Walleye are one of North America’s true freshwater treasures. Smart, strong, and super tasty, they’re a favorite of anglers throughout the US and Canada. It’s no surprise, then, that people have developed a few different ways of catching them. Today, we break down the best Walleye bait options, and how to get the most out of each one.
Walleye Fishing Basics
Whether you’re using live bait or lures, it’s important to match them to the waters you’re fishing. Get to know the species, shape, size, and color of local bait fish and you’ll notice a real jump in your catch rate.
Speaking of color, what you see on the surface might not be what fish see in the water. Reds turn to brown after around 20 feet, followed by yellows, then blues. White and black work well at all depths, especially when contrasted with colors. The best all-round combo is chartreuse and white, although it’s always worth trying a few different combinations.
This last one’s pretty basic, but remember that fish move. Walleye typically stay in shallow spots in spring and fall, heading to open water in summer, and the sheltered depths in winter. Your techniques – and in turn, your bait – will need to adapt to this.
Best Live Baits for Walleye
If you’re new to Walleye fishing or just want to put fish in the boat, live bait is always your best bet. Lures are fun, but they can’t compete with the real thing without a lot of practice. Walleye feed on a lot of different things, but three go-to live baits are minnows, leeches, and worms.
Minnows are Walleye magnets. You can cast them on bobbers or weights, drift them, or even freeline larger baits when big ‘Eyes are actively feeding. Minnows can also be rigged with lures to devastating effect, but more on that below.
As we already mentioned, you should try to match the natural forage in the waters you’re fishing. Chubs, large shiners, and small suckers all work well. Bigger baits tend to draw more bites in fall and early winter, when the fish will even small bait fish will get snapped up in summer.
Leeches and worms are great because they have so much movement. This makes them easy to spot even in open water. And because they’re so long and squishy, they thread onto hooks really well, allowing you to combine them with a wide range of lures and rigs.
The other good thing about worms and leeches is that they’re easy to keep alive. Fish are very sensitive to temperature, and need the water to be constantly aerated in order to survive. These guys are much less fussy, making them the perfect live bait for anglers traveling light.
Best Walleye Lures
Feel like stepping up your game, or just trying something new? Time to break out the lures. The four most popular types of lures are jigs, soft plastics, crankbaits, and spinners. The cool thing is that you can mix and match all of them with live bait or even each other. This gives you a ton of different options based on the conditions on the day.
Soft plastics are a great replacement for live bait, and even have a few advantages over the real thing. They’re much more portable and durable, and you don’t need to change them after every bite. Because of this, using artificials saves a lot of time and hassle when the fish are biting hard.
You can use soft plastics whenever you would otherwise use live bait. They work especially well with jigs, slowing the jig head’s fall and adding more movement and color to your presentation. Grubs are the most popular style of soft bait for Walleye, but paddle tail minnows and shads also do the job.
Jigging is the number one way to catch Walleye. Whether you’re fishing from shore or on a boat, jigs are an essential part of your arsenal. You can combine them with live bait, soft plastics, or all three. Heck, just a bare jig head would probably tempt fish when the bite is hot.
The main thing to remember with jigs is to match the size and shape to the bait you’re using. Use smaller, shorter jigs with live baits to give a more subtle presentation and to allow the bait to move. With soft plastics, longer, barbed jigs are best, because they let you secure your bait properly and give stronger movements in the water.
Crankbaits and Jerkbaits
Crankbaits and jerkbaits both do a great job of mimicking small bait fish, especially when they’re moving. Their front lip destabilizes them as they go, giving them a signature wobble that Walleye can’t resist. The other upside of using them is that you don’t need to add anything else to make them work. Just tie one on and get fishing!
Crankbaits are generally better for deep, open water, and are the classic Walleye trolling lure as a result. Jerkbaits generally work better in shallower spots. They’re useful for feeling out new areas to see where the fish are, before switching to more targeted techniques.
Last on our list are spinnerbaits. These guys offer great customization, as you can change the size and shape of your blade, as well as the precise rig and setup you use them with, not to mention your bait. Because of this, they work well for trolling, drifting, and even casting.
The spinner rig that puts the most Walleye on your hooks is called a crawler harness. This setup comprises a Colorado blade followed by several colorful spacers, then two hooks holding a nightcrawler so it stays stretched out. The combination of color, flash, movement, and scent is irresistible to big Walleye as you slowly troll it through the water.
A World of Ways to Bait a Walleye
We covered some of the most popular and effective Walleye baits, but there are a lot more out there. People use everything from drop shots to spy baits, and even flies. Hopefully, we’ve given you a taste of what your options are. Now it’s time to get out there and see which one you like best!
These are our picks for the best bait for Walleye. What are yours? Drop us your thoughts or a few of your favorites in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!