Walleye Fishing 101: How to Catch Walleye
Across the United States and Canada, walleye is considered to be one of the most popular game fish species.
It’s a fish that’s built for speed, agility, and stealth—all of which combine to make this one of the most sought after species for serious anglers looking for a challenge.
If you’re planning on trying to catch your first walleye, there are some specific things you need to become familiar with in order to ensure the best chance for success.
What is a Walleye?
Walleye, also known as “yellow pike,” is a fish that thrives in the lakes and rivers throughout the upper portion of North America.
Walleye are known as ferocious fighters, which is one of the main reasons why so many anglers go after them on a year-round basis.
They can grow to be more than 20 pounds and are well-known for being excellent table-fare. Walleye have a pronounced dorsal fin and very unique “golden” color pattern that make them fairly easy for any angler to quickly identify.
The name “walleye” comes from the fact that these fish have unusually opaque, cloudy-looking eyes.
The fish has an overly-large mouth that’s full of razor-sharp teeth which aid in the walleye’s aggressive feeding habits and make them the perfect ambush predator in many of the waterways they inhabit.
License and Laws
Before you begin your walleye fishing adventure, the most important thing you’ll need to take care of is getting the proper fishing license.
Like any other popular game fish species across the world, you’ll need a fishing license and will also usually have to get a specific permit or stamp that allows you to harvest walleye at different times of the year in many states.
If you’re planning to fish in your home state, you’ll be able to purchase a fishing license at an affordable rate.
However, if you plan to travel to a different state, or country, in search of the best walleye fishing areas, you’ll need to purchase an out-of-state license that allows you to fish and harvest your catch without legal penalties.
It’s very important to do your research and make sure you’re abiding by all of the legal guidelines related to walleye.
A quick online search for the local area you plan to fish will usually get you headed in the right direction and you’ll likely be able to purchase your license online before ever leaving the house.
Where to Catch Walleye
Walleye can be caught year-round, even in the frigid winter months in the northern United States and Canada.
Like most other game fish species in North America, the best time to fish for walleye is during the late spring and early summer when fish are shaking off the winter freeze and becoming more active in their particular feeding grounds.
Just about any natural lake or river in the northern portion of the United States or Canada will be home to a decent population of walleye.
It’s up to you as an angler to determine exactly where you’ll be fishing before you ever leave your house.
Doing the right amount of research on the particular body of water you’ll be fishing at will pay off big dividends.
There are plenty of resources online in the form of articles, Youtube videos, and even smartphone apps that help you pinpoint the best possible locations for catching walleye.
Here are a few common areas where you can expect to catch some ‘eyes:
- Creeks and other tributaries flowing into a body of water are great starting points. In the warmer months of the year, walleye like to stage at the mouth of tributaries that enter the body of water and wait for potential meals to enter into their domain.
- Humps and underwater mounds are also ideal locations for walleye because they will hang out near these formations and seek to ambush any potential bait fish that wander too close.
- Points are a solid spot to look for walleye that are preparing to venture into deeper waters. Many fish will hold on long points near deep water. Walleye are known for hanging out in deep water only to make short trips to shallows in search of bait fish when they are ready to feed.
- Vegetation or underwater structure like stumps, or fallen trees are a great spot to fish because these areas are home to large numbers of bait fish.
When to Fish for Walleye?
When it comes to walleye fishing, the question of “when” is just as important as the question of “when” to fish.
As many seasoned anglers know, walleye fishing can be tough at times, and can also be plentiful at other times. Knowing just how to fish each specific weather condition is key to becoming a successful walleye angler who can find the fish and land them anytime of the year.
As we’ve stated above, walleye are ambush predators, so they’ll seek to take advantage of low-light situations such as dawn or dusk at any given waterway.
Fishing in mostly shallow water where you’re more likely to find bait fish is the best strategy for fishing early in the morning or late in the evening.
Old fishermen will attest to the fact that a “bluebird” day is often the worst time to fish. That is to say, when the skies are totally cloudless, the fish are less likely to feed and will often stay in the depths longer to avoid being seen by their prey.
Overcast days are great for walleye fishing. If you’re fishing on an overcast day, simply look for the area where you might find baitfish or other potential walleye meals.
Odds are, if you find what the walleye likes to eat on an overcast day, the walleye are not far away.
What Kind of Gear do I Need for Walleye?
According to most experienced walleye anglers, a spinning rod and reel combo is best. Spinning combos will allow you to adapt to a wide variety of different fishing methods when it comes to walleye.
A medium-light action rod will allow you to cast many different lures that attract a walleye bite.
