Walleye are a freshwater gamefish native to the United States and Canada. Also known as also called the yellow pike or yellow pickerel, they can actually be quite challenging to catch which makes them all the more popular with sport and recreational fishers alike.
A member of the Perch family, they live predominately at the bottom of lakes and rivers and are known as one of the most prized freshwater table fish you can catch.
Walleye (Sander vitreus)
Walleye are native to most of Canada and to the Northern United States and even down as far as the Mississippi River basin. And as per many other prized sportfish, they have been introduced to lakes and rivers in other parts of U.S as well.
They can be found in all types of rivers and lakes – large and small – however tend to stay in deeper waters during the day before moving to the shallower areas at dusk.
Walleye have a long, thin body that is primarily gold and olive in color with a white belly. They posses two dorsal fins on the top of their bodies with a large mouth and sharp teeth. Their name comes from their eyes which are cloudy-looking which is caused by a reflective layer of pigment.
They generally live for around 15 – 20 years depending on their habitat and can reach sizes of up to 80 cm (31 in) in length.
As above, Walleye can live for up to 20 year with females starting to reproduce from 4 to 7 years.
Females usually spawn sometime during late March and mid-May, when water temperatures are between 40 and 50F. This is obviously dependent on location and weather conditions.
Walleye prey on a large array of natural food sources including:
- Baitfish such as yellow perch, minnows and freshwater drum
- Aquatic insects
Juveniles will also feed on plankton, insect larvae, small crustaceans, mayflies, and other larval fish.
In turn, young Walleye are also preyed on by other freshwater species such as Largemouth Bass and Pike.
World Record Size
81 pounds and 14 ounces – caught in Old Hickory Lake, Tennessee in 1960 by angler Mabry Harper. There is however some controversy around this due to the inability to accurately measure the record from the photos supplied.
Due to their popularity, many jurisdictions implement strict seasonal restrictions on catching Walleye. However, should you be allowed to fish for them all year round where you are, then Walleye behaviors mirror most freshwater species as follows:
- Winter – In winter, Walleye don’t feed as often and will do whatever they can to keep warm. The best time for fishing here is different to summer in that mid-afternoon tends to be better as the sun has had the opportunity to warm the water a little. They will go deeper early when the top is cold (or icy) and come in shallower if the water is warmer there (as that is where the baitfish will go too).
- Spring – Spring is for spawning and feeding. As the water temperature increases after winter, Walleye will start to actively feed as they prepare for the spawn – often called pre-spawn. You may still need to hunt around for warmer waters though.
- Summer – Many experts highlight summer as the best time of the year to go after Walleye. The general rule of thumb for summer is that they tend to either go deeper to cooler water or in shallower lakes, will seek the shade of a structure. Fishing is usually better early morning, late afternoon or at night when the water is a little cooler as well.
- Autumn – Autumn is considered another great period for Walleye fishing for a number of reasons. Firstly, the water is still warm after the summer heat bringing the fish out of the depths and secondly, they are fattening up for winter.
Best Gear for Catching Walleye
Fishers use both spinning and baitcaster reels effectively and successfully. In general, to catch Walleye you will need
Spinning reel – 4000 – 5000 – lined with mono or braid
Trolling reel – 100 – 400 – lined with mono or braid
Rod – around 6 – 7ft and matching of reel size
As above, Walleye are probably the most popular freshwater table fish with a firm, flaky texture and delicate, mild taste. It is Also extremely good for you as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D.
It can be cleaned and cooked a number of ways including
- Pan frying
- Deep frying
As with most freshwater fish however, it is important to make sure that you only consume those caught in clean water and it should not be consumed raw.
Get your Walleye recipes here.