Walleye are one the most popular game species throughout the northern reaches of the United States and Canada. They are known for having a tendency to be finicky when it comes to feeding, and primarily feed in the twilight hours of evening as well as sunrise or throughout the night.
In this article our resident freshwater fishing expert in the US, fishing guide Shawn Chapin, takes a look at some of the best walleye lures on the market, why they work, and how to use them effectively.
Our pick for best soft plastics for walleye
For the past few decades swimbaits have become a staple for catching walleye, but not until the introduction of the Pulse-R have anglers had a swimbait that kept its amazing action at slow speed, allowing the angler to crawl this bait slowly on the bottom while still generating plenty of movement. While working the Pulse-R at super slow speeds, the tail actually rotates a full 180 degrees on the kick. Another great feature of this soft-plastic lure design is the unique ribbed body – all of the individual ribs move in the water, creating tons of vibration for the lure’s size. The Pulse-R, the first of our best walleye lures, also available in a whopping 24 different color patterns.
Our second soft plastic pick is another offering from the B-fish-N lure line and looks very similar to the Pulse-R with one major difference – the tail. The Moxi features the same ribbed body design and a thin profile, but it has a longer and curly styled tail, which not only creates eye-catching movement, but it also thumps in the water, creating a massive vibration that fish just have to come and investigate. Available in 18 different color patterns and proven with years of research and development, this soft plastic offering is sure to improve your walleye fishing.
The Berkley GULP! Minnow has been our go-to soft plastic for years and is one of the best walleye lures out there. It is the closest imitation to actual live bait, thanks to the liquid scent it is packed in, and the soft but ultra-durable feel. Put one of these on a jig or even troll it, and leave the bucket of live bait at home! The GULP! Minnow comes in 2.5 inch, 3-inch and 4-inch versions and 9 different colors.
Our pick for best walleye ice fishing lures
The Rapala Rippin Rap has had a surge in popularity when it comes to catching walleye through the ice. With a lipless and deep belly design, this bait was made to rip, swim and crank. When this bait is ripped vertically it flutters to the bottom thanks to its skinny-sided design. With an insanely hard thumping/vibrating action and the BB rattle chamber, the Rippin Rap will call the walleyes from far and wide beneath the ice, and they will come to investigate. Great for stained water, where a particular noise and vibration can sometimes make the difference, but also effective in clear water. Run this thing at any depth, and when you do hook into that hawg walleye have no fear, the lure has fast-piercing VMC hooks and that fish isn’t going anywhere! There’s a full range of Rapala walleye lures that all catch fish and this is one of the best.
The Macho Minnow is a very effective spoon that can be fished on the ice. It’s an amazing lure for catching walleye, and other species. The Macho Minnow slso works great for perch, crappies (see here for our top crappie lures), pike, bass and trout as well!
Using the Macho Minnow with a “Lift-Fall” approach, the Macho Minnow will fall with an erratic tumbling and darting fashion, creating the appearance of a distressed or wounded baitfish, this will also cause a clicking noise from the kicker tail which will also produce a lot of flash, not just from the tail but also from the holographic baitfish pattern on the body. Another tip for using this bait that can be very effective is to tip the hook with some form of live bait – minnow heads, waxies, mousies or use the Northland Tackle minnow head and perch-eye imitation plastics. Just be sure not to impede the action of that kickertail!
The Rapala Jigging Rap is perhaps the most famous and commonly used lure to catch walleyes not only through the ice, but in recent years for vertical jigging during the open water season as well. This lure should be in every walleye angler’s arsenal. The rear-angled fin on the tail of the Jigging Rap makes the lure swing out and hop and glide in a circular fashion with an incredible one-of-a-kind appearance that fools even the most wary of walleyes. This action excels in open water, but the bait also performs extremely well as a bottom bouncer in a yo-yo fashion, kicking up silt and triggering bottom-hugging walleyes to strike.
With multiple sizes varying from 1¼ “ to 3½”, you have a lot of wiggle room depending on what the fish want. The Jigging Rap is available in a whopping 26 colors.
