Walleye Fish

Do you want to find out more about the Walleye Fish? Read on to find out more. 

What is a Walleye Fish?

The walleye fish – which also goes by the name of yellow pickerel and yellow pike – is a species of freshwater perciform fish with a range spanning much of Canada and the northern US. 

Also called sander vitreus, it is closely related to the European zander. Some people refer to the walleye fish as the “yellow walleye” to differentiate it from the blue walleye subspecies that used to live in Quebec and Ontario before going extinct. Other parts of Canada – especially English speaking areas – call it the pickerel, although it is not closely related to true pickerels. 

Walleys are olive-gold in color, with an olive section on the dorsal side turning more golden towards the flanks. Fish are generally white on the belly and the mouth is full of sharp teeth, meaning that anglers need to be careful during a catch. You can distinguish walleyes from their close relatives – saugers – by their white lower lobes on their caudal fins. Saugers do not have these. 

Male walleyes tend to mature at around three or four years, with females a year later. The fish go to tributary streams in the winter and early spring to lay their eggs on gravel and rock. Optimal spawning temperatures for the fish are cool – between 43 and 50 degrees F. 

The walleye is a member of the North American clade of the Sander species. In the past, people believed that the blue and yellow walleyes were two distinct species. However, more recent work shows very little difference between the two, other than their color markings. Geneticists now consider them to be two phenotypes of the same species. 

Where to Fish for Walleye

Walleyes are a fish that you can find all over the northern reaches of North America. The so-called “walleye belt” runs from the Great Lakes to Ohio and beyond. You can find walleyes in most fishable waters, including quiet backwaters, streams, big rivers, lakes and the Great Lakes. Specific areas you may want to check out include Lake Winnebago Chain, Wisconsin, Lake Oahe on the border of North and South Dakota, Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron in Michigan, the Mississippi River as it runs through Iowa and Wisconsin, and Lake Erie in Ohio. 

Ultimately, where precisely you decide to fish in the midwest doesn’t matter a great deal. There are quality walleye locations across the continent, offering catches of small walleye all the way up to genuine giants. What’s more, there are settings for every type of angler. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t mind being in open water on a boat, then the Great Lakes are the place to be. By contrast, if you’d prefer to keep things closer to the shore, then you can also go looking for it in northerly rivers and streams. 

Walleyes are a versatile fish that can live in many areas, including backwaters, lakes, rivers and streams. Unfortunately, in the Great Lakes, anglers have overfished walleye, leading to dramatic population declines in some areas. Most states in the Great Lakes areas put limits on the size of fish that anglers can take. You can’t, for instance, take walleye less than 15 inches in Michigan. 

Walleye Fun Facts

The following fun facts are a great introduction to the walleye: 

  • The walleye is sometimes called the yellow pickerel, but it is an entirely different species
  • In the past, both yellow and blue versions of the walleye existed, though now only the yellow is believed to survive
  • Walleyes are genetically distinct from fish behind other watersheds. However, within watersheds, the genetic variation is low. 
  • The word “walleye” comes from the pearlescent eyes of the fish caused by a reflective membrane that covers them. This feature gives them great night vision, allowing them to hunt their prey in the dark
  • Most walleyes grow to around 31 inches long and can weigh up to 20 pounds
  • The biggest walleye ever recorded was 42 inches long and weighed a colossal 29 lbs. 
  • Walleyes can live for decades. The longest-lived individual on record reached the age of 29, though many fish may actually be over the age of 30. 
  • Walleyes are grown commercially as food. There are many fisheries that rear them in the Canadian Great Lakes
  • Female walleyes can lay up to 500,000 eggs in a season, however, they do not care for their young once they spawn
  • Walleyes begin eating fish at about 40 to 60 days after spawning

Top Walleye Fishing Lures & Tips 

Walleyes are predatory fish, so tools you use to fish for them need to reflect this reality. In general, walleyes respond well to spinnerbaits, walleye jigs, jerk baits and crankbaits. 

Use A Mayfly Rig

While walleyes will consume other fish, they will also feed on invertebrates if they get the chance. Many experienced anglers, therefore, use mayfly rigs to coincide with the hatch. Try casting it out and then retrieve it slowly. Walleyes will sometimes attempt to grab mayflies as they come to the surface. Make sure that the rig is realistically small otherwise they may not bite. 

Fish At Night

Walleyes are nocturnal feeders because of the extraordinary photosensitivity of their eyes. Experienced anglers, therefore, generally fish for them at night, using a light source. Common techniques include casting to the flats where fish move up to feed or trolling with diving minnows through structure. Attaching a light to in-line boards helps to detect strikes. 

Use Leech Lures

Walleyes seem to respond very well to leech lures when attached to jigs and slip bobbers. If using live leeches, remove some of the slime from their surface using a rag to make them easier to hold. Then attach the hook to their suction cup. This technique allows them to continue moving the rest of their body in a realistic manner. 

 Get Your Sink Spoons Deep

Because of their photosensitivity, walleyes respond well to sink spoons. Shimmering surfaces look very much like their traditional prey, especially when reflecting moonlight. The trouble is getting the spoon deep enough for the fish to see it, while allowing it to remain shallow enough to continue reflecting the light. 

Anglers use a variety of techniques to achieve the perfect height using snap weights, in-line sinkers and lead-core lines. However, try to minimize the amount of gear that you use. Walleyes prefer empty lines. Accessories can make bites less likely. 

Try Plastics

If you’re fishing in an area with a lot of non-target species, try switching to plastics. Worms can attract smaller species and so you may wind up getting a large number of fish that you don’t actually want. Plus, rejigging constantly with fresh worms is time-consuming.

 With plastic baits, you don’t have these problems. If you attract the wrong kind of fish, you can simply release it and then recast your line into the water without extra work.

Don’t Fish In Stained Water

While walleye will regularly spend time in muddy water, it is challenging to catch fish in these environments. Likewise, crystal clear water is also often relatively devoid of life. The ideal fishing waters are those that are slightly chalky and a little warm. 

Can You Eat Walleye?

Walleye is a commercially-reared fish that you can eat. It also tastes pretty good too! When you catch a walleye, you can skin and fillet it yourself, or you can cook it with the skin on and then remove the flesh from the bones later. For deep frying, you’ll want to remove both the skin and the bones, while if you are pan-frying, you can keep the fish intact until you’re ready to eat. 

Some people believe that the bones of the walleye add to its flavor. But if you prefer your fish to be bone-free, you’ll need a filleting knife. Please be aware that it takes a time to remove bones from walleye – even cultivated varieties. Start by making a notch about 45 degrees into the tail, either side of the lateral line bones. Then vertically from the tail, pull down on the side of the fillet and watch as it easily peels away on one side. Repeat this on the other and you should wind up with a separated backbone and a seamless piece of meat. 

Here are some walleye recipe ideas you can try either while outside camping, on the grill or back in the kitchen: 

  • Walleye with “angel hair” pasta, tomatoes, olive and parsley
  • Baked margarita walleye with cilantro, butter, lime, ground pepper, and tequila
  • Foiled-packed walleye with peas, zucchini, corn, lemon, shallots, harissa paste and cilantro
  • Walleye tacos with fresh slaw

Generally, people either deep fry or pan fry walleye if cooking outside. You can also bake it and pair it with an enormous array of tasty ingredients.