EXCELSIOR, Minn. (WCCO) — Lake Minnetonka is a haven for year-round recreation — the perfect metro lake for cruising boats or casting lines.

“It’s super cool just to be out here and watch the kids being able to catch a walleye, here in the Twin Cities, Minnetonka is a gem,” Zig Peret, an avid walleye angler.

But precious as the west metro lake is, Minnetonka doesn’t exactly burst with tasty walleye.

“They estimate that little over five percent of the walleye in this lake are naturally reproduced,” Johnny Range said. “So if we want walleye in the lake, we’ve got to stock them.”

And that’s the goal of the West Tonka Walleye Program, which Range coordinates. The volunteer program, which began several years ago, sponsors fundraisers and benefits to turn cash into catchable fish.

“We’ve raised over $175,000 all from private donations,” Range said. “All of that money goes to purchase fish, no tax dollars are being spent on this.”

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stocks Minnetonka with fingerling walleye every other year. But the program Range started is meant to supplement state efforts.

So with a team of volunteers braving November’s bitter cold, the payoff came net by net.

Each one bursting with 8- to 13-inch walleye released into Minnetonka’s icy waters.

“We estimate anywhere from 18,000 to 28,000 total fish a year,” Peret said.

The fish being released Friday are larger than the fingerlings stocked by the DNR. The idea is that larger walleye will stand a better chance of survival against predators.

“It’s always been good fishing, but this is our opportunity to make it better,” Range said.

For many, it means no need to head north to cast their lines. Not when the fish of choice is catchable right in your own backyard.

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