A freshwater fish native to the northern United States and the majority of Canada, Walleye (Sander vitreus) is a close relative to the European Zander, known also as the pikeperch. It can sometimes be called the yellow walleye, distinguishing it from the blue walleye – a now presumed extinct subspecies once found in the regions of Quebec and southern Ontario. However, analysis of a preserved sample of blue walleye done recently suggests that the two do not require separate taxonomic classification since they were phenotypes of the same species.
The walleye is often called pickerel throughout its range in the English-speaking portions of Canada. There is no actual relation to the true pickerel species, a member of the Esocidae family.
Most fish generally are genetically distinct from those in nearby watersheds, and like those of their own. Walleye, on the other hand, show great variations across all watersheds. The main reason for this is the artificial propagation done for more than a century and the planting introduction into both naturally walleye-devoid waters and existing population watersheds. This leads to a population wide reduction in genetic distinctiveness.
Their name comes from their outward pointing eyes, which seem as if they were staring at each wall. This orientation gives walleye an advantage over prey in turbid waters and allows them to see exceedingly well in the dark. (1)
Part of fishing for walleye is having insight into their development. Their growth rate is one of the most important things to know. Not only is development rate affected by gender, but a significant impact on growth rates is observed by factors such as location and environment also.
So how big do walleye get? A study from 1969 by wisc.edu shows some great information from Lake Winnebego WI about the length, width and weight of Walleyes.
Year One: During their first year, walleye top the scales at around .2 pounds and grow to approximately 5 inches. Males are marginally larger at this point and will stay that way for several years.
Year Two:At the end of the second year, you can expect to see them weigh less than .5 pounds and have a length of about 8 inches.
Year Three: The male is considered mature in its third year, weighing around .6 pounds and staying around the same length as the previous year.
Year Four: Females begin to overtake male walleye in the fourth year. The growth spurt realizes a length of about 12.3 inches and a weight just under 1 pound.
Year Five: During the fifth year, females have now reached their maturity age and continue to outgrow their male counterparts. Weight generally remains at the previous year’s scale mark but there is a length increase to around 14.2 inches.
Once walleye have reached the ten-year mark, they generally have a length of around 19.1 inches and weigh roughly 2.6 pounds. At the age of fifteen, weight is about 4.5 pounds and the length is around 23 inches.
The male population has mostly disappeared by the time the age of twenty is reached. Their average length is 26.2 inches and weight is about 6.7 pounds. If the fish is lucky enough to celebrate its twenty-fifth birthday, length on average is 29 inches and their weight is about 9.4 pounds.
Females will live to around twenty-five years or longer if left alone, while males typically live somewhere in the range of fifteen to twenty years.
Walleye Fishing Techniques
There are several fishing techniques for walleye used by the experts. They swear by the methods that they use and seem to have the results to back up their claims. Also causing variations in success or failure of your fishing endeavor is the combination of the time of year and technique used.
- Jigging: During the summer, walleyes prefer to go deeper than they would in spring after their spawn has been completed. Good spots where they like to hang out include rocky drop-offs, islands surrounded by gravel patches, rocky points, and river mouths. To get protection from the sun, walleye that live in flat structured lakes tend to disappear into clumps of thick weeds.
Colors that are more natural seem to attract walleye during the summer months. Choose lures that are white, black, brown or silver. If you are jig fishing, you can go heavier than you may normally. Depending on your fishing depth, consider using something like a 3/8 ounce or 1S/4 ounce. Whichever unscented rubber or twister tails you add to the jig should contain one of the above colors. Interestingly enough, fish from the northern areas do not like any type of scented rubber. What they do like, however, is salt.
If lures are not an option where you intend to fish, take the time to get a bunch of live minnows and cure them using salt. The easiest way to do this is by placing all the minnows in a single layer on some type of baking sheet and then liberally sprinkling them with salt. There is no need to worry about using too much salt and you will be rewarded when you see how crazy the walleye go over them.
