How to Catch Walleye: Tips for Bait and Lures

Updated on:

How to Catch Walleye: Tips for Bait and Lures

Updated on:

Walleye are an exciting fish for any angler to catch. They have a mouth full of sharp teeth and very large eyes. Their long bodies and decent size can make them something unique to look at, as well as stylish as a trophy wall display.

For any anglers focusing on catching walleye, there are a number of different ways you can land them. However, for the most success, in order to catch walleye you may sometimes need a little finesse and specific lures in order to get them to bite.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the best ways you can get these hard-fighting fish into your boat as quickly as possible on your next fishing trip.

About Walleye: A Quick Guide

Distribution

Walleye have a large range across the United States and Canada giving you plenty of options in locations to catch walleye. Found in the northern US states, they inhabit the Great Lakes waterways and tributaries. This natural range extends south through the Mississippi River basin in Missouri and Ohio. 

In many lakes and reservoirs, walleye have been introduced and thrive as a sport fish outside of their native range. These areas where they were introduced can include Texas in the south, and Oregon, Washington, and other northwestern states.

Size

As with most fish, the females of the species will be larger than the males, though both male and female can be fun to reel in on a fishing trip. Females can reach up to 30 inches in length and weigh more than 20 pounds. 

For the average catch, however, expect to see fish in the 20-inch range and weighing up to 6 pounds. While this is much smaller than the species maximum, don’t let that fool you. Walleye are extremely active when on the hook and will give you a nice fight even if they are small in size.

Habits

Walleye will normally have a somewhat regular movement pattern throughout the day. They are most active in low light times, so plan to do your walleye fishing in the extreme early morning hours or the late evening hours.

Walleye are an exceptional fish to target during the night as well, since they have excellent night vision and will commonly do a majority of their feeding throughout the nights in both open water and around shallow cover areas.

If you see smaller species of fish such as perch gathering around weed beds, shoreline cover, and rock piles, you can almost guarantee that walleye will be nearby as well. 

Walleye Fishing Methods & Tips

Both jerkbaits and crankbaits are said to be the best lure choices next to live bait to catch walleye.

Lure Fishing for Walleye

A variety of lures can work well for walleye fishing. Look to use deep diving crankbaits in plastic, though wood is acceptable, when you catch walleye. Additionally, jerkbaits can be a very successful lure to use to catch walleye, if you enjoy fishing with a smaller profile over what the crankbait offers.

Both jerkbaits and crankbaits are said to be the best lure choices next to live bait to catch walleye. Minnow-imitating styles are the best bet when you want walleye to take notice and strike quickly, but you can get excellent results from other styles and shapes too.

Trolling for Walleye

Trolling is a great way to locate walleye, especially if you are fishing in a large lake or reservoir with live bait. Walleye are active fish and may quickly move from one location to another without giving you much notice before they do.

By trolling, you are able to cover a large amount of water while keeping your live bait lure in the water as you travel around looking for hot spots. Your lure should remain down near the bottom of the body of water so walleye can easily see it. If the previously mentioned lures aren’t working, give a worm harness a try with live bait and see if you have more results.

Live Bait Fishing for Walleye

While both crankbaits and jerkbaits can get plenty of bites in the areas where walleye spawn, nothing beats live bait when fishing for walleye. These fish can be aggressive and predatory, which means they will almost instantly notice a live minnow or shiner when it enters their range of vision.

Nightcrawlers and leeches on a worm (click here to get the best deal) harness are also an exceptional live bait to use if you are fishing in an area where live fish bait is not allowed. Throughout the late spring and fall months, live bait in small fish or worm types is arguably the best bait to use in any walleye situation.

Ice Fishing For Walleye

You will get the most results when offering a slower presentation when you start fishing walleye in the winter months.

Many walleye anglers absolutely love ice fishing for this fish species in deep and shallow water. These fish are willing to take a wide range of different styles of shallow water lures and various types of deep-diving crankbait during the winter months.

However, you will get the most results when offering a slower presentation when you start fishing walleye in the winter months.

It’s not uncommon to have walleye bite at jigging spoons during the winter months as well. You can add some cut bait to the spoon in order to elicit more of a response from the more sluggish walleye in these cold waters.

