Best Live Bait For Walleye

Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts and welcome to my post covering the best live bait for Walleye to snap up this year. Now I have to admit to being a traditional bait user for most of my fishing life as I like to find a good spot and then see what I can attract. Of course there is maybe not the excitement of attracting and working a fish as there is with lures, however it can be just as much fun for sure.

There are however other aspects to it such as matching the bait to the location and presenting it in a manner that will make it attractive to the fish – an absolute must when chasing Walleye – as well. The thing then is that there are so many different factors to consider that it can all get a bit confusing after a while. So let’s check it all out…

What is Livebait?

For the purposes of this post I am going to give the name live bait to anything that is, or has at some point been alive (often referred to as ‘natural bait’). This means that it can actually be alive (often kept in an aerated cooler for example), fresh but dead or even frozen. This is opposed to lures, which are artificial creations designed to mimic live bait.

Obviously the type you choose will vary based on local conditions however when it comes to using live bait, I would stick to the following two rules:

  1. Use local bait if possible – Walleye are generally travel in schools in large lakes and rivers all over the North America so there can be a variation on what is available to them within their local habitats – although they are a little more fussy than other species such as Largemouth Bass or Catfish.
  2. Go to a local bait shop – In most cases, the local bait and tackle shops will sell bait that is good for local conditions. If in doubt, ask the shop keeper or a local.
best live bait for walleye - caught walleye

Bait Pros

  • You can match exactly to what fish eat naturally
  • Generally easy to use
  • Often cheaper than lures
  • Most fish will take a bait
  • You can cast and let the bait sit in the water (i.e. no need to cast and retrieve)
  • Bait is great for kids (meaning they can at least catch something)

Bait Cons

  • It is smelly and gets all over your clothes, tackle box and everything else take with you
  • Will deteriorate in the sun
  • Fish tend to swallow the hook more with bait (making catch and release more difficult)
  • You can lose a lot more to smaller or vermin species
  • Bait can come off hook easier in faster moving water
  • You need to make more tools with you such as a knife and cutting board

My recommended livebait options for Walleye

Although they are a little more fussy than other species, if they are hungry Walleye will take just about anything in the bait fish category that is found in their local habitat including Shads, Bluegill and crayfish.  In terms of achieving the greatest success here, Walleye tend to take three live bait options over anything else.  These are:

  • Minnows
  • Night Crawlers
  • Leeches

Let’s check them out in more detail below:


Best Bait For Largemouth Bass - Minnow

Minnows are a genuine baitfish with a very high tolerance for variable water qualities making it a common species in many locations shared with Walleye. Variations include:

  • Bluntnose Minnow
  • Common Shiner
  • Emerald Shiner
  • Top Minnow

Due to their abundance in many areas, Minnows are a favorite for Walleye fishers year round.

Night Crawlers

best bait for smallmouth bass - night crawler

In short, Night Crawlers are worms. Now if you look online there are pages and pages outlining the difference between Earthworms and Night Crawlers however for the purposes of this post, we are looking at them from the point of view that they are worms that burrow in the soil.

Regardless of what they are called and where they are from. Night Crawlers are a very popular live bait option for Walleye especially in shallower waters or against banks etc. where you can either let them ‘wiggle’ in the current or jig them a little as you would a lure.


best live bait for walleye - leech

And finally, the last (but not the least) on this list are Leeches. Often referred to as a ‘universal Walleye bait’, leeches a re a great option all year round in many conditions and locations.

Ribbon leeches are best as they are easily kept alive and tend to stay on the hook for quite a while due to their strong mouths.  Their colors vary and most avid Walleye fishers recommend taking a few different sizes if you are heading to unknown waters.  Oh, and if you are in a multi-species area, Smallmouth Bass love them as well.

What should you be looking for?

As you look to source and use your own livebait, below are some things that you may want to consider when using bait for Walleye:

Where the fish are – We have touched on this above however the type of bait you choose can depend on where you are trying to catch your fish. For example if you are working in shallow waters, then leeches and Night Crawlers would work well. Keep in mind here that unlike lures, you are generally not casting and retrieving a bait so you will need to match your bait to the species that are found in that area.

Weight requirements – Bait weight, usually determined by the size or amount of bait you use, is important for a number of reasons including:

  • Heavier baits can be cast a little further – this may include rigging with a sinker.
  • Heavier baits will anchor and drag on the bottom more effectively (which is good if you are in a kayak or on a boat).
  • Lighter weights are easier to jig and ‘flick’ around.
  • Lighter baits will float better than their heavier counterparts – which is good if you are trolling.

Again, do your research into the environment that you are fishing in. If you are working in shallower waters, then a light weighted bait will work very well. Heaver options may be needed in deeper areas however they will ‘catch’ on the bottom a lot more often and fall off if you are drifting.

Rod specifications – The next consideration (and a very important one) is to ensure that any bait size you use fits within the specification details of your fishing rod. In some cases, rod specs include a tackle weight which is the highest designated weight that the rod can handle.

In most cases, however, you are going to be looking at this from the power rating of the rod. This is effectively a measure of how ‘bendy’ it is. Light power rods bend with little force and heavy ones need a lot of pressure to bend. So, in short:

  • Light – very bendy – even whippy – will bend a lot with even the smallest fish. Use these for light baits only.
  • Medium – needs a bit more pressure to bend – In general, this is a good measure for all-round use with light to medium-weighted baits for Bass fishing.
  • Heavy – takes a lot to make it bend – I would probably avoid these for Bass fishing unless you are working in particularly deep water.

Tackle Requirements

In general, the main rule of thumb when it comes to using bait is to match your hook to its size. For Walleye I would err on the side of a smaller hook as you often have to use some finesse to hook them

Stick to a 2 to 6 single hook or a size 8 to 10 treble hook with a bait size to match with the hook set through the snout (or head of Leech) on a running sinker or Lindy rig.

Seasonal influences – When it comes to Walleye fishing, seasonal behaviors can also determine the types of bait that they will take. For example, in summer, they tend to go deeper to avoid the warmer waters on the edge so a weighted Minnow will work better than a weightless Leech along the bank. And of course when they are feeding aggressively in the lead up to the spawning season, you could throw anything along the edge and they will take it – well not really but you get the picture.

Local knowledge – As mentioned a number of times in this post, when I discuss live bait options for any fishing type, I always say to check with the locals to see what is found in the local system. The idea behind this is that you want to match your bait to what it is that the fish eat naturally.


And there it is – my post covering the best bait for Walleye to snap up this year. I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with them.

Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections, or would like me to check anything else out for you.

Until next time

Have fun


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Hi, I'm Paul

I am a passionate fishing, camping and four wheeled driving hobbyist who researches, tests and educates around issues and equipment relevant to them.

I am by no means a professional however my passion is to assist you in making informed decisions about buying and using awesome gear that will give you the best chance of success at whatever you are doing for the best price.

Please get in touch if you have any questions.