Our pick for best crankbaits for walleye
The Deep Down Husky Jerk is an excellent choice when you need a deep-running crankbait. Thanks to its oversized deep diving lip, this lure can reach depths of 20 feet when trolled and up to 10 feet while casting. This lure is perfect if you want a crankbait presentation that runs straight and true, even when running it fast and deep in the water column. This lure always features neutral buoyancy which allows the user to pause the bait and the lure will remain suspended, neither falling or rising. The Deep Down Husky Jerk also has an internal rattle chamber, creating a loud and rhythmic attraction that calls out to all fish in the area. Each lure is tank tested and tuned to ensure it runs perfectly true on the water, and includes premium quality and razor sharp VMC hooks.
If you walk down to the banks of the Fox River in Green Bay Wisconsin, and look along the rip rap banks, it’s not going to be long before you find a few Flicker Shads washed up on the rocks, the unfortunate ending to a lure snagging on an old log while some walleye anglers were grinding it into the river bottom in search of goliath Great Lakes Walleyes. There’s a reason you will find so many Flicker Shads strewn around with bent hooks – they catch fish faster than toilet paper flew off the shelves in the spring of 2020. The Flicker Shad combines unbelievable action and durability and delivers it at an amazing price. Every single one is hand tuned and tested and we have yet to get one in our hands that hasn’t run true. One incredibly innovative design with the Berkley Flicker Shad is that internal rattle system. When you cast a Flicker Shad, the rattles will move to the tail end of the lure, which aids in casting distance and allows you you zing this lure like a bullet and reach way out there to that distant rock pile.
The action was specifically designed to imitate the side flashing of a fleeing bait fish, triggering a fish’s instinct to chase it down and eat. With Mustad ultra point treble hooks, walleye will stay pinned to the Flicker Shad. available in almost 30 different color patterns, and sizes ranging from 1½ to 3½ inches and weights from ⅛ to ½ of an ounce. Anglers have a ton of options to choose from for any situation.
Lets talk more about Walleye
Where are they found?
Walleye can be found in a wide variety of locations and habitats: rocky and woody structure, river channels, suspended in the middle of a lake basin, on drop offs, in shallow water and even more subtle areas, like where mud meets sand for example. Walleye anglers need to learn how to be mobile and have an understanding of where fish are most likely to be located at certain times of the year and even daily, with schools moving on and off of structure constantly. Just because you caught fish on a spot yesterday, doesn’t mean they will be there today. As a general rule of thumb, find the bait fish and you will find the walleye. A little-known fact about walleye, at least to anglers in the US, is they are also found in Europe, where they are known as zander. Amsterdam-based guide Michael Stalenhoef has some great videos of zander fishing on his site,
Best times to fish for walleye
Walleye are nocturnal feeders – their eyes are built with a natural type of night vision that greatly aids them while feeding at night, hence the beautiful silver eyes they have. That doesn’t mean they can’t be caught during the day, because they can be very active during the day in certain situations, especially when spawning in the spring. Early morning and evenings are going to be the best times, as well as throughout the night. But if you have a storm front moving in, get on the water at any time! Watch that barometer! Any movement in barometric pressure is a sure sign that fish activity could spike. If there’s weather moving in, hook up the boat or grab the rod! But remember, safety first – if you see lightning get off the water.
Best gear to use for walleye
Generally for fishing rods a good standard would be a spinning rod anywhere from 6’6” to 7’ feet in length with medium power and a fast to extra-fast action. As far as reels go a good standard to start with would be a spinning reel with a gear ratio in the 5.2.1 to 6.2.1 range. This rod and reel combination will work well for a wide range of lures from jigs to crankbaits. Put some 10 lb monofilament (see our top brands here) or fluorocarbon line (and here) on the reel and your set. You can also use braid, but a good idea would be to run a fluorocarbon leader for the last few feet of the line where you attach your lure. Walleye can be finicky and might not eat if they can see your line in the water.
Walleye fishing may appear to be daunting to some looking to get into it, But by doing a little homework on where they will be located at certain times of the year, you will have a good idea on where to start, and which lures to use to catch them. We highly recommend the lures mentioned in this article to anyone starting out in walleye fishing – they are all very easy to use and work extremely well in the right situations.
See you on the water.