7 Essential Tips On How To Catch Walleye
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by Bill Laney
Walleye are among the most popular game fish in the US. They grow to impressive sizes north of 10 pounds, and 3-4 pound fish are fairly common in most fisheries. Add to this the fact that they are among the most tasty freshwater fish in North America, and you’ll understand why so many anglers love to catch them.
But catching them isn’t always easy. There are two main reasons for this:
The first challenge is finding walleye. On larger lakes and reservoirs they move around a lot, sometimes holding to deep water, and sometimes patrolling shallower regions. So if you want to catch them, you need to know the areas they frequent, and also the time of day when you can expect to find them there.
The second challenge is getting them to bite. When walleye aren’t feeding actively, they can be extremely finicky biters, and you need to work hard to get them to take your bait. In order to maximize your chances of catching them, you need to choose the right combination of tackle and bait.
In this article we cover the 7 best walleye fishing tips to help you catch more fish consistently.
The top 7 walleye fishing tips
1. Use a lake map to find walleye
If you’re fishing on larger bodies of water, it can be very challenging to find walleye haunts – especially on a lake you’re not familiar with. A great tool to help you find them is a lake map, which can give you a highly detailed picture of the underwater landscape.
Currently, the two best lake map providers are Navionics and Lakemaster, which provide extremely high quality underwater maps for almost all popular fisheries in North America (excluding smaller lakes and rivers, of course). You can use them with a GPS mapping device, and many fish finders are also compatible with their mapping software.
When using a lake map, look for the following underwater structures:
- Underwater hills
- Edges of mud flats
- Shore points
Very often, you’ll find fish patrolling the transition zones of these structures, where they drop off into deeper water. For more detailed information on this, take a look at our article on how to read a lake map for walleye ice fishing.
In addition to these structures, also look for pinch points where walleye are concentrated on their foraging patrols.
If you’re not sure which lake map is best for your purposes, take a look at our article on Navionics vs. Lakemaster, which compares their pros and cons side by side.
2. Use a fish finder to locate walleye
While a lake map is great for finding the right types of structure that walleye like to frequent, you can still end up spending hours and hours before you run into any fish, especially on large lakes. Because of this, it’s best to use a fish finder to locate them before you even start fishing.
Ideally, you need a boat or a kayak for this, since you’ll have to cover a lot of ground until you get promising sonar signals. The best way to do this is with a fish finder that combines GPS mapping with sonar. That way you can use a lake map to find the right spots, and then scan them with sonar until you see fish on your screen.
In fact, this is exactly the strategy that walleye pros use – they don’t start fishing until they know for sure they’re on top of a school of fish.
You can use side scan sonar imaging to cover large areas, always keeping an eye out for concentrations of bait fish. If you find a school of small fish, such as shad, shiners or perch, you know that walleye are likely to be nearby, and then it’s best to switch to down scan imaging for more detailed information.
3. Look for spawning bait fish
As mentioned above, a great way to locate walleye is by finding their prey. This is especially useful if you know when and where their most prey is spawning. For example, if you know that shad are spawning in a certain area, you can be sure that walleye are holding nearby, and hunting them actively.
In cases like that, it’s best to use the same type of fish as your bait, or lures that look similar to them. In the case of shad, that would be silver spoons and grey/silver swimbait lures.
4. Take advantage of the evening bite
Scientists studying walleye with telemetric tracking have found that they are most active during the half hour just before and after sunset, which confirms what anglers have known for decades.
Walleye get their name from the unusual appearance of their eyes, which stems from the presence of reflective pigments in their retina making them more sensitive to low levels of light. This adaptation is ideal for hunting in low light conditions, thus giving them an edge over their prey at this time of the day.
In order to take advantage of the evening bite, position yourself close to areas with concentrations of bait fish. If you’re fishing from shore, this could be weed beds, rivers and other inlets. If you’re fishing by boat, you can also look for underwater mounds that attract bait fish.
Try to present your bait at the edge of these zones, preferably on the side that’s closer to deeper water, since this is where they are likely to show up at dusk to hunt the bait fish. Again, try to mimic the natural bait colors with your lure.
If you’re ice fishing for walleye at dusk, it’s a good idea to drill a series of holes that cover the edge zones, and then test which ones produce fish (for more details, check out our article when do walleye bite best for ice fishing).
5. Use finesse techniques when fish aren’t biting
When walleye aren’t feeding actively, it can be very hard to get them to bite. This is especially the case in the middle of the day, when they’re usually holding in deeper water.
When fish aren’t biting, it often helps to downsize your lure or bait (similar to bass fishing). In addition, use smaller hooks and a lighter pound test line, to avoid your line being spotted by wary fish. Fluorocarbon is usually the best line to use for this, since it has the lowest visibility underwater.
See also: walleye rigging guide
Walleye are a lot more cautious than pike or muskie, which will readily strike lures attached to a thick metal leader. Underwater footage has revealed that walleye often follow a bait or lure around for long distances before they decide to strike. This gives them plenty of time to detect your line or hook.
6. Choose the right bait
Since walleye can be very choosy in what they feed on, it’s essential to use the right bait to catch them. This can vary a lot over the course of the year, and even over the course of a single day.
In many cases, live bait is the best option to catch them, though sometimes artificial lures perform better. Among the best lures for them are jigs, crankbait, and swimbait.
The best 3 live baits to use are:
Which one of these will perform best depends a lot on the season (to get the full scoop on this, check out our article on the best live bait for walleye).
7. Use the right presentation
In addition to choosing the right bait, you also need to find the best presentation. Often, trolling is one of the top choices, since it allows you to cover a lot of ground until you find some hungry fish. Trolling can be done with lures such as crankbait, but also with live leeches and nightcrawlers, which you can bounce off promising underwater structures while slowly passing over them.
8. Be versatile
Due to their popularity, walleye tend to get a lot of fishing pressure on most fisheries nowadays. Because of this, they have learned to avoid getting caught, and if you fish for them with the same techniques as every other angler, chances are you won’t catch a lot of fish.
So when it comes to walleye fishing, it really pays to go the extra mile, and find better locations, times, and bait presentations that are not being exploited by other anglers, as this will give you the edge in being able to catch more fish.
One reason why I love fishing for walleye is that they can be so challenging to catch, and I think I’m not the only one in this regard. When you do manage to bring one of these golden beauties to the net, the knowledge of how much skill it took to make it happen will double your satisfaction.