How To Catch Walleye

Walleyes are a little bit different than most other fish. They have particular habits, likes, dislikes, and moodiness that set them apart for most other fish. A lot of the techniques required are not very intuitive and may require some practice to consistently put walleyes in the boat or creel. To this end, I am going to share with you some Walleye Fishing Tips.

What Is A Walleye?

Walleyes (Sander vitreus) are often referred to as, “Walleyed Pike”, even though they have no relation to pikes at all. They are actually members of the Perch family (Percidae), and closely related to Yellow Perch, Saugers, Loghead Perch, etc… They are the largest member of the perch family in North America, with males getting up to over 6 lbs. and females over 10 lbs. They can exceed 30 inches in length.

Walleyes are native to Canada and the Northeast U.S., but stocking programs have increased their range as far south as Alabama, Georgia and to the west. They are one of the most popular targets for ice-fishing. Walleyes are active all year long and in the South, they can provide some great fishing when the bass and other warm-water fish slow down in Winter.

Walleyes are olive green-colored, with gold accents, fading to near-white on the belly. They have 13 spines on the dorsal fin, and a mouthful of small teeth, so be careful when handling them. They resemble their close relative, the sauger. They can be identified by the light coloration on the caudal fin which the sauger lacks. Walleyes also lack the distinctive black dots on the dorsal and caudal fins that are present on saugers.

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They got the name, “Walleye” because unlike other fishes, their eyes are more oriented to the sides, as if looking at a wall, hence the name. They have excellent low-light vision due to a layer of light-sensitive tissue called the tapetum lucidum.

This layer also comes with a disadvantage. It is highly reflective, and when walleyes are in shallow water at night, they can be found by shining a light on the water and looking for glowing eyes.

Their keen low-light eyesight and sensitivity to light allow them to live at greater depths than most other fish, sometimes more than 60 feet deep.

This is where you will find them during the day. At night they will cruise the shallows in search of minnows, crawfish, and nightcrawlers.

Walleyes prefer a water temperature of between 60⁰F to 70⁰F. They will spawn when the temperature gets above 45⁰F, but unlike other fish, they do not guard their eggs, so there are no ‘beds’ to key on. They do become very voracious after spawning though, and the action can be very good when you find them.

Walleyes will be found near structure and cover so look for drop-offs with plenty of cover such as sunken timber, weed beds, rock piles, cups, basins, channels, etc…  They especially love rocky bottoms. Good places to try for walleyes at dusk, night and early morning are off of points. Points usually offer cover in the shallows, with a drop off nearby so they don’t have to travel very far. During the day, they will be deep, looking for their preferred temperature range, but they will be near cover and structure.

How To Catch Walleyes

The biggest part of catching walleyes is finding them. They will be in, or near their preferred habitat mentioned in the previous section. Once you locate them, there are several fishing methods that work, and the one you use is mostly up to your personal preference. People swear by each one of them, and I have personally used all of them myself. I never noticed much of a difference in them, so I use the easiest method of all, jigging. The methods you can use are:

  1. Jigging – Walleyes love jigs, especially in bright fluorescent colors. Of course, when they are deep, colors are less important because the colors go away at different depths. At 60 feet, there are only blues and greys, so you may want a jig that has a lot of contrast between light and dark colors without worrying so much about the actual colors. My preference is for marabou jigs up to ¼ oz., but they readily chomp on bucktails and soft plastic bodied jigs as well. Spoons also work well, and the best I have ever used is the Daredevel in red and white. Vertical jigging works the best, so you will probably want to use some kind of boat, but walleyes are regularly caught from shore by casting, especially below tailraces. But a boat will greatly increase your options.
  2. Crankbaits – Probably the second most favored method. Crankbaits for walleyes need to be a little smaller than for bass, and they are usually in fluorescent colors. I think the attraction is more from the contrasting colors, rather than the actual colors themselves, except in shallow water. Crankbaits are often trolled. Crankbaits let you cover a lot of water quickly, so they are a good choice when you are not sure where the walleyes may be. I’ve had the best luck with a #5 Rapala Shad Rap.
  3. Spinners – Inline spinners are not usually considered for walleyes, but I don’t know why. I regularly catch walleyes on Mepps, Panther Martins, and Roostertails. Inline, or ‘French’  spinners work sometimes when all other baits have failed. I’ve done the best with a No. 2 sized Mepps Black Fury. I also do well with the Mepps Comet.
  4. Soft Plastics – Plastic worms are outstanding walleye lures, but you can’t rig them Texas-Style, like for bass. Walleyes have a weird way of biting, and you will never hook them with a Texas Rig. You need to rig them on a special Worm Harness. These can be bought pre-made, or you can make them yourself. It’s just two tandem hooks behind a few beads and a spinner blade on a clevis.  You just hook the worm (lizard, creature, or whatever style you are using) near the head, and near the tail. Some people even use treble hooks for the rear hook, but I have found it causes me to get hung up a lot more. Your mileage may vary…
Ideal rig for walleye

The beauty of this rig is that it works equally well with plastic worms, and live nightcrawlers. It can be trolled, cast, vertically jigged, and even fished as a Drop Shot rig, which is great when walleyes are deep. You can also rig this with a walking sinker to keep it off the bottom.

  1. Live Bait – There are only three real choices for live bait. Minnows, nightcrawlers, and crawfish. I have never caught a walleye on anything else. Worms need to be on a harness, but minnows and crawfish can be put on a Carolina Rig, or you can tip a jig with them. You can rig them as a Drop Shot. Just keep an eye on your rod tip, because walleyes sometimes hit very light.  You can also rig live bait under a slip bobber.
  2. Flies – Fly fishing for walleyes at night when they are in the shallows is a great experience. The best fly patterns for me have been the Clouser Minnow in chartreuse and white, and pretty much any streamer in bright colors.

Gear For Walleyes

There is no need to purchase expensive high-tech rods and reels. Walleyes don’t put up much of a fight. Any good light to medium rod and reel combo with a fast-action rod will do just fine. For walleyes, I use a Zebco 33 combo that I bought at a department store before most of you were born, and it still works great (I wish I did…). Expensive baitcasting reels are massive overkill.

A simple light to medium spin-casting or spinning reel is plenty. If you want to fly fish for walleyes, a simple 6-weight rod with a single action fly reel is plenty. For boat fishing, an inexpensive depth-finder is nice to have.

For terminal tackle, you need lures, flies, Bait-Holder and Octopus hooks in sizes from #2 to 2/0. ⅕ to ¼ oz sinkers, split shots, slip sinkers and walking sinkers, a few slip bobbers, and if you plan to eat them, a good fillet knife.

If you ever get really serious about catching walleyes, you will want to invest in some kind of boat. It can be very modest. I fish from a kayak, canoe, and an Intex Mariner 4 inflatable raft. I don’t own any type of boat with a motor, and you won’t have to either unless you just want to. So don’t go out and mortgage your house for a $20,000 bass boat with enough electronics on it to track submarines with. Any modest Jon boat or skiff with a modest depth-finder will work just fine. That’s really all you need.

Speaking of eating, walleyes are one of the best tasting freshwater fish there is!

Now you have all the knowledge you need to start chasing walleyes. The rest you will learn on your own, while on the water. Getting there is most of the fun…

Happy fishing

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