Extremely hot days present a different challenge for walleye fishing. They are liable to get extremely lazy, especially when it is sunny and hot. Try putting an unscented twistertail on a 1/8-ounce jig. Cast it out and drag it right across the bottom of the water body. Jig every 2 or 3 inches to prevent any weeds or mud from adhering to the hook.
Dragging like this on the bottom gets the fish in the mood to feed. Make sure that you are jigging slowly. If you happen to be out first thing in the morning and the same conditions are present, extend the motion of your jig. Once they slowdown in the afternoon, add some salted minnow, walleye gullet, or piece of worm to the jig and bottom drag again to get them moving.
The summer is also a good time to hit the rocky points while trolling. Brown or silver colored Thunderstick or Rapalas work well. Stay away from the brighter colors unless you are okay with reeling in a bunch of pike. When the summer heat has really grabbed on, look to fish depths of somewhere between 15 and 35 feet. This is where the biggest of the females will spend their days, choosing to come to shore at night only to feed. Feeding during the day is usually on suspended schools of lake herring and lake shad in the open water.
- Trolling with a small boat: If you are using a small boat where it is possible to troll extremely slowly, there is one technique you may find extremely rewarding. Put a 3-way swivel on the line along with a 2-ounce weight. You can either troll at a depth of about 20 feet along the shoreline following its contours, or you can back troll through baitfish schools. Do not forget the big, juicy worm on the worm harness. Source: pashalake.com
If you have a larger size boat, troll the open water using J-13 down deep jointed Rapalas, down deep Husky Jerks, or downriggers. Concentrate on river mouths and rocky points around 20 to 40 yards out where baitfish schools linger. Try varying your depth somewhere between 15 and 35 feet for the best results.
- River Fishing for Walleye: During the spring, walleye can be found easily within 3 to 10 feet offshore or where there is good river current. There are not always river current spawning areas available so they choose to spawn along the shore in the sandy areas. Although spawning is generally finished by the time the season opens, they are quite protective of the spawning beds and tend to hang around.
Light jigs will work best so think about going with either a 1/8th or 1/16th ounce. Since walleyes are so aggressive during the spring, cast right along the shore and be equally aggressive with your retrieval. Bright colors draw their eye fast this time of year so think in terms of chartreuse, blue, yellow, white, or red. Any feeding walleye will hit your jig, and those who are not currently in feeding mode will still respond to the brightness since they consider them a threat to their spawning grounds and become highly aggravated.
The smaller males tend to stay around the spawning bed area in the earlier part of the spring and during the daytime. If size is your preference over quantity, fish about 10 to 15 feet down just out from the beds to catch the larger females. Once you have found the sweet spot in the feeding area turn off the motor and cast instead. Walleye tend to stop feeding when they get spooked and trolling too many times back and forth is one way to do it.
As far as the numbers go, when it comes to early spring, you will quickly learn that water with a depth of fewer than 5 feet is where you will find just about 95 percent of the walleye. If you choose to do some mid-afternoon trolling, look for the deeper water about 30 feet from the shore. Down deep husky jerks will be your best bet for success at landing one of the big females who stay away from the shore during the day.
- Walleye Fishing in Fall: Fall walleye fishing can be one frustrating experience. The biggest problem with most lakes is that the weeds start to die once the water begins to cool down. They decompose after absorbing the water’s oxygen while they die. These dead weeds produce a gas called methane-sulfate. As these bubbles of methane float to the surface of the water, hydrogen molecules cause the release of sulfur that annoys fish in small quantities but is highly toxic in big concentrations. The walleye then moves from areas where there are dying weeds, heading up rivers or out into open water.
When you are river fishing for walleye in the fall, look for back moving currents that are found on each side of rapids, or near deep pools. For your best chance at catching a fish, the number one recommendation this time of year is a worm or minnow with a float. The back-eddies and slower moving currents provide the opportunity to cast Thundersticks or Rapalas. Jigs are always an option, but you will spend most of your day trying to unsnag it from various orifices.
