Fishing for Walleye, a complete guide
Fishing Ladies Fishing for Walleye
Fishing for walleye is extremely popular in the northern states and in Canada. While walleye put up a respectable tussle, the reason for this popularity is their value on a dinner plate. Walleye are probably the best eating freshwater fish that swims!
Walleye are originally found in Canada and the Midwest. The Mississippi River basin and Missouri River basin had good concentrations of fish. Walleye are nocturnal feeders but many fish are caught during the day. They prefer cool, clear waters of lakes and rivers. They have been successfully transplanted all over North America, as long as the water quality and temperature are conducive to their survival.
Lake Erie is a prime example of a walleye success story. Fishing there has been very good for decades. Recent spawns were historic and anglers fishing for walleye are experiencing outstanding fishing for both numbers and trophy fish. Fish over 10 pounds are caught with regularity. Many other lakes and river systems have excellent walleye fishing as well.
Walleye spawn in the spring when the water temperature is in the upper 40s to 50 degrees. They migrate from their deeper wintering areas shallow to do so. River walleye migrate into creeks and rivers to spawn on rock and gravel bottom areas. Lake walleye move inshore to spawn on shallow, windswept rock and bars. Many productive walleye fisheries have spawning fish both on the flats, reefs, and in creeks and rivers.
Once the spawning ritual is completed and the water begins to warm up, walleye will move out and school up in large numbers around deeper, offshore structure. Underwater humps, bends in river channels, steep drop-offs, main lake points, bridges, and any submerged structure can hold walleye in the summer time. They will also school up in open water with no structure around under schools of bait fish.
It is best to target summer time walleye early and late in the day or at night. Fishing can be tough in the middle of the day in the middle of the summer, especially with no wind or cloud cover. A little breeze will put a chop on the surface of the water, reducing sunlight penetration. The same goes for cloudy days.
Summer and fall walleye patterns
As it cools off in late Summer and early fall, walleye will migrate shallow again. This is a great time of year to catch them casting crank baits and other artificial lures as the fish are in an aggressive feeding mood, fattening up for the upcoming winter. Once the water gets cold, or even freezes over, the fish will move back out deeper to areas similar to their summer locations.
Walleye have a fairly diverse diet. They prefer live forage and will feed on just about anything they can find in a lake or river. Nightcrawlers, insects, crawfish, leeches, and bait fish are their primary sources of food. Walleye normally feed on or near the bottom but will certainly feed on suspended bait fish. This is particularly true on large, open bodies of water.
One look at the marble eye of a walleye will let anglers know that this is a nocturnal feeder. However, this is not an exclusive behavior. Walleye can certainly be caught during the day and most fish are caught during the daylight hours. Like most forms of freshwater fishing, dusk and dawn and periods of low light such as on cloudy days can often times be the most productive days to fish.
Walleye fishing techniques
The two primary angling techniques that are used when targeting walleye are spin fishing and trolling. Since the tackle used for both techniques is quite different, they will be covered in separate sections. Tackle and techniques used by anglers fishing for walleye with spinning tackle are quite similar to those used for other freshwater species such as smallmouth bass. However, the tackle used for deep water trolling is quite different.
Spin fishing for walleye
Anglers fishing for walleye use spinning tackle for the majority of the drifting and casting applications. Light spinning tackle is ideal for drifting rivers and lakes using jigs or live bait as well as when casting lures or live baits in the shallow waters.
A 6 1/2 foot medium light fast action spinning rod matched with a 2500 series reel is an excellent all around walleye fishing combination. It will cover the vast majority of situations that anglers fishing for walleye will encounter. A “fast action” rod is one in which the butt or lower section is relatively stiff while the last couple feet of the rod tip is very limber and sensitive.
The reel can be spooled with 8 to 10 pound monofilament line or 10 to 15 pound braided line. Many anglers these days opt for braided line for the increased sensitivity and reduced stretch. Monofilament line is less expensive and knots are easier to tie. Braided line is more expensive, knots are more difficult to tie, however it will last a long time and has virtually no stretch.
