One of the most elusive freshwater fish, walleye are some of the toughest species to catch. For starters, they are usually active at night. You can catch them in daylight, but it is never as easy as flipping for bass around logs. For the best walleye fishing tips on how to catch walleye in any condition, keep reading.
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What Are Walleye Fish? (Basics & How To Identify)
These fish have an abnormally large set of eyeballs, which are the first indication. Second, their head and mouth come to a point at the tip of their nose. That mouth is full of razor-sharp teeth.
Next on the visual clue list is the golden color of a walleye. They may be any shade of gold, based on their environment, but speaking to the primary color of a walleye, golden brown is what you should look for. Double dorsal fins are the telltale profile markers of a walleye, but those fold up and down, so they may not be overwhelmingly present at first sight.
Walleye generally rise from depths during low light
Walleye move around from structure to flats and basins to shallows quite frequently based on season and sunlight. Once you have narrowed down where you think they may be hiding, you will need to identify the fish you are seeing is your target species.
Walleye love contrast
More often than not, walleye hang out in the dark, cool, deep water until the sun fades for the day. You will most generally find them with your fish finder in the form of a school that is hovering just off the bottom or amongst structures. These fish love contrast and moving water because they feed on bait that is moving through the current or on thermoclines.
Wherever you find baitfish, you’ll generally find walleye
Finding the bait is generally the best place to hunt for these fish. Because they swim in schools, they hunt in a pack and need enough forage to sustain the entire school, not just individual fish. This means the walleye need to follow clouds of bait.
What Do I Need For Catching Walleye? (Equipment & Setup)
Rods and Reels
For rod and reel selection when fishing for walleye, you will want to first narrow down the method you plan to use. If you plan to troll for walleye, using a 9-foot medium-fast rod will be paired with a level wind baitcasting style reel in a 25-35 size. The reel should ideally have a line counter. A combination of this gear will give any angler a clear, visibly noticeable strike indication.
If you are jigging for walleye, plan on using a 7-foot medium-light rod mixed with a size 25 casting reel. This will give you the power to set the hook with the sensitivity to feel the soft bite.
See our reviews on the best rods for walleye fishing here.
Walleye targeting lure selection is quite simple. You can troll "spinners" or "crawler harnesses." These consist of a pair of hooks tied behind a spinning flasher. You rig a nightcrawler onto the hooks and troll this bait under 2 miles per hour.
The next setup is very similar, but it utilizes a smaller flasher, a single, larger hook, and a leech. This rig is called a "slow death spinner."
If you are stationary, either by shore or anchor, you could use a minnow rigged with the bobber or slip bobber setup. This is a deadly combo and could have its own article to deep-dive into specifics.
Lures can be trolled or cast as well. Usually, in the spring or early summer, trolling stick baits works well.
Let’s break that down a bit further. For trolling either a crawler or leech, use a 10-pound braid mainline with a 6-pound fluorocarbon leader. You should tie in a swivel between the mainline and leader to keep the mainline from being twisted by the spinner. Using the fluorocarbon keeps the fish from seeing the line with their large eyes.
A bumper can be tied in between the mainline and the leader. This should be a monofilament line; a mono buffer provides a slight stretch upon strike, which makes setting the hook set a bit more solidly without the potential of ripping the hook through the lip of the fish. This is important when factoring that the boat is already moving forward in addition to a hook being set.
The other setup we will analyze is the slip bobber rig. This is a simple setup that is deadly for walleye. To tie on this rig, use a 10-pound braid for the mainline, and add a long fluorocarbon leader, approximately the length of your rod. Tie a bobber stop to the mainline at the depth in which you plan on having your minnow suspended in the water column. Next, add a slip bobber to the line above the bait hook, tie in a small bead, and then the jig head where you will hook your bait.
Once cast, the bobber will float, and the line will descend freely until the bobber hits the stop. At this time, the bait will suspend in the strike zone. Once retrieved, the bobber will slide down to the bead, which protects your knot tied to the bait hook.
Tackle storage for these rigs is tough with a conventional tackle box. You will need at least one storage box with multiple compartments for terminal tackle and line. You can use foam pool noodles cut down into 1-foot sections to wrap pre-tied rigs on. Wrap the rig around the noodle, placing a hook into the foam for security. Next, wrap a rubber band around the rig to keep it fastened to the noodle. Once you reach your fishing grounds, you can clip or tie the entire rig to your mainline.
Where Do You Normally Find Walleye (Tips & Secrets)
1. Walleye Ice Fishing
Ice fishing for walleye is quite simple. As soon as you can find where the fish are located, set up and drill your holes. Next, rig up a minnow by running the hook through its bout and out the head in a vertical presentation. Slowly lower it to the depth where the walleye are marking on your sounder or graph. You should also drop a jigging spoon into the hole, even just to attract some attention to your minnow.
2. Walleye Shore Fishing
Fishing for walleye from shore is the most challenging version. To catch these fish from a bank, find where the water is moving most rapidly and cast a small jig or spoon in. The retrieval should be parallel to the flowage so that the bait looks as if it is swimming upstream or floating downstream, never across.
3. Walleye River Fishing
River walleye will most likely be lying close to the bottom of the water column. They love the structure that disrupts the current, so focus on positioning your baits behind boulders on the downstream side. The fish like to feed on forage that is being bounced along with the current, and they conserve energy by hiding behind the structure, where the current is not as strong.
How to Catch Walleye (Top Tips from A Pro Angler)
1. Locate high walleye percentage areas
We have touched on this in a few other areas, but finding the fish is always key. Use your fish finder to locate schools of fish and bait, then set up your spread accordingly. These fish love structure and transitions, so before you head out on the lake, study a topographical map of the lake bottom and decide where you would live if you were a walleye.
2. Decide Where is Best Based on the Time and Day Conditions
After you study the map, check the weather. Fish like walleye tend to feed between dusk, through the night, until dawn. They also feed on the leading edge of fronts. To pick the best time of the season to fish for walleye, look for when a strong cold front is forecasted and fish just before that front moving through, preferably the evening and morning prior. Also, fish the side where the wind is blowing against the shore, not away from shore. The wind pushes bait toward the shore, making the walleye feed on that side.
3. Use Reliable Fishing Tactics
Bonus: 4 Popular Walleye Fishing Regions Discussed
People Also Ask (FAQs)
What is the best bait for walleye?
In my experience, worms or leeches always work best for walleye. Some people use artificials; I know that crankbaits and spoons work too. I just always have had the best luck with nightcrawlers and leeches.
What colors do walleye see best?
Perch-colored lures and spinners seem to work well for walleye. That pattern is something very natural that these fish are accustomed to seeing, making it a very deadly color choice. Purple and white works well in some situations as well.
Are walleye bottom feeders?
Walleye are not the traditional bottom feeders that one would think of. Because they sometimes orient themselves with the bottom, they get this wrong designation. Walleye will often be suspended mid-water column due to food availability or water temperature.
Fishing for walleye is difficult if you do not know what you are doing. Experience is key with these fish, and researching as much as possible before heading out will give you the best chance for catching your limit. I hope this article has shed some light on the intricacies of walleye fishing and helps you land more fish on the next trip!