For open water, fall fishing walleye tend to remain suspended out in the open. You can usually find them at a depth of somewhere around 10 to 25 feet. If you make use of a depth finder, concentrate on depths below the ten-foot mark. Another consideration is the atmospheric pressure. This affects the depths at which walleye can be found. When the pressure drops to extremely low levels, you may see a complete cessation of any feeding activity. By keeping an eye on the atmospheric pressure, which you can do simply by purchasing a barometer, you will know exactly when the time is ripe. Watch for rises in pressure since they will aggressively start to feed.
During the evening and throughout the night, fall is the perfect time to find very large females venturing close to the shore. One of the best times for trolling along the shore or out near rocky shoals is between the hours of 10 pm to 3 am. Aim to keep a depth of around 2 or 3 feet for best results.
- Ice Fishing for Walleye: Some of the biggest walleye catches happen in the winter, especially around the first ice period. With shallow bodies of water especially, you have a 3 to 4-week time span when they keep biting without much work required from you. Where the water areas are deeper, like large lakes, first ice usually will yield results anywhere from mid-winter right up until late in the season.
- Dusk and dawn are the best times to go ice fishing for walleye because they prefer their light in the low to dim range. If you want to produce often during the winter, aim for the dark and overcast days. Once you have your “perfect” spot during the summer, there is a high likelihood that you will find them near there in the winter.
- Large walleye are very cautious, which is why they grew so big in the first place. Clear water makes them even more nervous so do not over-rig whichever set up you are using. You will likely see better results from a 6 – 8-pound test line with a size 6 hook than you would with a 12 – 17-pound test line and a hook that is 1/0 or larger. Small hooks have the advantage because a walleye will swallow them and not feel that there is anything unusual in doing so. Take your time bringing the fish in – most of them are caught away from the possibility of snags – let your rod, reel, and drag do the job it was intended to do. Also, keep in mind that walleye are not solitary fish – they school, meaning that if you see one there are plenty more swimming about.
Now for a breakdown of where to practice these techniques! We will start with prime locations in natural lakes, and they include:
Fishing for walleye in lakes:
- Reefs and extended, shallow weed flats are best in the fall and the spring when you fish the edges
- Late summer and early fall is recommended for sharp drop-offs, breaklines with transitions from rock to weeds, and numerous irregular feature points
- Windswept gravel or rubble shorelines are good spawning areas so look for adjacent breaklines and sloping points
- Summer is where man-made cribs, humps, and deep reefs will yield plenty of fish
Fishing for walleye in streams and rivers include:
- “Currented” rocky or gravel shorelines in fall and summer
- Wing dams
- Look for the tailwaters below active dams from the late part of fall to early in the spring
Fishing for walleye in man-made flowages include:
- Old river channels, specifically concentrating on inside and outside turns, and sharp sloping points
- The deep pools of flowage feeder streams are good in the early part of the year
- Up until the early part of summer, look to riprap shoreline embankments
- The gradual sloping tendencies of bars and points, reefs, and large deep-water humps often produce
When do Walleyes Spawn
Walleye spend the fall and winter months in the deep water until the water starts to warm. The walleye spawning dates are largely dependent on the temperature of the water. Many people ask – Do walleyes spawn in fall? The answer is shown on the spawning map created by In-Fisherman. The further you go north on the united states the later the walleye spawn is, creating the misconception that walleye are spawning in fall. They leave to begin their migratory journey once the sun’s rays have melted the accumulation of ice on streams and lakes. However, many factors can challenge the internal calendar walleye have for migratory spawning. The most critical of these factors is the temperature of the water.
The males are the first to leave the deep water and begin the journey, once they can sense the warming trend. They can arrive at the site as far as one month in advance of the females. The female walleye does not arrive until the temperature of the water is ideal for successful reproductive activity. The magic walleye spawning temperature is generally around the 45°F mark.
The pace of the spawn is wholly determined by how quickly the sun can warm the water to perfect spa temperature. Reservoirs and lakes take longer to warm due to depth, so there is a faster progression of the spawning process in streambeds. Also on the slower side to warm effectively are offshore waters.