Fishing for walleye in lakes
Anglers fishing for walleye on lakes have good success by drifting. The lure or bait is presented vertically as the boat slowly drifts over submerge structure. Sunken islands, sloping points, channel edges, and schools of bait fish in open water are all prime spots. Depths between 10 feet deep and 30 feet deep are usually the most productive. This is an excellent pattern from late spring after the spawn to mid fall.
A live nightcrawler on a Lindy rig is a tough combination to beat for anglers drift fishing for walleye in open water. This rig consists of a special sinker that walks over submerged rocks and other structure. The hook floats a few feet up off the bottom where the bait hangs suspended, enticing the fish. This is an excellent technique for novice walleye anglers to use, as it is fairly simple. Other live baits such as leeches and bait fish can be used as well.
Jigs are an excellent artificial lure to use when fishing for walleye in deeper water. Again, a vertical presentation is often the most effective. It allows anglers to thoroughly cover the bottom as the boat drifts over the structure. The jig is dropped to the bottom and worked in short little hops as the boat drifts along.
Jig fishing for walleye
A jig is a hook with a piece of lead molded near the eye. This weight gives the lure both action and casting weight. The weight of the jig had will be determined by the depth of the water, current if any, and wind speed. The idea is to use just enough weight to reach bottom while the line is Relatively vertical.
Jigs originally came with some type of hair dressing, with bucktail being the most common. Most anglers today use a jig head in combination with a grub body of some sort. This is an excellent system as the grub body can be changed easily to match the available forage. Darker colors such as black, green, and motor oil mimic leeches and crayfish. Lighter colors such as pearl and chartreuse are excellent bait fish imitations.
Grub bodies come in many different shapes, styles, and colors. It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the variety that is available. Curly tail jigs and shad tail jigs have excellent action and the water and imitate bait fish. However, a selection of 2 inch to 3 inch grub bodies in both light and dark colors in a couple different styles will cover most angling situations. The same applies to jig heads; a good supply of various colored jig heads and weights from 1/8 ounce to 1/2 ounce is all that most anglers will need.
Cool weather walleye patterns
Walleye are found in shallower waters and lakes in the cooler months. Often times, they are quite active and in a feeding mood. Fish that have moved to the shallows in the spring and the fall from deeper waters will be found around rocks, points, fallen timber, docks, and other structure and water from 10 feet deep up as shallow as a couple feet deep.
This is a great time for anglers to cast artificial lures in search of feeding walleye. Crank baits are an excellent choice as they allow anglers to cover a lot of water in a fairly short amount of time. They also draw reaction strikes from aggressive fish. Crank baits come in many different styles, shapes, colors, and sizes. Every angler has his or her favorite crank bait.
Crank baits should match the relative size, shape, and color of the local forage. Lighter, wide body plugs mimic shad. Long, slender jerk bait plugs imitate other bait fish and work very well over suspended grass beds. Other crank baits, and crawfish colors and are deadly when bounced along rocky bottoms.
Shoreline fishing for walleye
The jig and grub combo also works very well for anglers casting shorelines and flats when fishing for walleye in shallower water. The lure is cast out, allowed to sink, and worked slowly back to the boat using a series of hops. As in all artificial lure fishing, angler should vary relive retrieve and the lure until a productive pattern emerges.
Live bait can certainly be used in this application as well. A live nightcrawler fished under a float is a simple angling technique that is still very effective to this day. A live minnow can be deadly when fished this way as well. In deeper water, up to 10 feet, anglers often use a slip bobber. This allows for easier casting while presenting the bait at the ideal spot in the water column.
Ice fishing for walleye
Walleye can most certainly be caught through the ice! Ice fishing for walleye can be extremely productive and allows anglers without a boat to catch these fish in larger lakes. Most walleye are found between 10 feet deep and 25 feet deep in the winter. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. As with all fishing, anglers should keep moving until a school of fish is located.