These fish are known for being somewhat timid when it comes to actually biting some types of lures, but once they have bitten the hook, there is no denying that the fight is on.
Spinning combos also allow you to “jig” your lure up and down when you’ve found a great location and walleye are biting the unique “up and down” motion.
Many anglers will use a rod that’s specially tailored to the style of fishing they plan to do. It’s not uncommon for an angler to have a trolling rod, jigging rod, and a simple spinning rod ready to go at a moment’s notice just in case one method isn’t working. But we’ll get more into those tactics soon.
Most setups and walleye gear is lighter than the equivalent bass setup.
Note that the best jig rod for bass will be much too heavy than a purpose built walleye jigging rod as the types of jigs and the areas you will be fishing them in for the two species are very different.
What Baits or Lures to Use for Walleye?
Knowing what lure is best to use for walleye fishing really comes down to understanding what these kinds of fish are eating during a particular time of year.
Certain lures and setups will allow you to cover more water and “find” fish more easily than other types of bait combinations.
Here are some of the best baits and lures for walleye fishing:
- Live baits like nightcrawlers, red wigglers, shad and minnows are commonly-used to catch most popular game fish species in North America for one simple reason: they work! For anyone just getting into the sport of fishing, using live bait like any of the ones listed above, or other live bait options for walleye fishing is a great way to get better acquainted with the fish and know what to expect during certain times of the day, month or year.
- Crankbaits are another solid option for catching walleye, especially for anglers who wish to troll. Using a medium to deep-diving crankbait that closely resembles the kind of bait fish you’re likely to find in the body of water where you’re fishing is a great way to hook up on a hungry walleye.
- Spinning rigs can be jigged, or pitched in and around submerged cover to elicit a bite from walleye at any time of year. These lures do a great job in exciting walleye with those telltale “flashes” of shimmer and shine that mimic baitfish.
- Diving minnows and jerkbaits are another good option for walleye fishing, especially for anglers who intend to “jig” their lures up and down near cover to get the attention of any nearby walleye.
Trolling is a great way to locate walleye, especially if you’re fishing at a body of water that you’re unfamiliar with. If you want to troll for walleye, you’ll want to be set up with a longer rod and slightly heavier line that can withstand the pressure of your lure being dragged around the lake or river.
Don’t move too fast and pay careful attention to your rod tip as walleye tend to “chew” on their meal a bit before really engulfing them.
Trolling is considered to be the most enjoyable form of walleye fishing by many anglers because you can sit back and enjoy the ride while you wait for a bite.
Fishing for walleye from the shore is often just as productive as being out in a boat. In fact, many hardcore walleye anglers prefer to fish from the shore during the early spring when the larger-sized walleyes will be out to play.
If you want to try your hand at shore fishing for walleye, be sure to get a good pair of waders that will keep you high and dry.
You’ll want to be stealthy, but not too shy. Look for areas where shallow shorelines lead to deep water corridors that will be used by mature walleye.
Find and locate an area where walleye are staging, or hanging around some kind of underwater structure. Vertical jigging is best when you come across any underwater structure or ledge where walleye tend to sit and wait to ambush their prey.
Jigging for walleye is a great tactic during the cooler weather in early spring or late fall before many lakes freeze over.
If you plan to do some jigging, be sure to get the right lure and use steady, methodical motion to jig your bait up and down across cover.
You can also experiment a little with this method and see if the walleye you’re fishing for prefer a faster or slower-moving bait.
Perhaps one of the most unique forms of walleye fishing is ice fishing. This is due to the fact that ice fishing is virtually non-existent in the warmer climates of southern North America.
However, ice fishing can be a great tactic for catching your limit on walleyes when the temperatures are below freezing outside.
Ice fishing can be done with a wide variety of baits and lures. Despite the water surface being frozen, the behavior and feeding pattern of walleye will remain largely unchanged until the temperature drops to a very cold level.
Ice fishing for walleye is very similar to jigging in many cases as anglers will slowly and methodically “jig” their lure or bait up and down in an effort to entice a bite.
Using lipless crankbaits, spoons, or jigging minnows are all solid, go-to baits for ice fishing and are known to be among the best winter-time baits for walleye.
Walleye is among the most popular game fish species for plenty of reasons.
Hopefully, you can arm yourself with these tips and strategies that we’ve mentioned in this article to get a head-start on your first walleye fishing trip.
One great thing about walleye fishing is that there is a distinct community of walleye fishing enthusiasts.
Many times, more experienced walleye anglers are always willing to share useful tips and lend a hand to an aspiring walleye fisherman.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and good luck on your next walleye fishing adventure!