Walleye Fishing: The Complete Guide

Jun 14, 2024 | 8 minute read Comments
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Widespread across large parts of the United States and Canada, Walleye are a keystone species for North American anglers. They inhabit various rivers and lakes stretching from Canada’s Northwest Territories, all the way south to Alabama. And everywhere Walleye live, fishing for them is immensely popular.

An angler in sunglasses and a hat crouching on a boat while holding a trophy Walleye he caught fishing near Brainerd, Minnesota.
Photo courtesy of Livin’ the Dream Guide Service.

But what makes Walleye so beloved? And more importantly, how and where do you get in on the action? Read on and find out! In this article, we’ll delve into everything that makes these fish such a prized catch. You’ll also get all the information on where to fish for Walleye and the best ways to do so. So when you’re ready, scroll on.

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Reasons to Fish for Walleye

A man in sunglasses smiling and holding a big Walleye at chest level, with calm waters and clear skies behind him.
Photo courtesy of Eyepopper Fishing Charters.

In places such as Baudette and Garrison, Minnesota, Walleye have giant statues built in their honor. So what is it that sparks such love towards these creatures? Why fish for Walleye over the other species swimming about? Here are a few reasons:

  • Flavor. While you can certainly let them go when you reel them in, Walleye are mostly catch-and-eat fish. This is because they’re among the most delicious table fare you can come across. With a mild, sweet taste and a firm, yet buttery texture, it’s hard to beat Walleye when it comes to deliciousness. You can cook them, bake them, or turn them into fish patties. Either way, you’re in for a dinner fit for royals.
  • Looks. With shimmering olive-gold scales, big, beady eyes, and stripes that make them almost look like they’re wearing camo, Walleye are cool-looking fish. Watching them break the water’s surface, thrashing their heads as they fight your hook is always a sight to behold. Also, while most Walleye are between 12 and 20 inches long, some grow to sizes exceeding 30 inches. Imagine catching a trophy like that!
  • Availability. Compared to many other game fish, Walleye are abundant in the waters they inhabit. They’re regularly stocked throughout North America and their numbers have been increasing in many major fisheries such as Lake Erie. So while it’s always good to fish with sustainability in mind, you typically don’t have to feel too bad if you decide to keep some Walleye for dinner – with respect to the size and bag limits of the waters you’re fishing in, of course.
  • Game Quality. With advancements in both technology and fishing knowledge, you’ll rarely hear anglers say it’s hard to catch Walleye. But does that make them any less fun to fish for? Not at all! Walleye are an excellent species to train your skills on or to target with your family. Hook into a big one and you better believe it’ll give you a fight! Also, if you really want a challenge while fishing for Walleye, simply hit the rivers and small lakes. They’re way trickier to catch there than in large bodies of water.
  • Tradition. Walleye fishing is embedded in the culture and lives of many anglers, especially in the Midwest. In fact, Walleye is the state fish of Minnesota, South Dakota, Vermont, and, unofficially, Ohio! Many anglers throughout the region have grown to love Walleye because their families have also fished for them their whole lives. The same goes for Canadians. Walleye is the provincial fish of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and they’re popular wherever they’re present.

Walleye Fishing Seasons

Unless regulations say otherwise, Walleye anglers can enjoy hunting for their favorite fish year-round. They’ll bite no matter whether it’s the height of the summer or the depth of winter. Of course, the fishing methods and Walleye patterns change with each season.

An angler in a winter jacket and a beanie standing on a frozen Lake Winnipeg and holding a sizeable Walleye with the icy lake visible behind him.
Photo courtesy of Out of the Blue Fishing Adventures.

Winter brings ice to most major Walleye fisheries, especially in the Midwest and Great Lakes area. This, however, shouldn’t deter you from fishing for these beautiful creatures. In fact, it’s a favorite pastime for many anglers. As long as you pair up with the right guide, they’ll bring out the shanties, heaters, and ice fishing rods. Then, the fun can begin.

Since Walleye are low-light feeders, the best fishing usually takes place in the early morning or evening hours. And if the waters you intend to explore don’t freeze over winter, look for Walleye near structure. They’ll often lurk there, hungrily waiting for your bait.

A boy in a hat standing on a charter boat, posing with a Walleye he reeled in on Lake Erie, with the waters and the shore visible behind him and another person partially visible to the left of him.
Photo courtesy of Mega Bites Charters.

In spring, the patterns shift as Walleye prepare to spawn. In their pre-spawn phase, you’ll typically find them near the bottom, at depths of 15 feet and more. Then, Walleye will move to shallow, coastal waters to spawn. Both before the spawn and during, Walleye will be more focused on reproducing than eating. However, once the spawning season is over, they’ll feed aggressively.

By summertime, Walleye will typically move to deeper waters and underwater humps, ledges, and dropoffs. Since they prefer to hunt in low light conditions, the hottest fishing often happens on murky, windy days, in wavy waters which anglers call the “Walleye chop.” The fish stay deep until early fall, when they begin to transition to shallow waters once again.

Best Walleye Fishing Spots

Considering the range Walleye inhabit, there’s no shortage of waters you’ll find them biting in. Still, some destinations have become straight-up famous for the quality of angling they feature. Check out some of the top Walleye states and provinces, followed by places to fish.

Top Walleye States

The hottest Walleye fishing is concentrated around the Great Lakes region. Both the Midwestern US states and the Canadian provinces across the border offer thrilling action. Click the images below to read more about these.

