An Outdoorsman’s Guide to Walleye Fishing

Walleye fish are known for being picky eaters, and that is one of the reasons why they are considered harder to catch than other types of fish. If you use the correct lure, walleyes will hook themselves with great enthusiasm, but finding the right lure can be a tricky process as well.

When Walleye fishing, the lure, and technique you use may be what is recommended for this type of fish, but their fickle nature might mean that they won’t bite under typical conditions. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the different equipment you can use, the most successful techniques, and how to set yourself up in an environment best suited for catching Walleye.

About Walleye Fish

Walleye fish's teeth was showed

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Walleye are the kind of fish that like to swim in large groups or schools, and these fish often recognize items in the water such as rocks, wood, and other debris. They may also take note of the different characteristics under the water, such as where there are breaking transitions, human made features, or weeds. 

Fish that take note of these kinds of details in their surroundings often need to be tricked with bait more than other species. This trickery includes having your bait in the right place at the right time so that the fish accept it as a naturally occurring form of food. 

If the fish suspect that there’s something wrong with your bait due to the way it looks, smells, or how it performs under the water, then they are much less likely to try and bite. 

Using Live Bait

Walleye fish hooked by fishing rod of a fisherman

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Live bait may seem like an extra burden to some fishers, but it can also offer up a considerable amount of versatility when you are fishing. Adding bait to a sinker or bobber rig or even adding bait to a plain hook can significantly increase your chances of catching a fish.

The kind of bait that you use and the time of year that you are using it matters as the fish will be looking for certain types of food in a given season. Minnows, nightcrawlers, and leeches are all good options for catching Walleye, but some varieties work better during a particular time of year.

Based on the season, here are our recommendations for the kind of bait you should look for:

  • Springtime: Fatheads, minnows, and Small Red Tail Chubs
  • Summer: Night crawlers and Leeches
  • Fall: Small Suckers, Large Red Tail Chubs, and Minnows
  • Winter: Red tail Chubs, Small Suckers, and Larger Shiner Minnows

Trolling Tools

Man fishing on the river

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Trolling is one way to catch Walleye fish, and it can be beneficial, especially if you aren’t familiar with the waters where you are fishing. By trolling, you can cover more water in search of feeding Walleye, but it does require the use of a boat.

Flat lining or the process of casting a spinner rig off the back of a boat as it moves is one way to present the bait, but there are other tools to consider including:

  • Side Planers
  • Down riggers
  • Lead Core Line
  • Diving Planes

Down riggers help to place lures in a specific vertical location while side planers help to spread the fishing line horizontally. Diving planes are devices that attach to the fishing line and move it in particular directions. Lead core line is a type of weighted fishing line that sinks and is best used with lures placed shallowly in the water.

Lures, Rigs, and Spinners

Walleye fish caught in a fishing net

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There’s different equipment you can use to catch Walleye, but the most common options are rigs, spinners, and lures. Each one has its pros and cons, but it’s a good idea to know how to use them all, so you are best prepared for fishing in different water environments.

Spinners

One of the oldest ways to fish for Walleye is with a spinner that is weighted, so it sinks to the bottom. A weighted spinner with a half-ounce weight will fall to a depth of approximately ten feet, and another half-ounce of weight will cause the spinner to rest five feet lower.

The most popular kind of spinner used on Lake Erie is the weight forward spinner. The technique used by fishers is to add a bit of night crawler to the end of the hook with about an inch or so trailing freely. Once baited, you cast the spinner out and experiment with different depths until you discover Walleyes.

Slip Bobber Rig

When Walleyes are hanging out around an underwater structure at a specific depth, you can use a slip bobber rig which will place your bait at a particular depth. The goal is to get the bait close to Walleye, so they are more likely to bite, but it can be difficult when they are grouped around a rock or other underwater feature.

You can make your own slip bobber rig from a stop that is attached to a fishing line and some string or a knotted rubber band. You’ll then want to thread on a small bead after the knot or stop followed by a bobber. 

Below the bobber, you’ll put a split shot to create some balance while this combination is in the water, and then tie on a hook. Once the hook is in place, and you’re ready to fish you’ll add some fresh bait that is appropriate for the season and cast into the water near the school of fish. 

Slip Sinker Rigs

Slip sinker rigs are another contraption that removes resistance from the bait once a fish has bitten it. Walleye are notorious for dropping the bait if they feel any resistance or pull on the line, and a simple slip sinker rig can give the fisherman more time than with conventional lures and jigs.

The main benefit of using a slip sinker rig is that it allows the fish to swim away with the bait for a short distance and get the bait more securely in their mouths. Once they run out of line, the hook is stuck in the fish, and the fisher can reel them in slowly. 

