FISH stocking numbers that are available on the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website are an interesting read, and they may tip anglers off to future fishing hot spots.

There is a county- and lake-specific database on the site that provides years of stocking totals for most lakes in Wisconsin, providing not only the species but the strain, size and number of fish stocked going back decades.

Some of the good news discovered during my review of the numbers was that the department is trying hard to revive the Franklin Lake walleye fishery in Forest County.

The agency’s efforts started with the stocking of 4.5 million walleye fry between 2005 and 2007. They stocked another 69,000 small walleye fingerlings between 2010-2012, and have since stocked 8,300 large walleye fingerlings every other year through 2020.

Angler reports and spearfishing results don’t show the walleye fishery has responded, but it was once a great walleye lake and it could certainly boom again.

It was also good to see that every other year, the department was aggressively stocking productive put-and-take walleye lakes such as Wildcat, Hunter, Muskellunge and Pioneer in Vilas County, as well as Sevenmile Lake in Oneida.

And those numbers reflect only what the department is stocking, not the efforts being made by lake associations to stock fish in the odd years when the DNR?does not.

A review of this database is going to leave you with questions, such as why the department totally stopped walleye stocking on some other lakes that historically produced good numbers of walleyes.

Walleyes haven’t been stocked in Deerskin Lake since 2008, Boot Lake since 2001, Lost Lake since 2012, Razorback Lake since 2008 and Lower Buckatabon Lake since 2012.

I couldn’t reach the Vilas County fish biologist while writing this report so I can’t say whether natural reproduction returned to these waters, or if the DNR decided they were better bass and panfish lakes than walleye lakes.

Anvil Lake, which has lost walleye reproduction and is currently in a fisheries rehabilitation mode, got 14,464 small walleye fingerlings in 2020 — the first walleye stocking there since 1991.

Of all the lakes in the three-county area that were researched, the biggest red flag emerged on Thunder Lake just west of Three Lakes in Oneida County.

Most anglers have read in recent years that fish biologists suspect largemouth bass are counterproductive to good walleye numbers, blamed for curtailing walleye fisheries on large, shallow lakes across the northwest counties.

That’s why the DNR recently removed protective regulations for largemouth bass, taking off the 14-inch size limit on some waters and re-establishing the catch-and-keep opener on the first Saturday in May while keeping a mid-June opener for smallmouth bass.

In fact, largemouth bass are suspected of being part of the walleye reproduction crash on the Minocqua Chain, where walleye harvest by anglers and spearers has been stalled for another five years.

With that anti-bass sentiment in mind, I was shocked to see the DNR stocked 72,000 extended-growth largemouth bass fingerlings into Thunder Lake between 2016 and 2018.

Zach Woiak, the fisheries biologist for Oneida County, said protocols dictated that they stock largemouth bass three years in a row following a severe winterkill in 2014 that took a big toll on the bass.

“Attempting to restore those large predator fish following a winterkill is normal,” said Woiak. “There’s a pretty decent walleye population in Thunder and we have a fisheries survey scheduled there in 2023.”

Woiak did acknowledge that it’s not normally a good idea to stock largemouth bass into any waterbody where the goal is to rehabilitate the walleye fishery.

No doubt the DNR and the Thunder Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District are serious about revamping the walleye fishery, as the agency stocks walleye fingerlings every other year and the district stocks large walleye fingerlings every year.

The DNR stocked 69,075 small walleye fingerlings in Thunder in 2019, the highest number of stocked fish since the 106,741 that were stocked in 2013.

Anglers might find the stocking reports useful for determining what walleye lakes they experiment on, and when to try them.

In general, in takes five or six years for a North Woods walleye to reach the normal minimum harvest size of 15 inches. However, the females grow faster than the males and just about every lake and river system has a slightly different growth rate.

You might be surprised to know that some of our premier walleye lakes are stocked fisheries, including Big and Little St. Germain lakes, Kentuck Lake and Trout Lake.

The DNR generally doesn’t stock walleyes in lakes with good natural reproduction, so some of the best waters won’t be found on the stocking list.

Fish biologists know the results of the most recent population surveys, and with the stocking numbers, their knowledge can be very helpful to anglers.

Besides stocking data, you’ll find the county fish biologists and their phone numbers on the DNR’s website as well.