Walleye Fishing Tips
Most rivers hold populations of walleye year-round. However, they do move about between different staging and holding areas depending on season and conditions. So, it’s important to know where they are according to your locale and time you intend to fish walleye. For example, some walleyes may prefer to remain in lakes and only take to the river during spawning season.
Overall, walleyes prefer clean, hard bottoms of gravel, rock, sand, or clay. Dams, rock piles, underwater structures, sunken islands, and logjams are all spots where walleyes like to gather.
River walleyes can be taken in water as deep as 25 feet, though many rivers never reach that kind of depth. They can also be caught where they set up to feed, often in eddies/slack water on the downstream side of rocks.
Early in the spring, walleyes like to hang out close to shore or near sandbars. Weed beds or rocky points are also favorite spots for them to congregate, because they are likely close to sand, where walleyes prefer to spawn. Just before the spawning period, walleyes are particularly aggressive. If your timing is right, the chances of landing multiple fish are high.
Once summer arrives and the water warms, the larger walleyes will go deeper or hide in the weeds during daylight hours. This is a good time to fish the holes, right off the bottom. When the sun goes down, they will again move into the shallows to feed.
Walleyes are also known to suspend in deeper, open water at a depth of their preferred temperature range, generally between 15 and 25 feet. The big ones like to hang out in these areas, so this is where you stand a good chance at catching one of those trophy sized prizes.
This can be a great time for fishing for walleyes, but you’ll need to know where to be and then make the proper bait choices. The walleye spring season can be broken into three parts, pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn. The timing of the pre-spawn period is linked to water temperature. In the earliest part of spring, when the water approaches the 40° mark, walleyes will migrate to their spawning areas over gravel, rocks or sand. This is a time when they are most aggressive and they will hit on almost any bait. The walleye’s favorite baitfish are likely hanging out in the shallows, so try fishing these areas in the dawn or dusk hours or at night.
Walleyes are too preoccupied during the spawning period, so this time may not be particularly productive for the angler. If you know when spawning has begun in your area, you can lay off for 2 to 4 weeks until the post-spawn period begins.
The post spawn stretch is also a challenging time to catch walleye, largely because the females are too tired from spawning to feed much. The males will eat more, but they aren’t particularly aggressive either, so bait presentation and patience are very important.
Trolling spinner-bouncer combinations or crankbaits can be effective, but take it slow. Somewhere in the 1.5 mph range is more likely to attract a walleye still trying to shake off its post spawn lethargy.
Then again, sometimes nothing beats live bait, especially in the spring. Night crawlers and minnows are often a good choice. If the fish seem particularly active, by all means go with the hard baits. But, if their bites are tentative, tipping a jig with a minnow or crawler can help pique ol’ marble eye’s interest to go for the easy meal.
Looking to land that 10-pounder? Night fishing during this season offers a great opportunity to catch a real trophy. While cooler spring days keep the males close to shore, it’s near and after dark that the large females move in from their deeper holding spots to feed in the shallows.
And, by the way, if you don’t have a boat or aren’t ready to haul it out yet, bank fishing or wading in the shallows can be very productive this time of year. Walleyes will be close to shore where the water is warmer and bait fish begin to proliferate. Need proof? Check out my nephew’s dusk catch.
Summer’s heat and abundant sunshine will drive the light-sensitive walleyes into deeper waters, holes, under weed beds or other shelters. Consequently, they’re a bit more of a challenge to catch. But, you don’t have to rule out fishing for walleyes during these dog-days if you’ve done your homework.
First, you’ll need to find them. Underwater structures are always a good bet to ply, because they tend to lower water temperature and attract bait fish. Walleyes can also hold above or near sunken islands and gravel or sand bars.
Break lines where the bottom drops off quickly to deeper water can be good spots to find walleye laying in wait for something tasty to swim their way.
Consider tossing a line around weed beds, too. Weedy areas afford shade, cover and a higher oxygen level and bait fish love to hide in these areas.
Anything that breaks the water current can be considered a target. A rocky point, the edges of holes, eddies and wing dams can all attract bait fish. Remember, walleyes go where the bait fish go.