Anglers ice fishing obviously must use a vertical presentation. Small artificial lures such as a jig, jigging spoon or specially designed jigging plug will all work well. However, it is tough to beat a live minnow when fishing for walleye through the ice. A live minnow hooked through the lips on a light jig head is an excellent combination and has put many walleye on ice over the years.
Fishing for walleye in rivers
Walleye are found in rivers and streams throughout the Midwest and Canada. Many Lake systems have rivers that connect the lakes. Often times, these are overlooked walleye fishing spots. Many of the techniques that produce walleye in lakes will work in rivers as well. However, there are some differences to take into consideration.
River conditions are very important when it comes to fishing for walleye and rivers as well as for other species. The best time to fish rivers is when the water is at normal stage or a little below, clear, with a light to moderate flow. River fishing is not only difficult, it is quite dangerous when the water is high, dirty, and fast.
One advantageous aspect of river fishing is that fish are easier to locate. There is less area to search for them than there is in large lakes. Also, river fish tend to stage and hold in the same types of locations no matter which River is being fished. Current is the primary factor and will dictate where the fish will be found.
River fishing advantages
Rivers offer walleye anglers other advantages as well. Fish in rivers tend not to be as affected by weather systems as do fish in lakes. Walleye in rivers also get less pressure than do those in lakes. This can result in a larger than average sized fish being landed in rivers.
Walleye will normally be found in the deeper parts of streams and small rivers. Deeper holes between the riffles, especially if larger rocks are present, are prime spots. Walleye do not like a lot of current and will not be found in a swift parts of the stream. Small rivers and large streams can produce some surprisingly large fish.
Walleye will spread out more in larger rivers. However, anglers can still concentrate on the high percentage spots. Anything that causes a break in the current is a potential walleye holding spot. Bridges, rip rap, points, wing dams, jetties, large boulders, and anything that will break the current and create an eddy will be used by walleye as a feeding station.
River lures and baits
The same lures and baits that produce walleye in lakes will produce in rivers and streams as well. The jig and grub combination is an excellent choice to locate fish. Anglers will inevitably snag on the bottom and these lures are relatively inexpensive. Darker colors are normally more productive. Shallow diving plugs can be used as well.
Live bait will certainly produce for anglers fishing for walleye in rivers. A nightcrawler, minnow, or leech bounced on the bottom through a pool is a very productive technique. Anglers can also fish the same live baits under a float in the shallower portions as well. A live minnow hooked on a jig head is another effective bait.
Trolling for walleye
Trolling is a very effective technique for anglers fishing for walleye. This technique allows anglers to present multiple baits at multiple depths in the water column while covering a large amount of water in a relatively short amount of time. Trolling is basically the technique where lures or live baits are dragged behind a slowly moving boat. However, it is much more complex than that.
Trolling requires quite a bit of special equipment. Most anglers opt for conventional outfits when trolling. They are the best choice as these reels hold a lot of line, have smooth drags, and provide excellent power when cranking. Trolling rods are longer and quite limber as they must absorb a lot of energy from both the tackle being trolled and when a fish hits.
Both artificial lures and live bait are used by anglers trolling for walleye. Plugs and spoons are the two most popular lures. They come in a wide variety of sizes, colors, and shapes. Spoons and plugs wobble enticingly putting out flash and vibration. This closely mimics a wounded bait fish and is very effective for producing strikes. A live nightcrawler on a worm harness with a Colorado or twin willow blades is extremely effective as well. A slow presentation usually works best.
Walleye trolling tackle
The best all round walleye trolling rig consists of an 8′ to 10′ rod matched with a Daiwa Accudepth 47LC or 57 LC reel in spooled up with 17 pound test mono or 30-50 braided line. Reels with line counters are crucial to consistently present lines at the same depth. Once a productive pattern emerges, reele with line counters make it much easier to duplicate the presentation.
Anglers use several methods to get the lures down in the water column. The easiest method, and one that does not require any extra gear such as downriggers, is to use diving plugs. Plugs come with a plastic lip at the front. The size and shape of the lip along with the plug itself in the diameter of the line will determine how deep the plug will dive. Trolling speed and line diameter will also affect the depth to some degree.