Walleye Fishing Tackle Explained

Walleye Rods & Reels

If you are just starting out and want to fish for walleye, look for a rod and reel for standard walleye fishing such as a medium power that measures around 7 feet in length. For a reel when you want to fish for walleye, you want a medium sized spool that gives you plenty of room for line.

Having a medium power rod will be perfect for most soft plastics and a variety of different crankbaits after you find walleye in your favorite shallow water or deep water lake.

For a more finesse setup for jigging or lightweight rigging, look for a medium light power rod around 6 to 7 feet in length. If you can afford to purchase two, getting a medium power for normal baits and lures, and a medium light for finesse techniques would be a great choice.

A medium light power rod will be perfect when using live baits of all types, as well as small spoons and jigs, and can be used as a fish finder to help you find walleye schools along the weed beds or shallow water lakes.

Fishing Line for Walleyes

Monofilament line is the most recommended type for walleye fishing. You want to go for around 8 pound test as your mainline, though larger reels can go with a 12 pound fluorocarbon line instead if you prefer it.

Braided line can also be used, but should be limited to no more than 12 pound test. It can be more smooth than fluorocarbon line, and will offer a better cast action, but may not be as lightweight as monofilament line.

Walleye Fishing Rigs

If you ask any walleye anglers what their favorite fishing rig is for this species, most will probably say the slip bobber rig. This rig is simple and great for beginners to use, but can also give high levels of success for experienced fishermen to enjoy too.

This rig can be set so your lure or bait hangs in the water at any depth you prefer while still offering a realistic and natural presentation that fish will notice. Since it uses a bobber or float atop the water, the wind can help you get the perfect position for this rig as well, leading to more chances in finding fish on larger lakes and reservoirs.

Walleye Fishing Lures

Big walleye with lure in mouth being held excellent
Walleye are not afraid to ambush prey at any point in the water column, so using a paddle tail shad lure is a very natural approach to luring in these fish.

Curl Tail Grubs

If you love fishing with fast movements, using a curl tail grub is your best option, especially on a jig head. Three and four inch grubs make a perfect size for a wide range of typical aggressive walleye, but you can go with larger or smaller grubs depending on the size of the fish in your chosen fishing spot.

With the jig head, go with a barbed style jig in the ¼ or ⅛ ounce size. This is a great size and combination for fishing straight off the boat or you can use it from docks with equal success when fishing with live baits.

Crankbaits

Using crankbaits are excellent for walleye if you plan on trolling also. Setting up your cranks behind the boat in a good spread at a depth of around 13 feet is a great option to get quick bites.

Trolling around rock piles and large flats will get a number of fish showing attention to your baits. This trolling setup can also make a great fish finding rig so you can quickly locate roaming schools of walleye.

Soft baits

There are a wide range of different soft baits you can use when walleye fishing. Regardless of what style of bait you enjoy, you can most likely find it in a soft bait. From topwater frogs, to deepwater crays and creature baits, soft baits are outstanding for walleye and most other species of fish.

Spoons

Colorful spoons are a great way to fish for summer walleye in a wide range of water conditions. If you love using a bit of speed in your retrievals, spoons are the way to go. Since spoons can be found in hundreds of different colors, patterns, and sizes, you are sure to find a spoon that will suit your needs.

Blade Baits

When you’re ready for an aggressive approach to finicky walleye fishing, bladed baits are the way to go. These sleek and double-hooked lures can entice even timid walleye into a solid strike. Bladed baits can be found in a wide range of colors and patterns, with a decent variation in sizes to suit your needs.

Paddle Tail Shads

Walleye are not afraid to ambush prey at any point in the water column, so using a paddle tail shad lure is a very natural approach to luring in these fish. If you haven’t had good luck getting bites with other artificial bait, consider going with the paddle tail.

These baits are excellent for deep water fishing when you want something to move along the bottom and disturb the mud or sand. Additionally, walleye will not be the only species going after this bait so you could potentially pull in something you hadn’t originally expected.

Walleye Hooks & Sinkers

Octopus Hooks

The most common hook style when fishing for walleye, the octopus hook is perfect for securing minnows, shad, and leeches. These hooks are commonly used on bobber rigs, but can also work on other rigs and with other live baits including shiners and shrimp.

