leave them alone, they will eat each other, so we net all that we can and stock area lakes.”

The spring harvest yields about 80,000 fish each year. Some are returned to the Muskegon River. The others find new homes in West Michigan lakes. At that size, however, only about one in 100 will make it to maturity. Most fall prey to adult fish, such as crappie and bass.

Meanwhile, the walleye that were not netted in the spring are fed minnows raised by the club in one of the other ponds. Those fish are harvested by mid-October. This year’s autumn haul totaled 8,300 fish up to 10 inches in length.

At that size, their odds of survival are nearly 100 percent.  Mature walleye can reach more than 30 inches in length and weigh more than 10 pounds – and provide an exciting outdoor activity for adults and children.

“That’s what it’s all about to me,” said Pachulski. “Too many kids sit in the house, playing video games or using their  cell phones. Our club wants to see more youth involved in the outdoors. ”

Beth Sochacki agrees. She’s an English teacher at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Belmont, Mich.  Sochacki heard about the project and makes the short walk from the school to the ponds with her eighth grade class each fall to observe the process and absorb themselves in nature.

“Getting middle school students outside and walking in the woods is rare,” admitted Sochacki.  “They become different people, wearing boots, changing into waders to do an invertebrate count or watching for frogs.

“Our environment needs our future leaders to be more than just aware of it; they need to be connected to it so they develop a connected sense of care for nature, for our planet. The club and its members have made some amazing learning opportunities happen for these kids with which no textbook can compare.”

“I am very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” said Pachulski. “Many people are involved. It wouldn’t be possible without our club members, volunteers and our partnership with the DNR.”