Once underway, spawning can grind to a halt if there is a re-freeze or unexpected cold spell. The females will either reabsorb eggs that have already been deposited in shallow shoals or hold onto them entirely. There is a fair amount of consistency to the aquatic environment’s warming in a normal year, but bad years with late springs can wreak havoc on spawning.
The best spawning sites from the walleye’s perspective for spawning occur on gravel and rock covered shorelines with depths anywhere from 1 to 20 feet. However, if there is a lack of suitable habitat, they make do with what is available, even choosing sand if nothing else presents itself. Incredibly, prime spawning sites sometimes require the fish to travel more than 100 miles.
Best Live Bait for Walleye
Walleye are widely known to be tricky, and the bigger they are, the harder they are to fool. These occasions are when choosing live bait over lures will work to your advantage. Learning when to use what where can increase chances of success drastically.
- Minnows: The universally chosen best live bait for walleye. They come in a large assortment of types and colors. Among those best suited to trapping the walleye into lunch (theirs and yours) include:
- Dace – Finescale, longnose, eastern blacknose, northern redbelly, and pearl
- Shiner – Blackchin, blacknose, common, spottail, spotfin, sand, striped, rosyfaced, mimic, redfin, golden, and emerald
- Chub – River, lake, hornyhead, redtail, and creek
- Suckers – shorthead redhorse, white, longnose, silver, and northern hog
The most important thing when choosing live bait is to make sure that it is active and very fresh. Unless you toss them in the middle of a feeding frenzy (but maybe not even then), minnows that are almost dead, sluggish, or slow will not draw the attention of any self-respecting walleye. Keep in mind that minnows move most naturally and wiggle well when the water temperature is below 50 or 60°.
- Leeches: while disgusting to find adhered to your skin, is a preferred treat for walleye. They are a nice alternative to nightcrawlers and have several variations in color from the most often seen black. A range between light brown to olive green can be found if you are looking for variety. As long as their water is changed at least every second day and they are kept in the refrigerator, leeches are quite easy to keep alive. They prefer having non-chlorinated water just covering their backs. The larger size of leeches, usually around 3 or 4 inches is the perfect size for attracting walleye.
- Nightcrawlers and dew worms: As one of the most common baits used in freshwater fishing, both nightcrawlers and dew worms will make an impression on a hungry walleye. One of the most important things to remember is to keep the size of your worm relative to what you are hoping to catch. When your worm is too long, the biggest risk you face is having the majority of it disappear before you were even aware that there were fish in the area. The second most important thing to know is that how you present your offering matters. Walleye are very clever and they will shy away from worms that are bunched up on the hook. Always attempt to keep them as outstretched as possible, the manner which is most natural to them.
- Large Bait: If you are planning on trying your hand at catching a big walleye, you may want to consider using some large bait. Bait shops generally have a good selection of fish the walleye would not turn up its nose at:
- Small white bass
- Channel catfish
For use during the winter, small suckers, red tail chubs, large shiners, and minnows are best. In the fall, you will find that red tail chubs, minnows, and small suckers encourage bites. Try night crawlers, leeches, and minnows during the summer. For spring, stick to fatheads, red tail chubs, and minnows.
Best way to fillet a walleye
Once you have caught your limit, you will need to clean it before preparing it for cooking. The process is not difficult, but there are several steps that you will need to follow to ensure it is correctly done.
How to clean a walleye
- With the blade of your knife pointing down, put your knife behind the fin.
- Make a cut straight down to the backbone, being careful not to cut the backbone completely through.
- Turn your knife sideways so that its blade is pointing towards the tail.
- Cut right down the length of the backbone until you reach the tail. You will notice you are cutting through very thin bones but they will be removed in a later step.
- This effectively removes the filet. Next is to separate the rib cage.
- Place your blade at the very edge of the rib cage. Slice carefully all the rib cage roughly 1-inch in. To ensure that you are not cutting into the meat, make sure your blade’s edge remains close to the rib cage.