Plug manufacturers have specifications that will give anglers an idea of the depth that which a certain lure will run. These steps can often be a tad optimistic. However, it is a good starting point. Anglers can run several different lures at multiple depths using various colors to cover as much of the water column as possible. This technique works very well when trolling in water between 10 feet deep and 20 feet deep.
Inline weights can be used to get the plugs down deeper than they were designed to run. These weights can be tied inline but also come as “clip on” weights. These are convenient and allow anglers to quickly and easily adjust the depth. Lure manufactures often supply charts that will help determine the weight needed to get a particular lure to a certain depth. However, experience is the best teacher.
Walleye fishing with downriggers
Downriggers are a piece of equipment that troll lures use when fishing for walleye. They consist of a spool and a crank, a short arm, and a heavy downrigger ball. Line is let out and then attached to a downrigger clip. The ball is then lower to the desired depth. A counter on the downrigger let’s the angler know how deep the ball is. When a fish strikes, the line is pulled through the clip and the angler fights the fish using just the rod and reel.
Downriggers are expensive and a bit cumbersome. However, they are an essential tool for serious anglers trolling deeper lakes for walleye. Anglers can add multiple clips on the downrigger line, resulting in the ability to run several lures at various depths. Anglers can run just about any lure or bait from a downrigger. Some of the best lures to use are Stinger Spoons, Husky Jerks with a small lip, and Reef Runners. Every geographical area has it’s “favorite” lures. Anglers can monitor online message boards and join clubs to get this information. Local tackle shops are a great source and will usually stock the productive plugs for that region.
Dipsy Divers are a clever little device that anglers use to get their lures down in the water column. It works a bit like a deep diving plugs. It has multiple settings which the angler can use to adjust the depth that which the lure will run. Anglers can also “offset” the Dipsy, which will result in the lure running off to the side. Anglers can then cover a wider path of water by using multiple rigs. When a fish hits, a little clip pops and the angler fights the fish without the drag of the Dipsy Diver.
The Dipsy Diver is tied directly to the running line of the rod. A 6 to 12 foot long fluorocarbon leader of 15-20 pound test is attached to the diver. The lure is attached to the other end of the leader. The best lures and baits to use when trolling with this rig are worm harnesses, spoons, and small lipped plugs. It is important not to use a plug with a large lip as it will “trip” the Dipsy Diver. Most anglers opt for braided line when using Dipsy Divers. It reduced the drag in the water while eliminating line stretch when trolling deep with a lot of line out.
Planer boards are used to take lines off to the side of the boat. They work a little bit like Dipsy’s except that instead of going down in the water column they ride on the surface of the water. They generally run about 45° off of the side of the boat. The more line that is let out, the further off to the side the planer board will run.
The boards attach using little clips to the running line. Anglers let the lure out the desired distance behind the boat, then attached the planer board. The planer board is slowly played out off to the side as line is released from the reel. Once the planer board is the desired distance from the boat, the rod is put into a rod holder. These in-line planer boards allow anglers to run multiple rods with different lure combinations on each side of the boat.
Anglers fishing for walleye can run 3 to 4 planer boards on each side of the boat. The best spread has the outside lines being the furthest back and shallowest. Then, each line moving towards the boat is deeper and closer to the boat. This will allow anglers to work the fish up the middle, above the lines. If the fish dives, the lines may tangles, there is just not a lot that can be done about that.
Planer board trolling strategies
When a fish hits, the angler removes the rod from the holder and works the fish up the middle behind the boat. When the planer board nears the rod tip, the angler stops reeling while his or her partner un-clip the planer board. It is critical to keep steady tension on the fish while removing the planer board. Even the slightest bit of slack can result in a lost walleye. This is a bit of a procedure, but once mastered is relatively easy. It is also an incredibly effective technique.
