Members of the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation saw a 15-year struggle come to an end Oct. 25, when they were able to release 4,000 walleyes into the Great Sacandaga Lake.
The first batch of walleye realeased into the lake since 1973 wasn't easy to come by, as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had repeatedly denied the group a permit over the last 15 years, but recent changes among DEC board members led to changes in these restrictions. And the GSLFF was issued a permit last year for stocking this year.
Flanked by Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation members, Chairman Randy Gardinier releases a bucket full of young walleye into the Great Sacandaga Lake at Cranberry Creek on Oct. 25. The group released 4,000 walleye into the lake, adding to its natural population of the species. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
"I've been chairman of the group for 15 years, and this is the thing I wanted to do," Randy Gardinier said. "[The DEC] always said whatever walleye were in the lake were self-sustaining ... [But now] the biologist said it certainly isn't going to hurt the lake and gave us the permit."
Jack Smith, secretary of the GSLFF, said people were catching some walleyes, but not as many as they would have liked for a lake that used to be brimming with the fish. The Walleye Challenge, an annual ice fishing tournament focused on the species, draws hundreds of participants to the lake in winter.
Gardinier said the DEC used to put walleye "fry," or eggs, into the lake six million at a time each year but stopped in 1973.
And that number isn't as big as it may seem.
"The survival rate of the fry is very low - maybe 1 percent or less. They're very fragile," he said.
But last Thursday, the young walleye Gardinier and his group put in were five to eight inches long and will be legal to fish in the spring of 2014.
The group released the 4,000 fish at three different locations on the lake with 2,000 being released at Cranberry Cove, 1,200 at the Northville Boat Launch and 800 at Sinclair Heights.
The group began annually releasing trout into the lake in 1988, and after a few years people began asking why they didn't release other fish into the lake, which led to the walleye struggle.
Gardinier said the DEC has released 13 million walleyes into Saratoga Lake since the struggle began, and his group members didn't understand why they weren't being allowed to do the same.
"I don't know why they couldn't take some of those and put them in the Sacandaga," Gardinier said. "It's the largest man-made lake in the state. It does a lot for the area. The lake provides a lot of sales-tax revenue for [Fulton] county, and Montgomery County, too. Route 30 businesses profit from people going up to the Adirondacks. That's really their last stop. Once they get off the Thruway, that's about it."
The group is set to stock walleye until 2016 under its current permit. Gardinier said the permit allowing his group to do the stocking will benefit the DEC, which doesn't have the staff to conduct every project that scientists and conservationists would like to have done in the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park.
"We can do stockings the DEC is unable to do,"?he said.
John Borgolini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.