Walleye are an amazing fish to catch. They’re pack hunters and aggressive fighters, and once you tie into a few big ones, you’ll be hooked for life!
While not too hard to catch, their keen eyesight and ultra-sensitive lateral line mean they’re not like fishing for pike or perch. Walleye have their own habits, but they are predictable, and you can turn these to your advantage.
If you want to catch more (or bigger!) walleye, or you’re just new to chasing these golden brutes, we’d like to help. Below, you’ll find out our best tips and favorite techniques, all of which are aimed at making you a better walleye fisherman.
Table of Contents
- 1 Walleye Basics
- 2 Walleye Fishing Tips: How To Catch Walleye
- 3 Walley Fishing Techniques: Catch More and Bigger Walleye
- 4 Final Thoughts
Walleye, or Sander vitreus as they’re known to science, are a cool water predatory species common to much of the northern US and Canada. Sporting a beautiful olive-gold color, the walleye is long-bodied and sleek, explaining why its close cousin, the European zander (Sander lucioperca), is known as the pikeperch.
Females are generally larger than males, and like most fish, there’s a pretty constant relationship between a walleye’s length and weight. Expect 20-inch ‘eyes to weigh in at about 3.3 pounds. A 25-inch ‘eye, by comparison, will top the scales at about 6.35 pounds.
As you can see, just a bit longer is definitely a lot heavier!
Reaching a usual maximum of about 30 inches and 20 pounds, larger specimens have been recorded, but they’re very unusual. Indeed, the tackle record for walleye was set all the way back in 1960, when Mabry Harper landed a 25-pound brute.
Walleyes get their name from the outward facing placement of their eyes. Well-adapted to low-light and murky water, they have especially acute vision. They’re also blessed with sensitive lateral lines.
This affects everything about walleye behavior.
Because walleye see well in poor light and sense vibrations over long distances, they prefer to swim in search of a meal rather than ambush prey. They also tend to feed in low-visibility (for other fish) conditions, like at dusk or at night, in murky or stained water, on cloudy days, and when the surface of the water is being disturbed by wind–also known as “walleye chop.”
The key to catching more walleye, then, is to fish in low light and find the prey items that will attract these predators. When you find their prey, you’ll find walleye cruising nearby.
Spawning migration and behavior
Walleye exhibit unique spawning behavior. They remember their first spawning location, homing to that area each subsequent year. According to Gord Pyzer at “In-Fisherman,” more southerly populations start spawning when water temps rise to between 48°F and 50°F. By contrast, their northern counterparts will begin to spawn at just 44°F to 48°F.
Walleye predictably look for rock, gravel, and other hard-bottomed shallows to spawn.
Small males are the first to move towards spawning beds, followed by larger males, and then finally the females. But despite the predictability of this cycle, it’s not trophy time. As Andrew Ragas of Midwest Outdoors explains, the larger females are intent on spawning, and they curtail feeding during and after they’ve dropped their eggs, often for as long as two weeks.
Pyzer agrees, adding that the big girls quickly retreat back into deep water to recover and chase ciscoes and smelt. Basically, the really large ‘eyes are too busy to feed, and the chance of hooking a real monster is lower than average.
Does that mean the spawn isn’t productive? No way! But you should expect more males than females, and smaller walleyes overall.
Walleye Fishing Tips: How To Catch Walleye
Fish in Low Light and at Night
Walleye feeding is triggered by diminished light. Dusk and midnight to dawn are prime feeding times, and you’re far more likely to find the walleye active on a cloudy day than in bright sunlight. Their exceptional vision gives them a predatory advantage that their prey can’t match, and plenty of walleye veterans know to skip morning and start fishing walleye just as the sun is setting.
Ask any walleye addict and they’ll tell you that the 90 minutes surrounding dusk, overcast days, and any other conditions that disrupt light levels will trigger these fish to hunt. On open water, for example, “walleye chop,” caused by a stiff breeze, is a prime driver of feeding.