- On the other side of the rib cage, point your blade down about 1/8th of an inch and slice down the entire length.
- Firmly grasp the rib cage and pull it out.
- The thinnest end of the filet will be the tail. Hold it with your fingernail and make a cut down to the skin. Drag your knife along as close to the skin as possible, effectively scraping it. Once you have reached the end you will be able to remove the skin easily. If you are planning on storing or transporting your filet, you must leave at least 1 inch of skin visible for species identification.
- Now it is time to remove those thin bones. If you have caught your fish in the south, the row of bones is thin enough to dissolve during the cooking process. If you catch it in the north, there is a more developed bone structure, meaning they must be removed.
- The bones are felt easily with your fingers and they extend about half the way down the filet. Simply cut through the filet on each side of the ridge and remove the bones.
- Once you have washed your filet in clean water, it is ready for cooking.
Best Walleye Tackle for Spring, Summer and Fall
Every angler has their own opinion of what works best to hook certain types of fish and walleye is no exception. Each tackle box you come across contains that “just the thing” lure. There are selections of items that no tackle box should be without, however. Keep in mind that different locations will generally require the use of a different type of lure.
- The 3-way swivel is an item that you will not be able to do without. Since you troll, there is plenty of ground coverage to be found in this rig that is simple but oh so effective. Be forewarned that it is no good in areas with high snagging potential. For the best set up, add the swivel to a 6-pound test line along with a 3-ounce sinker. Attach roughly 4 – 6 feet of your choice of fluorocarbon line to the other loop with a spinner worm harness. A color combination of red and gold works very well. Just make sure that the worm is fully extended – aim for around 8 or so inches.
- Crank baits are one of the most effective lures for walleye. Any of the Rapala line offers an excellent guarantee of quality. They work best when you are trolling the shallows and the banks around sunrise or sunset since the walleye arriving in the shallows for the evening and early mornings are super aggressive. The brighter the colors, the better the fish will respond.
- When it comes to choosing your selection of crank baits, both action and color should weigh heavily in your decision. There is such a wide spectrum of finishes and colors that the array can be dazzling. Finishes come in holographic, photo, chrome, painted, glass, foil, and prism. The color list for both fluorescent and regular is slightly longer. If you can think of a color or combination, you will probably find it.
- Many successful walleye hunters consider action to be the most important factor when it comes to garnering the attention of fish. What triggers walleye to bite is a top to bottom roll with lots of side flash. Since walleyes are cold-blooded, their metabolism is lower when the temperature of the water decreases. This means they do not need to feed as often. The warmer the water, the more feeding activity you will observe. The general rule is that walleye feed best when the temperature of the water is between 55° and 75°. Choosing the action will, therefore, depend on not only the water temperature but also the time of year. Action for lures falls into three categories:
- High action works best during the peak of midsummer when the water temperature is around the 70° mark or higher.
- Moderate action is best from late spring to early summer when the temperature of the water is increased to between 50° and 60°.
- The Subtle action is the best choice for late fall and early spring in temperatures under 50°.
- Jigs are going to be what you use most of the time so it is imperative that you have several to choose from. With or without spinners is your choice, but look for a bright color like orange. To obtain optimal results, consider adding a leech or dew worm to pique their interest.
- In a category, all on its own, is the Wally Diver. No true walleye angler should ever be without this lure. With the deep dive capability (over 20 feet), it is perfect for use during the day when looking for the larger females hiding in deep water. Consider casting or trolling out in the open water but be sure to take it slow.
There are many others that line the shelves, but the above will give you a decent starting point. Below, you will find a list of some of the best baits and lures to use.
