(Evolution of fishing at Willard Bay)

The gizzard shad are spawning!

That may not seem like much, but it's a big deal for the future of fishing in Willard Bay Reservoir.

If only relatively few of the shad survive the winter and spawn again next year, it will mean excellent walleye and catfish fishing in the Bay in years to come.

The Division of Wildlife Resources stocked between 1,500 and 1,600 adult gizzard shad earlier this year after a long process of getting approval for the stocking. Gizzard shad are extremely productive and if they get in the wrong water they can do serious damage, especially to trout populations. However, they generally don't survive very well in trout waters because they can't handle extreme cold.

Tom Pettengill, Northern Region fisheries manager for the DWR, said biologists checking to see spawning results recently counted 2,200 young of year gizzard shad in a seining haul of only 100 feet.

That's a very good count for a forage fish, he said. It means that catfish and walleye, especially young ones, are already feasting on the small gizzard shad.

The question now, Pettengill said, is whether enough shad survive the winter. Only about 1,000 adult shad are needed to repopulate the reservoir every year. But Willard Bay is lower right now than anyone can remember and a hard, cold winter could cause major winterkill, he fears.

The DWR doesn't want the shad to take over Willard Bay entirely. Thus, winter killoff is not entirely bad.

Adult shad can handle the cold weather better than young ones. Pettengill is hopeful that enough shad will survive each winter to repopulate the reservoir, but not so many that they overrun it.

If that plan works out, we can look for excellent long-term fishing for catfish and walleye in Willard Bay. An open-water predator fish like white bass or whipers (a cross between white bass and striped bass) might also be stocked in the reservoir if the gizzard shad do well.

It will likely take a couple of years for fishing to really improve, Pettengill said.

Meanwhile, anglers are doing pretty well catching catfish from shore right now, Pettengill said.