A slip sinker rig is made from a few components, including a hook, a stop, and a sliding weight. You can purchase these rigs fully assembled at many sports shops and fishing shops, but it’s also possible to make your own. Fishing with this kind of apparatus is straightforward and appropriate for beginner fishers with a little practice.

Once you cast the rig out and give it a little extra line, you allow it to sink, and slowly reel it back in so that you are aware if you catch a fish. As you pull on the rig, the stop will interact with the sinker, and this will create the natural movement of the bait as it flows along the bottom.

As a general rule, this type of rig is used at the bottom, which means adding enough weight for the rig to sink to the correct depth. The exact technique you use will vary based on the location and the characteristics of the water environment, but in general, this type of rig can succeed in many different lakes and rivers of varying depths.

Using this type of rig is ok in waters with vegetation or weeds, but you’ll want to choose a different kind of sinker such as a bullet sinker for those conditions. It’s also best to choose a small hook for the most natural look, and barrel swivel stops allow for a higher degree of adjustment.

Jigs

Jigs are the most common equipment used when Walleye fishing and these handy gadgets can help you achieve the proper depth for fishing more efficiently and also attract more fish. Some fishers will add bait to their lures, which makes it more attractive to Walleye, but the kind of jig and bait will vary depending on the time of year.

Cold water can make Walleye more sluggish, and this means that your bait and lure should move more slowly to give the fish a chance to catch it and bite. In the warmer months, your presentation of bait and your chosen lure can move more quickly as the fish will be more aggressive and willing to chase after the bait.

Regardless of the time of year or the water temperature, the process of using a lure is the same. You’ll want to securely fasten it to your line, add some bait, cast it out into the water, and allow it some time to sink. Once it hits bottom, you can begin to slowly retrieve it by making the line twitch which will create a seductive movement of the lure in the water.

After you twitch the line, you’ll want to pause to allow the jig a moment to sink again and make sure your line is taut. If you allow too much slack in your line, you won’t be able to feel it when you’ve caught a fish.

You’ll know you’ve caught a fish when you feel a tap on your line, or a light but consistent amount of pressure as if your lure is catching on something. It may take some practice to recognize this feeling, but eventually, you’ll be able to discern catching a fish, from many other events without 

Fishing Basics

Men fishing in the river and catch a walleye fish

Image via: Flickr

Before you head out to go fishing, consider these factors when searching for Walleye. There are different weather conditions and water conditions that are ideal for catching big fish.

Conditions and Feeding

Walleye are often triggered to eat when the light is fading, which makes dusk and the hours leading up to dawn the ideal time to go fishing. You’ll want to seek out Walleye when they’re feeding as this is the time when you can most easily spot them and target the school.

Many professionals claim that the ninety minutes around dusk is the perfect time to go fishing, and overcast conditions are ideal. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for a breeze that can cause the water to be slightly choppy as this can also trigger feeding.

Walleye fishing in warm conditions is often more preferable to cold weather fishing, and some fishers are tempted to troll more deeply in the water when searching for Walleye. While this technique may sometimes work, these fish typically have a regular circle that they swim throughout the day, which brings them closer to the surface during low light.

When it’s bright and sunny, you may find it harder to catch Walleye, and you may find yourself having to troll deep into the water, which is less than ideal. The biggest fish are often caught between midnight and dawn as they move into the areas that were previously occupied by smaller fish.

Where to Fish

Man strolling his motor boat to find perfect site to catch walleye fish

Image via: Flicr

Many fishers will head towards deep water to catch big Walleye, but you’ll likely have better luck cruising weedy shallow waters where prey is easy to find. Walleye are often seen hunting in waters where many smaller species of fish gather, and during spring and summer, they rotate to different areas in search of food.

Weed beds make an ideal hunting ground as small fish attempt to hide, and Walleye can have the advantage by blending into their surroundings. You’ll want to work the edges of the weed bed and the areas close to those edges but resist the urge to jump into the center of the vegetation.

Walleye will commonly hide along the edges of weed beds and even on small clumps surrounding a weed bed. In these areas, they can more easily blend in and still catch some food as it leaves or tries to enter the vegetation. When fishing in weeds, you’ll want to avoid minnows as they are easily lost, and appropriately colored artificial lures may be your best option.​​​​

If you find yourself catching a species of fish that isn’t the Walleye, then you may need to switch to a different kind of lure. Most lures will help you to catch more than one type of fish, and bait can also attract multiple kinds of fish. 

James Moore
 

Hey, I'm the founder of Fishing Kayaks Guide. As a professional angler for over 10 years now, I love to hear and share experience and knowledge about kayak fishing and get connected to all of you people who are enthusiastic to hit the water.

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