22 Walleye Lures for Trolling, Drifting or Casting
9 Lures trolling deep for walleye:
- Rapala J-11 Deep Running Jointed Rapala
- Storm Deep ThunderStick MadFlash
- Storm Deep Jointed Minnow Stick
- White or yellow Flatfish
- Deep Tail Dancer
- Storm ThunderCrank
- Rapala Down Deep Husky Jerks
- Rapala J-13 Deep Running Jointed Rapala
- Jointed Deep Running Shad Rap
6 lures to use while drifting or casting for walleye:
- Original Floating Storm ThunderStick
- Spinners with worm
- Jigs with unscented Twistertails
- Original Floating Rapala
- Heavy Erie Dearie with worm
- Hook with minnow or worm
7 shallow free trolling lures:
- Worm Harness Spinner
- Mepps Giant Killer Sassy Shad
- Light Erie Dearie with worm
- Spinners with worm
- Mepps SpinFlex with worm or minnow
- Original Floating Rapala
- Original Floating Storm ThunderStick
World Record Walleye
Anglers dream of catching a fish that will put them in the record books. Although walleye do not have the worldwide popularity of the mighty muskie or largemouth bass, they remain a source target of constant hope for those in Canada and the United States. Part of their appeal in these areas is the ability to fish the species all year-round, giving recreational fishermen the ability to try their luck in warmer climates and while ice fishing.
So what is the world record walleye? There are several record holders and runners up worth mentioning when it comes to world record walleye.
- In 1960, Mabry Harper pulled a 25 pounder near his Tennessee home from the waters of Hickory Lake. It was weighed in officially at Second Creek Resort. Once submitted for consideration to the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, approval was quickly given for the new world record. Rumors began to circulate about the legitimacy of Harper’s catch, especially in regard to the girth measurement that was reported (29 inches).
Harper’s walleye was removed from the record books in 1996 based on persistent complaints. However, the IGFA still officially recognizes his catch as the world’s heaviest walleye caught with a rod and reel.
- The world record for the heaviest walleye caught with fly tackle goes to Scott Smith in 1999. He hooked the 12-pound fish using an egg pattern fly shortly after the day’s fishing began. His catch gave him the men’s 8-pound tippet class record. He did not keep the walleye but released it back into the water.
- Only one fish has ever been recorded by the IGFA as weighing more than the 22 pounds 11-ounce walleye caught in Greers Ferry Lake in 1982 by Al Nelson. A roughly twenty-minute fight ensued during the evening while Nelson was trolling a Bomber lure. After official weigh in, Nelson earned the 12-pound line class record.
- Also on Greers Ferry Lake, Thomas B. Evans boated his largest walleye ever in all his sixty years. There was still ice on the surface of the water when he was trolling a deep running lure, hooking the fish in a fight that lasted a mere five minutes. His 20 pounds 9-ounce catch gave him the standing 20-pound line class record.
3 Ways to Cook Walleye
Catching a walleye is fun but eating your prize fish is even better. There are three main ways in which to cook your catch. Note** Due to possible levels of mercury contamination, children under the age of 18 and women in their childbearing years should ideally only consume Northern pike, muskie, and walleye once per month.
- Frying – This is one of the most popular ways to cook walleye and it can be done either in a pan or with the use of a deep fryer. There are several different choices for the batter and each cook has their own preference. Most commonly used ingredients include beer batter, egg, cracker crumbs, Tempura, flour alone, and Lemon Pepper Shake-&-Bake.
- Baking – If the butter levels are not too high, this is one of the healthiest methods of cooking any fish. The only method that out does baking on the health scale is poaching, although there are fewer flavors to be found. Generally, the walleye would be stuffed before baking, even though some prefer just to toss some root vegetables around it. Try using turkey stuffing or a mix of olive oil, garlic, and lemon for a new taste experience.
- Grilling – Due to the mild flavor of the fish, seasoning is recommended before you begin grilling. Anything you prefer works fine, but consider using some lemon juice to enhance the natural flavor. Many restaurants choose to build the plate around the fish, capitalizing on the subtle taste of it. Grilling is a fast and effective way of preparation and adds new dimensions of flavor. It is also easy to tell when you are close to the finish line because the surface of the fish will give you hard to miss clues that it is ready.