A single planer board can also be used. The planer board is put out the desired distance and then secured. Then, a line is put out. As with the clip on planer boards, the shallowest, furthest line goes first. Once the line is out, the rod is placed in a holder. The line is placed in a released clip and the clip is put on a ring. The ring slides down the planer board line. When a fish hits, it pulls the line from the clip. Multiple lines can be used on each side of the boat.
Speed is crucial when it comes to trolling for walleye. Every day is different and anglers must experiment to see what lure and speed combination will produce that day. However, most walleye anglers find that 1.5 to 2.3 miles an hour is the most productive speed to use.
Top US walleye fishing spots
Lake Erie may be the best walleye fishery in North America at this time. It offers anglers both good action on smaller fish as well as an excellent trophy fishery. The action starts with anglers jigging the reefs in March and April, after the water clears advice. As it moves into summer, angler switch tactics and cast to the shallow shoreline structure as well as trolling and drifting the open water spots.
Water temperature and forage availability are keys to fishing Lake Erie. The schools of walleye will move east along with the abundant forage such as smelt. As it warms up into the middle of summer, successful anglers switch from crank baits to live bait such as nightcrawlers on a harness. It is important to cover the entire water column, as walleye will often be found at mid depths, especially if there is a little breeze.
Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods did not earn its nickname “The walleye capital of the world”without merit. This lake that borders the United States and Canada in northern Minnesota has over 1 million acres of water that offers excellent angling for walleye all year long. As with the other best walleye fishing lakes, Lake of the Woods offers both numbers and trophies.
Anglers divide Lake of the Woods into three sections. The rainy river feeds Lake of the Woods. Big Traverse Bay is basically 25 miles long and 25 miles wide. The Northwest angle is home to over 15,000 islands. All three sections offer excellent angling at one time of the year or another.
Anglers successfully target post spawn walleye and the spring at the mouth of the rainy River. Structure in this area is very productive, with jigs, crank baits, and live bait all produce. As it warms up, walleye will gradually move out to the main lake areas. Walleye are generally found on brakes and structure in 15 to 20 feet of water in late spring and early summer. Drifting or slow trolling with a crawler harnesses tough to beat.
Traditional summer patterns produce for anglers fishing for walleye in the warmer months in the open water sections. Trolling crank baits on downriggers and using heavy bottom bouncers with live bait are the two most productive methods. As it begins to cool off, the pattern will reverse itself and fish will move shallow once again. Ice fishing is very popular and very productive on Lake of the Woods.
Saginaw Bay, Michigan
Saginaw Bay is a fisheries management success story. While I were virtually extinct in the 1970s. However, due to the incredible efforts of fishing and sportsmen’s organizations along with the Michigan DNR, the population has rebounded. Saginaw Bay now offers anglers excellent walleye fishing all year long.
While I move into this area in the winter from the main lake. This results in excellent ice fishing for walleye as well as casting the shallow structure and early spring after ice out. Anglers casting jigs, plugs, and line spinners, and live bait should experience success. It is important to keep moving until the fish are located.
Just as in most walleye fisheries, as it warms up the fish head out to the deep waters of Lake Huron. Local walleye experts have found that there are two large concentrations of fish. One school of fish moves towards the tip of the “thumb”. The other concentration of fish normally migrates up the west side of Lake Huron to Thunder Bay. Trolling is a great way to locate these fish as a are constantly on the move.
Lake Winnebago chain
This is a large system in the state of Wisconsin that offers anglers super walleye fishing all year long. It includes four lakes; Winnebago, Butte des Morts, Poygan, and Winneconne as well as the Fox River and Wolf River.
Spring is the prime time for anglers fishing for walleye in the Lake Winnebago chain. These lakes and rivers are shallow and weedy, offering anglers the chance to cast lures in relatively shallow water. The rivers offer excellent fishing as well as spawning fish migrate up into them. Casting works well in the shallow, rocky sections while trolling is productive in the deeper stretches.
Traditional walleye summer patterns produce in the warmer months. Anglers trolling open waters do well with deep diving crank baits as well as nightcrawlers and leeches on harnesses. Shoreline weed beds will also produce fish for patient anglers willing to work a jig through the cover.