Dawn and dusk can be good times to try your luck, but night time can be the right time, too. Bait fish tend to hang in deeper water during the day, but as the sun goes down and the temperature cools, they begin to move into the shallows. Walleyes, of course, are well-known for their excellent night vision, so you can expect them to be looking for a meal, primarily between sundown and 1 AM or so.
As autumn leaves turn and the weather begins to cool, walleyes are on the hunt for all the baitfish they can fatten themselves on in preparation for the coming winter. They’ll spend much more time in the warmer shallows pursuing food. This is a good time to land some trophy sized fish, so try bigger baits. Shallow diving crankbaits or jigs with large minnows make good offerings. Mid-day until dark is often the best window of opportunity.
Again, when it comes to fall walleye fishing, weather is the key factor. Because wind, cloud or cold really slow activity, wait for those sunny autumn days when the water is calm to get hold of big walleye. Even when the weather is good, the colder water has put a chill on the walleyes’ temperament. They can be very slow to take the bait, so your presentation needs more time and patience. Keeping your bait in front of them for as long as you can will allow the fish more time to react and strike.
You may find you need to fish shallower in the fall. When the waters are turbid, walleyes tend to move closer to shore. Try casting light jigs and spinners toward the shoreline and then work them back to where walleye may be waiting.
Big baits can work well in the fall. By now, walleye have put a huge dent in the minnow population and large minnows on a 1/4 ounce jig can tempt a hungry fish. Jig your bait vertically above the walleye and give them plenty of time to take it.
If you feel something, anything, on your line, set the hook! Under spring or summer circumstances, you’re less tempted to fall for the bit of debris or weed that tweaks your line or rod, but in the fall walleyes often hit very lightly and what you think might be a snag could be a big fish.
Try lighter line and jigs. Walleyes can be very line shy and the fatter the line the more likely they are to see it. The fact that a walleye’s attitude is as cool as the water dictates the amount of time it takes him to look over, decide, and hit your offering, so using the right bait and tackle will improve your chances.
Everything slows down in winter. The walleyes become sedentary and feed less often. They keep pretty much to the same areas as they do in fall, generally the deepest water. They also remain in their usual habit of feeding during the dawn and dusk hours.
But, just because it’s winter, it doesn’t mean you can’t catch walleye. Most of the basic rules continue to apply, but there are some specific cold weather strategies that can increase your chance for success.
Firstly, the best times for catching walleye still hold true. The hours surrounding dusk and dawn are when walleye are most aggressive, taking full advantage of their low light capability to forage for food. You can also have good luck during regular daytime hours if the weather is snowy or overcast. Start fishing deep during daylight hours and move to shallower areas as the sun begins to set. Walleye are a little like zombies – they don’t like to come out in the bright light.
Night fishing for walleye can be rewarding, as well. Wait until their renowned light gathering eyes have adjusted, an hour or so after darkness has set in. They’ll be back on the prowl, patrolling shallower waters looking for a late-night snack. If you have some good moonlight, all the better.
Knowing when a walleye is in a biting mood is one thing, but you also need to know where they’re hanging out. It’s always good to learn the best spots on a lake or river before the ice sets up. If you’re not already familiar with a particular body of water, you can use a fish finder and map out the areas and depths where they‘re holding. Again, most of the usual rules apply. Walleye like rock or gravel bottoms, holes, dams, structures with drop-offs, etc.
There are differences, however, between early and late winter walleye fishing. As the first ice begins to set early in the season, walleye tend to remain in deep water that’s close to the shallows where they can take advantage of the last remaining bait fish. But during the latter part of winter, they will begin to focus on the spring spawn and move into staging areas near their spawning grounds. If you’re lake fishing, locate spots where rivers or creeks come in, as they tend to supply the warmer water walleye like to stage in. If you’re on a river, look for areas where their upstream movement will be blocked by dams or other man-made or natural obstructions. But remember, they aren’t exactly at those spots just yet. They’ll be exhibiting their late winter, pre-spawn behavior, which means staging themselves somewhere just off their spawning ground. So the key often is fishing the spot closest and deepest to the spawning site. But, don’t wander too far off from ground zero, walleye are likely staging within 30 feet from that point.