How to Catch a Walleye

How to Catch a Walleye

Walleye can be a challenging fish to target, but that’s what makes them so enticing. The challenge and their delicious fillets kick thousands of anglers into gear. I can’t make Walleye fishing easy, but I can make it easier for you to start fishing Walleye. Learning how to catch Walleye is a life long pursuit.

I am going to walk you through what bait & tackle to use when fishing for Walleye, where to find them, and how to use popular techniques to catch Walleye. This in-depth article is curated for folks who understand the basics of fishing and would like to learn how to fish for Walleye.

What is a Walleye?

The name “walleye”, comes from the fact that the fish’s eyes point outward. This outward pointing position of the eyes can give an angler an advantage in the dark because of the light shine effect on the walleye’s eyes.

This is because of the position of the eyes and the layer over the eyes called the tapetum lucidum. This layer allows the walleye to capture available light to be able to see in low lite conditions.

This is common to many predatory animals in the wild such as feline and canine predators. This also gives them an advantage in searching for prey at night. This is also very beneficial to walleye, allowing them to see in muddy and turbulent water.

Understanding Seasonal Patterns of Walleye

Before we look at specific techniques for catching walleye, it’s important to understand their seasonal movements. By the time Minnesota’s walleye fishing season opens on the second Saturday of May, walleye in most parts of the state are either spawning or have just spawned. Walleye spawn over clean gravel bottoms in shallow water and around areas with current that keeps their eggs oxygenated.

Early in the season, anglers can find walleye in and around those areas, generally in water less than 10 feet deep. As the water temperature rises and lake vegetation starts to grow—generally in the early part of June—walleye move away from their spawning areas and into the areas where they’ll spend the summer.

Common summertime walleye locations include drop-offs, the edges of structure such as sunken islands, and beds of vegetation such as cabbage and coontail. When the sun is bright during the day, walleye will remain near the bottom or tucked in tight among the weeds. On cloudy days and after the sun sets, they become more active, moving up in the water column and toward the shallow tops of sunken islands, where they pursue forage such as minnows and perch.

In the fall, walleye feed heavily in advance of winter. While forage is important all year long, walleye are particularly focused on it during the fall and do a lot of moving around as they search for it. Deep water near structure is a good place to locate hungry fall walleye.

Walleye can be less active during the winter months, but they will feed on the tops and edges of structure and around vegetation that remains green through the winter.

Walleye Rods & Reels

A solid spinning combo is your first purchase to start fishing Walleye. A typical Medium Power 6-7 Ft. spinning rod and a medium sized 35 reel will give you versatility to fish many of the popular Walleye techniques. However, more finesse tactics like jigging and rigging live bait are best served under a Medium Light power rod. If you can afford to own both, you can execute two approaches with ease. Use the Medium power rod for artificial approaches like Crankbaits and Soft Plastics, switch to the Medium Light power for live bait. I sport both so I can easily switch between Live Bait and artificial, but I recommend getting started with the 6’6″ Medium for learning how to fish for Walleye.

  • 6’6″ Medium, Fast Action Spinning Rod + Size 35 (3500) Spinning Reel – Compatible with all tackle and techniques discussed, ideal for Lures and Soft Plastics.
  • 6′ Medium Light, Fast Action Spinning Rod + Size 30 (3000) Spinning Reel – Ideal for sensitivity, best used when jigging or rigging Live Bait.

Fishing Line for Walleyes

For starting with only the 6’6″ M Combo, I recommend spooling it with an 8 Lb. Monofilament. Mono offers forgiving stretch, it’s readily available and inexpensive. You will be able to easily fish both Live Bait and Artificial directly to your Mono. If you were to start with both the 6’6 M Combo and 6′ ML Combo, I would recommend spooling up the most ideal line type for each form of presentation. On the 6′ ML Combo, I spool the whole reel with 12 Lb.

Fluorocarbon. Fluoro has no stretch so you can accurately judge bites, and it is virtually invisible underwater. On the 6’6″ M Combo, I spool the main line with 10 Lb. Braid and tie on a 12 Lb. Fluorocarbon leader. In my experience, Braid has offered a smoother, more accurate cast vs. Fluoro. So on the 100+ cast days I would prefer to have Braid + Fluoro Leader on the 6’6″ M Combo and a full spool of Fluorocarbon tied directly to my bait on the 6′ ML Combo. We have more advanced information on Fishing Line if you want to dive deeper.

WALLEYE FISHING LURES

Since walleye feed primarily on baitfish, try fishing with live minnows or minnow-imitating crankbaits. Two of the best types of lures to use when fishing at night for walleye are minnow-tipped jigs and minnow-imitating crankbaits.

Minnow-tipped jig: If you are learning how to catch walleye at night in deeper areas, vertical jigging is a good technique to start with. A minnow-tipped jig is one of the easiest and most effective methods of walleye fishing. You can use a 1/4-ounce or 3/8-ounce jig (heavier jig in deeper water or with more current). Drop your jig down to the bottom and then use your rod tip to lift it up about a foot or so.

Minnow-imitating crankbaits: Shallow-running crankbaits can be used when casting or trolling. These types of lures are one of the best options when night fishing for walleye because they allow you to cover a large area and locate the fish quickly. You can start at water depths of about 20 feet and work your way into the shallows.

How to catch walleye fish

There is no one way to catch walleye. In fact, there are many different ways. Popular techniques include casting a jig-and-minnow, trolling live bait, casting or trolling hard plastic lures and even fishing with a bobber. All work. The smart thing to do is experiment, and when you find a technique you like hone that skill. Briefly, what follows is a little more detail on these techniques.

  • Jig-and-minnow: Many anglers like to fish with jigs early in the fishing season, tipping their jig with a shiner minnow or fathead chub. Basically, you’ll want to fish with a jig that is heavy enough so that you can feel the bottom but not overly heavy. Typically, this means a 1/8-ounce, 3/8-ounce or 1/4 –ounce jig. Try a variety of dark and bright colors. Typically, one color will perform better than others so experiment with color. Ball-style jigs work best for vertical jigging.
  • A slip-sinker rig: A slip-sinker rig – sometimes called a Lindy rig – is a common mid-summer fishing technique that puts a minnow, night crawler or leech in front of a walleye at the bottom of the lake. When a fish bites – and often it is a very light bite or tap, tap, tap – you allow line to come freely off your reel for several seconds, slowly reel-in until you feel tension and then set the hook.
  • Hard plastic baits: Trolling or casting small hard plastic baits that look like perch and other small prey fish are popular in autumn when walleye return to the shallows and are fairly spread out. Trolling is an efficient way to cover large areas in short time. Still, trolling speeds should be slow – in the one mile per hour range – or just fast enough to get the lure’s action to work.
  • Bobber fishing: Effective year-round, hovering a leech, night crawler or minnow just above a rocky reef, hump or other form is structure is another good and easy way to fish. This is best accomplished with a slip bobber, which allows you to cast even when the bait’s depth is set to 20 feet or more.

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