Green Bay, Wisconsin
While Lake Michigan offers excellent fishing for walleye south of Bays de Noc. Green Bay in Wisconsin is especially good, particularly for larger fish. Good numbers of average sized fish are available as well.
Starting in spring, anglers target spawning walleye on the shallow reefs as well as tributaries such as the Fox River and the Menominee River. April is usually the prime month to target spawning fish. Trolling flats in 15 feet of water to 20 feet of water is productive in May and into June. In the heat of the summer, fish are found in the deeper water. Anglers who prefer to cast will do well working points, channel edges, reefs, and drop-offs in 15 feet to 20 feet of water using jigs.
Upper Mississippi River, Minnesota/Wisconsin/Iowa
The upper Mississippi from its headwaters south into Wisconsin and Iowa is an excellent all around walleye fishery. This is an excellent option for anglers looking for numbers of fish and who enjoy casting. Most of the fishing, and catching, is done in fairly shallow water.
This is classic River fishing. The best time to fish is during periods of average flow when the water is clear. Any type of structure such as a wing dam, Boulder, bridge, drop off, and fallen timber will hold fish as a weight and ambush. Spinners, jigs, and shallow diving plugs are all excellent artificial lures. Live bait can be drifted through the pools and riffles under a bobber as well. Tail waters of dams are prime spots, especially when water is flowing through.
Leech Lake in Minnesota is another good lake for anglers fishing for walleye. It offers anglers both action as well is a chance for trophy fish. Leech Lake is a beautiful lake with a lot of unspoiled, natural shoreline in a variety of habitat which supports a good walleye population. It is located within the Chippewa national Forest in the unspoiled scenery is part of the attraction of fishing Leech Lake. All of the standard walleye fishing techniques and seasonal patterns apply here as well.
Detroit River and Lake St. Clair
Despite its urban location and proximity to a large population base, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River offer anglers fantastic walleye fishing, particularly in the spring. Good numbers of walleye move out of the south end of Lake St. Clair and out of the north west corner of Lake Erie and into the Detroit River just after ice out. Fishing remains very good until mid May when the fish move back out into the open waters of Lake St. Clair.
There are couple aspects that make the Detroit River unique. One thing is the numbers of large fish that move into the river and spring. Anglers have a chance to catch 10 pound fish on every outing. Also, most of the fish are caught by anglers jigging using fairly light tackle as opposed to trolling. This really adds to the enjoyment of the catch!
Anglers do well in the Detroit River drifting and trolling. A jig and grub combination or a jig head with a live minnow bounced along the bottom with the current is tough to beat. The same goes for a nightcrawler on a harness. Trolling with crank baits is also productive. Fishing can be tough in Lake St. Clair in the middle of summer, with early-morning, evening, and night being the best times to fish.
Devils Lake, North Dakota
While Devils Lake in North Dakota is famous for its giant yellow perch, it also has an excellent population of walleye. Anglers casting jigs tipped with minnows are leeches around structure such as bridge pilings, rocky shorelines, sunken islands, weed beds, and fallen trees will do well on above average sized fish. In summer, trolling produces around the deeper structure.
Lake McConaughy, Nebraska
Lake McConaughy in Nebraska is a large lake, having over 35,000 acres of surface water to fish. While holding good numbers of average sized fish, it is noted for being a trophy fishery. It produced the state record 16 lbs. 2 oz. Fish.
Spring is a prime time to fish and the spawning run at the dam draws a big crowd every year. After the spawning run is over, the fish scatter out into the lake They will be the dispersed over a large area and trolling is the most efficient way to locate them. Anglers do well with banana shaped crank baits which hang up less in the abundant submerged structure. In fall, anglers do well vertically jigging underwater humps and ledges and 40 to 60 feet of water.
Lake Oahe, South Dakota/North Dakota
Lake Oahe in North Dakota offers good walleye fishing all year long, with an emphasis on fish between 15 and 20 inches long. Walleye can be caught suspended above the flooded timber using spinner baits, jigs, and diving plugs.