A ‘beautiful’ day for walleye fishing:
But whereas most anglers in search of warm weather walleye are tempted to troll deep as their go-to technique, these fish follow a predictable daily cycle that brings them to shallows. When the light is low, walleye rise from the depths looking for a meal. You’ll find them where they look for prey, and most of the time, they’re going to work the edges of living weed beds, small islands, and other structure, patrolling for smelt, suckers, shad, and other small prey species including immature perch.
If you choose to fish even later–the midnight to dawn shift–you’ll improve your chances for real bruisers. After midnight, larger walleyes move into the same areas smaller ‘eyes were feeding at dusk.
Rigging Jigs for Walleye
Rigging a jig isn’t rocket science, but there are a few tricks that make them more effective.
Minnows don’t present themselves vertically, and if your jig is hanging tail down and head up, it won’t look or move like prey. Instead, you need your jigs to sit as close to horizontal as you can get them, and that’s mostly a matter of knot position.
If you slip your knot to the “front” of the eye, it will encourage a more vertical position that’s distinctly unnatural to would-be predators.
This is not what you want. Note where the knot leaves the eye.
Instead, you want your knot at the top of the eye. This will tilt the jig forward, lifting the tail and making it look and act a lot more like a real minnow.
This is what you want.
Jigs are easy to fit with soft baits, but if you’re not sure how to do it correctly, just take a look at this video:
Go Big and Aggressive!
For most fish, we recommend that you start small and gentle, working your way to more aggressive presentations. But with walleye, ripping your lure a few times can turn heads and entice bites. And if you’ve been wondering when you should use a big crankbait or spinner, you have an answer!
As you can see in the pic below, walleye aren’t afraid to swallow a mouthful! Don’t be afraid–you pretty much can’t run a lure too big, or fish it too hard, for these aggressive brutes.
Sweeten, Sweeten, Sweeten
We can’t say this enough–sweeten your lures and jigs! A minnow head on the ventral hook of a Chubby DarterorJigging Rap can often prove irresistible to walleye. And jigs trailing a minnow body, as well as spinners rigged with worms or leeches, are traditional favorites for ‘eyes. Try passing the hook through the mouth, out the gill, and back through the body, as in the video below.
Walley Fishing Techniques: Catch More and Bigger Walleye
Bump the Bottom and Pound the Ground
Walleye can often be found holding near the bottom, and you can take advantage of their sensitive lateral line and attraction to cloudy water with the right technique.
While jigging, you can turn on finicky walleye by bumping the bottom a few times with your jig. This creates a cloud of sediment that looks like a fish has disturbed the bottom, and the vibration created by that pounding can help draw nearby walleye to your lure. Try alternating this with jigging just off the bottom, and you’re likely to get a few more bites.
Another tip is to use a bouncing rig when fishing spinners. With a Rock-Runner Bottom Bouncer, you can create the same effect while retrieving. This is one of Brian Brosdahl’s tips, and he likes his Rock-Runners in Parakeet and Sunrise. As he explains, “The color of the bouncer draws the fish in, and then the spinner comes in and seals the deal.”
The idea, of course, is to bump the bottom, not drag your lure along it. A bit of finesse and some fine-tuning is in order, but once you have this dialed-in, it’s deadly.
Rock-Runner Bottom Bouncer
Hammer Weed Beds
Most anglers think walleye sit-out warm weather in cool, deep water. But that’s not entirely true.
As the sun begins to set, and all through the night, walleye will move from deep holding areas to prey-rich areas like weed beds. This daily journey is well-known to ice anglers, but it’s just as steady in spring and summer. The reason is food: walleye are hunting those beds because that’s where their prey is hunkered down.
In shallow water, the sun can provide clasping leaf pondweed, commonly called “cabbage,” with plenty of energy to grow. That thick cover and warm water are ideal for immature perch, minnows of all kinds, crappie, and a host of other prey on the walleye’s menu.
In fact, some walleye just camp-out in the weed beds all summer, never retreating to deep water!
Two techniques can help you take advantage of the walleye’s predictability and hunting behavior.
First, you want to work the edges of those weed beds. As Greg Bohn, a legendary guide from Wisconsin says, “Don’t pile right into the vegetation. Our initial casts don’t even reach the weedage. Any clumps or points off the edge — that’s where the big fish are. Start well outside the weedline and feel for the edge.” He prefers 1/16- to 1/8-ounce perch-colored jigs.