Top Walleye Locations

Looking for specific lakes, rivers, and places to visit for Walleye? We got you covered! Your mind probably wandered to Lake Erie about a dozen times already but there are other spots to visit, too.

Top Walleye Fishing Techniques

There’s more than one method to catch your fill of Walleye. Based on where the fish are and the kind of equipment you have access to, you can adjust your approach to reel in these delicious gravel lizards. Have a look at a few popular techniques.

  • Trolling. A tried-and-true technique, trolling is among the most effective ways to entice Walleye to bite. It’s great for covering a lot of water in a short time, especially if you already have a clue where the fish might be or you’re going out with a guide who does. You can troll both live bait, such as nightcrawlers or minnows, and lures, such as lipped crankbaits, spinners, spoons, and soft plastics.
  • Jigging. In terms of its effectiveness at getting Walleye to bite, jigging is on par with trolling. It’s also fairly easy to grasp and a super fun way to reel in Walleye. Just cast, feel your bait touch the bottom, jig your rod up, and let the bait sink again! Jigging is particularly effective when Walleye are gathered around structure. As with trolling, there’s a variety of bait and lures you can employ – minnows and nightcrawlers often being favored choices.
  • Night Fishing. Okay, it’s not a technique per se but switching from daytime to nighttime angling can do wonders when targeting Walleye. Go out at dusk and you’ll usually see Walleye feeding deep at first, before moving shallow as the night falls. Look for weed beds and similar vegetation where the fish can hide, and start casting. Jigs, jerkbaits, and crankbaits work well if you’re lure fishing, or try using live minnows.
  • Ice Fishing. When the winter comes and your home lake freezes over, you’re pretty much left with two choices – stay home ’til spring or hit the ice. Luckily, Walleye will still bite during the hardwater season. Most anglers consider the early ice fishing season to offer the most prolific Walleye action, but you’ll need to be extra sure the waters are frozen solid before you go. In mid-season, the fish often move further offshore, making it trickier to get to them across the ice. However, as the season draws to a close, you’ll see Walleye move inshore again.

Walleye Varieties

Walleye share a habitat with a bunch of other species, and they’re sometimes confused with some of them. The most common fish you might run into thinking you’ve caught a Walleye are their cousins, Sauger. They belong to the same family and they can even crossbreed, creating a hybrid known as Saugeye. Interested in learning how to tell them apart? We’ve written a whole article on it!

Meanwhile, Walleye can also have different colorations depending on the waters they reside in. Most notably, Lake Winnipeg is famous for its “greenback” trophy Walleye, which have stunning, iridescent green coloring across their backs. In some places in Northwest Ontario, you’ll even run across Walleye with a bluish hue.

Finally, while you’ll never find them in the same waters, Zander deserves a mention. They’re basically Walleye’s European cousins, similar in appearance and just as fun to fish for. So if you ever fly across the pond but can’t shake that Walleye itch, Zander fishing will tide you over until you’re back on your home turf.

Walleye Fishing Regulations

In general, fishing regulations always vary between states and sometimes even between different bodies of water. The same goes for Walleye – the size and bag limits, as well as seasons, will differ depending on where you’re fishing for them. Below, you’ll find info on fishing seasons, as well as size and bag limits for some of the popular Walleye fishing states. However, make sure to also check the official government websites prior to your trip, especially if you’re heading out solo.

Waters Start Date End Date
Minnesota May 13 Feb 25
Michigan Varies per region* Varies per region*
Pennsylvania First Sat. in May March 14
Ohio Year-round /
Wisconsin First Sat. in May First Sun. in March
New York May 1 March 15
Tennessee Year-round /
North Dakota Year-round /
South Dakota Year-round /
Ontario First Sat. in May April 13
Manitoba May 13 March 31
Saskatchewan Between May 5 and May 25, varies per zone Between March 31 and April 15, varies per zone

*Michigan’s Walleye season runs from May 15 to March 15 on Upper Penninsula Gr. Lakes, inland waters, and St. Marys R. On Lower Penninsula inland waters it runs from April 29 to March 15. On Lower Peninsula Gr. Lakes, St. Clair L., St. Clair R., and Detroit R., the season is open year-round.

Waters Bag Size
Minnesota 6 No more than 1 over 20″
Michigan 5 Minimum 15″
Pennsylvania 6 Minimum 15″
Ohio 6 Minimum 15″
Wisconsin 5 Varies between 15″ and 18″
New York 5 Minimum 15″
Tennessee 5 Minimum 16″
North Dakota 5 Minimum 14″
South Dakota 4 No more than 1 over 20″
Ontario 4 No more than 1 over 46cm
Manitoba 4 No more than 1 over 55cm
Saskatchewan 4 No more than 1 over 55cm

Keep in mind that the regulations in the tables above are general and that they can change between specific lakes and rivers. For more detailed information visit these links:

Walleye Fishing FAQs

If you’d like to read about other underwater residents, visit our Fish Species: The Ultimate Guide blog post.

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From a young age, Marko has been a nature buff. His first contact with fishing came through his dad who’d take him to the Danube River. It’s where Marko got his basic angling education, landed his first catch (an Ide), and learned how to cook a mean fish stew. Marko also enjoys hiking, running, traveling, and writing about it all.

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Jul 11, 2024

Great article!
Another top Walleye fishing location to add to the next publication is Lake Oahe in Pierre, SD.

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  • Tanya

    Jul 11, 2024

    Hey Charley, first of all, thank you for reading our blog, we’re glad you found it useful. And thanks a lot for pitching in with the location suggestion, always good to hear from our fellow anglers 😉

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