Best Bait for Walleye
Nothing makes a fish bigger than almost being caught. ~Author Unknown
Catch ‘em if you can…
Walleye are one of North America’s most sought after game fish, prized for their spirited battle and delicious eating. But, I’d always heard walleye were hard to catch. First, they keep funny hours. Their primary feeding times start a little before sunrise and sunset and last a few hours after each. They are also very particular about lighting, seasons, and weather conditions and their habits vary, depending on whether they reside in a lake or a river. And if that wasn’t enough, they have an exasperating reputation for striking bait without getting hooked.
But for the patient angler up to the challenge, the reward for latching onto this aggressive predator is a good fight and a tasty meal.
Of course, there are more lures than you can shake a jig stick at, but we’ll run down the basics of the best bait for walleye to help you land one of the craftiest adversaries fresh waters have to offer.
Jigs are probably the most popular lure for fishing walleyes. The jig is a hook with a silicone or rubber-coated lead head that comes in various sizes, weights, colors and configurations. Very often live or plastic baits are placed on the hook to complete the presentation. 1/8 and 1/4 ounce jigs are good for clear, shallow waters. A 3/8 to 5/8 ounce jig weight works well in deeper settings. The idea is to fish with the lightest weight possible, just enough to let you feel the bottom.
If you keep a variety of different weight jigs, you’ll be ready to match all environments. Jig color is also an important factor in attracting hungry walleye. Chartreuse, orange, and green are popular colors. They stand out in the walleye’s eye, but each situation is different, so if one color isn’t working for you, switch over to another and give it a try. Walleye are finicky predators, so there’s no telling what may attract them on any given day.
Crankbaits, also known as plugs or divers, are hard bodied lures that come in many sizes, shapes and colors. There are hundreds of crankbaits to choose from, but only certain of them satisfy the needs of a hungry ‘eye. The “action” of the lure is all-important. Most hard baits wobble from side to side as they are reeled in. But walleye are most attracted to a bait’s top-to-bottom roll, or “side flash”. Walleye lures typically have bright colored sides and dark backs. As these hard baits move forward through the water, their roll presents an alternating flash of color that simulates live prey, a presentation walleyes find hard to resist.
The spinner lure includes one or more metal blades that spin as it moves forward. Its attraction is twofold, in that the spinning action creates a visual flash and vibration that mimics live prey. A spinner rig also includes a number of small brightly colored beads to increase visibility. Add a juicy night crawler, leach or minnow to the trailing hook and you’ve got yourself one of the best walleye bait there is.
There is no doubt plastic baits are very successful in landing this elusive fish, but artificial baits are missing a couple of key traits that live baits offer. First, they don’t display the natural random movement of a live minnow or crawler. Second, artificial bait doesn’t exhibit the typical flight response live bait will when harassed and nipped at by a hungry fish. Some of the best walleye bait includes minnows, crawlers and leeches, easily the most popular live baits for catching walleye, but they can be picky eaters. If they’re not interested in their usual fare, frogs, salamanders, and crayfish can be appealing alternatives.