Baitholder Hooks

If you love using nightcrawler live bait, you are no doubt familiar with baitholder hooks. This classic style is perfect for harnessing your worms, grubs, or leeches in a natural way so that they still provide excellent movement and a great presentation to walleye.

Walking Weights

These sinkers are extremely useful when you want to prevent the chance of getting snagged when dragging a lure low in the water. The most common walking weight is a ¼ or ½ ounce size which is great for reducing movement of your bait or lure in deep water or high wind conditions.

Split Shot Sinkers

Sinkers can come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, but split shot sinkers are the most common and versatile. These tiny clamshell weights can be crimped onto your line anywhere they are needed to help balance a rig or sink a difficult bait. Having the right sinker on your line can improve the presentation of your live or artificial bait while maintaining a lightweight and discreet look in the water.

Snap Swivels

Swivels are a very important part of any tackle box. They can be used for a variety of different rigs and are extremely useful when connecting your main line to your leader line. If you choose not to use a swivel of some sort, you run the risk of tangling your leaders and breaking line and losing lures.

Small swivels will do everything you need for most walleye rigs. There is very little reason to go for a big swivel as it can reflect the light and distract or even scare away the fish. The only purpose of a swivel is to keep your lines straight and tangle free when fishing.

How Walleye Anglers Like To Fish:

Picture of a fisherman on a boat holding a walleye
Walleye are also found in deeper water areas that are highly sloped with or without large boulders and grassy or weeded areas.

Fishing Structure

Areas in the lake where structure is common would include beach points, rocky shorelines, and other areas of deep structure. You can also look around shallow flats, spawning beds, and drop offs for big fish where the lake moves into much deeper, darker, and cooler water for some mid lake structure points.

Additionally, structures can include areas such as sand bars or even dams around creek inlets and bends. Walleye are also found in deeper water areas that are highly sloped with or without large boulders and grassy or weeded areas.

Fishing Cover

Like most fish, walleye love to stay under cover, especially when the sun is high and the sky is bright. Because of their light sensitive eyes, walleye will stay under weed cover or around large rock piles where they can be shaded from the sun.

When searching for walleye, be sure to look around clusters of weeds, under lily pads, around large sunken logs, and in open flat areas where shadows from nearby trees may be present. Walleye and their prey will be gathering in these areas throughout the day.

Boat or Shore?

Walleye can be fished from both a boat or from the short, however trolling with a boat can be somewhat easier. Not only that, but you are able to easily locate single walleye and small schools when trolling a fish finding style rig from a boat.

Depth

Depending on your chosen area of fishing for walleye, it’s common for fish to stay around 14 feet deep. In the Midwest, walleye are usually in 15 feet of water, but once you get into the Great Lakes, walleye are not uncommon at depths of up to 60 feet.

Temperature

Walleye will be most active when the water temperature is around 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This is typical water temperature in the spring and summer months in most areas where walleye are found.

Throughout the late winter and early spring, water temperatures of 45 degrees Fahrenheit and up can still hold active communities of walleye, though they may be near the surface or in areas where water is moving such as inlets and bays.

Once summer is in full swing, water temperatures up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit can still hold walleye, however they will be much deeper in the lake where the water is cooler. When searching for walleye during the summer months, try trolling over flats where the water will be much cooler than the surface.

Light Conditions

Walleye have excellent night vision, but as a result their sensitivity to bright light is high. When the sky is extremely bright, walleye will search for shaded areas where it is slightly darker and easier on their eyes.

Best Times and Seasons for Walleye Fishing

Walleye will be active year round, but the best season to look for them is before their spawning season in the late winter and early spring. Once spring has moved on and summer is just around the corner, they will be found in somewhat deeper areas to heavily feed.

For the best time of day to locate walleye, they will be most active in the late afternoon and well into the evening. Their vision is excellent in the darkness but can be sensitive in high light, so look for shaded areas, darker water, and evenings for the most walleye activity.

Final Thoughts On Catching Walleye

Walleye can take a bit of effort to locate and catch, but once you do they are exceptionally fun to fight on the line and can be amazing fish on the grill as well.

Whether you are a beginning angler or an experienced professional, walleye should definitely make it on the list of fish you try to catch.

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AUTHOR
Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village.