We recommend something like the Rapala Jigging Rap in perch. It provides a life-like presentation and is much easier to fish near weeds than live bait.
Rapala Jigging Rap
We also like the Bomber Long A, a fantastic jerkbait with the right depth for working weed edges on most lakes.
What we don’t recommend are live minnows! You’ll lose too many to the weeds, and you’ll be troubled by panfish, bass, and pretty much everything else, too.
Stick to artificial lures–you’ll thank us!
The second technique we recommend is to work the water column above the weedbed. For this technique, we like spinners like the Hildebrandt Hammer Time, especially with the #4 beaten brass blade trailing a nose-rigged nightcrawler from the first hook. Use just enough weight that you’re running over but not dipping into the weeds, and aggressive walleye will rush from below to take what you’re throwing!
If the panfish become a problem, switch to Zoom fluke in a green color.
Hildebrandt Hammer Time
Check out this video to see how it’s done:
Trolling Crankbaits in the Spring
Trolling is a tried-and-true technique for catching walleye, and done well, it lets you fish the right depth and cover a lot of water at the same time. But not all trolling is about deep water, and if you skip the shallows in your quest for walleye, you’re making a big mistake!
In spring, walleye will often hold over sandy flats, soaking in the sun. They’ll be in shallow water, staying where the sun can reach them to heat their cold-blooded metabolism.
The trick, of course, is that the walleye are coming into shallow water to soak up some sun, and you don’t want to run your lures too deep. Adjust your trolling speed accordingly, and keep those lures off the bottom. Noted angler Jason Mitchell likes to start out slow, often just enough to get the crankbait to dive.
Salmo SDR Bullhead
Rapala Jointed Shad Rap
In this video, he gives a masterclass in this technique:
Trolling Deep in Summer with Snap Weights
But deep trolling can work very well, too. The trick is to be able to adjust your depth precisely, while running a rattling crankbait.
Our favorite is an easy choice: the Cotton Cordell Wally Diver. It’s got the right shape and a high-pitched rattle that excites walleye. If you want to ‘match the hatch,’ we recommend perch. If not, chartreuse red-eye is hard to beat.
But the right lure is only half the battle. To get it down to where you’ve found the walleye on your fish finder, you’ll need careful technique. We like to use a snap weight like the Krazywolf with a weight attached.
One simple way to make this combo work is the ‘50/50’ rule: let out 50 feet of line, attach your weight, and let out 50 feet more. The slower you troll, and the more weight you use, the deeper your lure will run. Just take a look at the chart below:
It’s obvious that lure depth is highly dependent on boat speed, as well as the size of the weight you clip to your line!
Jon Thelen and Jason Muche show you how it’s done on Lake Winnebago:
Slip Float Spring and Summer
Almost any time you need to present live bait to walleye, a slip float is the way to go. Because you can set the depth precisely, and still cast well, a quality slip float is a thing of beauty when paired with a jig head and minnows or leeches.
We like to use a ⅜ ounce Thill Wobble Bobber on mono main-line, with a bit of fluoro leader attached to our jig head. The weight below the float, as well as the jig head itself, help us reach depth quickly.
As Tom Boley explains in the video below, the issue is finding the walleye to cast to. He likes humps of all kinds, what he calls “focal points.” Large rocks, steep edges, points–these are the likely spots he’s casting his slip floats to.
He’s also looking for a structure like large boulders and transitions between gravel and sand–all areas walleye are likely to pack-up to hunt.
Take a look at his awesome tutorial video:
If you’re wondering how to rig a slip float, it’s simple:
While you don’t always fish walleye in nice weather–they’re always nice to catch!
But as every experienced angler can tell you, catching and fishing aren’t always synonyms. Walleye, especially as they mature, can be crafty fish, and their keen senses make them harder than most to trick. But their aggression and predictable habits can work in your favor, especially if you use the right techniques in the right conditions.
We hope these tips help you do just that, and we hope to hear about your fishing adventures in the comments below.