The walleye is a North American freshwater fish that tends to be found in moderately deep, well-circulated lakes with rocky or sandy bottoms, but they also aren’t uncommon at all in rivers throughout North America. They frequently swim in schools and have extremely good eyesight. They’re one of my favorite fish to go after as you can find them pretty much anywhere in the U.S.
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Walleye are a highly sought after game fish. They can be caught pretty much anytime of the year, with uncomplicated and inexpensive gear. They don’t put up much of a fight when on the line, and once caught they are easy to clean and delicious to eat.
Walleye are an excellent fish for both beginning and experienced fisherman to go after. I started fishing for walleye when I was very young and they remain one of my favorites to fish for. They can be a good entry level fish to help decide if angling is the right hobby for you before spending too much on expensive poles and rigging.
Where to Fish
Walleye are a pretty populous fish all throughout North America. You can use a boat to fish them or simply cast off of a dock or riverbank. I prefer a boat as it has the added benefit of easy access to the deep parts of lakes where walleye most frequently are, but depending on when you fish you’ll find them often in the shallows as well.
When to Fish
The walleye takes advantage of its excellent lowlight eyesight and seeks prey mainly during darker hours. They also tend to hunt in choppy water to further utilize their visual acuity as an advantage over their prey; so make sure you cast off in the early morning, around dusk, on a cloudy day, or even at night to have the best shot catching these fish. I’ve had the most success with these fish just after the nightfall.
Walleye by Season
Walleye spawn in the spring and fall, so during these months you’re more likely to find them in shallower areas. Check the deeper sections of your lake during the winter and summer. Walleye stay pretty active in the winter and are often sought by ice fishermen. During their spawning period walleye get a little bit more reluctant to bite, but with a few tweaks it shouldn’t be much of a problem.
I’ve found that walleye will bite during their spawn, but you’ll catch mostly small males if you don’t adjust to their spring and fall habits. An upward temperature fluctuation of even a degree or two can trigger feeding in walleyes, so during these times wait until it starts to warm up in the early afternoon before you cast out. Similarly, if it starts to cool down walleye will become less active.
On the Hook
Walleye can get to be pretty big, and while they aren’t known to be particularly fierce fighters I’ve hooked a few that really put up a struggle on the line. As usual, patience is the key here. The fish isn’t used to fighting and will tire relatively quickly compared to other game fish so just take your time. Also, make sure to bring along a good quality net to scoop up your fish.
Pick as light of a line as possible when going after walleye. They can be pretty reluctant to fully commit to a bite and so a lighter line will help them slurp up your bait more easily and set a deep hook.
Stealth is Key
If fishing from a boat makes sure to cut your engine early and coast into your spot from a good distance out. Walleye are pretty perceptive and will scatter at the disruption caused by a loud engine.
Watch Your Smell
Walleye are very sensitive to foreign scents, so make sure you don’t contaminate your bait with an unnatural smell before you get it in the water.
Type of Bait
Walleyes aren’t a very picky fish most of the year, but there are certain baits they seem to prefer. As far as live bait goes, minnows, leeches, and night crawlers are your best bet. Throwing a weight on spinner rig so it sinks to the bottom where the walleye swim is also a very good and effective option and has done well for me in the past.
A mastery of the jig can really take your walleye fishing to the next level. Walleye are at the bottom of lakes most hours of the day, so being able to run a jig effectively is an invaluable skill. I try and keep mine cruising just above the bottom of the lake with a little added jerk into my pull to really draw in walleye.
If minnows, leeches, and night crawlers aren’t working I’ve had success in the past using crankbaits. Same as with jigs, run them as near to the bottom as you can to get the best results. Anything moving near the bottom is going to attract walleye attention it’s just a matter of convincing them to take a bite.
Add a Little Color
In my experience, the color of your lure can play a role in whether or not you get a fish on the hook. Make sure your tackle box is stocked with a variety of colorful lures. If one’s not working, switch it up. You might be surprised at how many more hits you’ll get if you happen upon a walleye’s favorite color lure.
Sometimes walleye will hit leeches when they won’t hit minnows and vice versa and sometimes they’ll hit crank baits when they won’t hit jigs. Catching walleye is all about learning what works at what time, so mix it up until you’re getting consistent bites.
Don’t Give Up!
Walleye have a tendency to sometimes release bait as soon as they feel it pulling against them. While this can be frustrating, keep trying. If they’re biting that means you’re doing it right eventually you’ll hook one.