Walleye are one of North America’s most sought after game fish, prized for their spirited battle and great eating. But, they’re a real challenge to catch. First, they keep particular hours. Their primary feeding times start a little before sunrise and sunset and last a few hours after each. They are also very particular about lighting, seasons, and weather conditions and their habits vary, depending on whether they reside in a lake or a river. And if that wasn’t enough, they have an exasperating reputation for striking bait without getting hooked.
But, if you’re up to the challenge, the reward for latching onto this aggressive predator is a good fight and a tasty meal. And yes, there are more lures than you can shake a jig stick at, but we’ll run down the basic baits to help you beat one of the craftiest fresh waters adversaries around.
Summer’s here and the time is right…
Now that we’re deep into summer, the walleyes have gone deep, as well. They aren’t big fans of the heat, so they move to greater depths where it’s cooler. Consequently, they’re a bit more of a challenge to catch. But, you don’t have to rule out fishing for walleyes during these dog-days if you’ve done your homework.
First, you’ll need to find them. Underwater structures are always a good bet to ply, because they tend to lower water temperature and attract bait fish. Walleyes can also hold above or near sunken islands and gravel or sand bars.
Break lines where the bottom drops off quickly to deeper water can be good spots to find walleye laying in wait for something tasty to swim their way.
Consider tossing a line around weed beds, too. Weedy areas afford shade, cover and a higher oxygen level and bait fish love to hide in these areas.
Anything that breaks the water current can be considered a target. A rocky point, the edges of holes, eddies and wing dams can all attract bait fish. Remember, walleyes go where the bait fish go.
Night time can be the right time…
Bait fish tend to hang in deeper water during the day, but as the sun goes down and the temperature cools, they begin to move into the shallows. Walleyes, of course, are well-known for their excellent night vision, so you can expect them to be looking for a meal, primarily between sundown and 1 AM or so.
Jigs are probably the most popular lure for fishing walleyes. The jig is a hook with a silicone or rubber-coated lead head that comes in various sizes, weights, colors and configurations. Very often live or plastic baits are placed on the hook to complete the presentation. 1/8 and 1/4 ounce jigs are good for shallow waters. A 3/8 to 5/8 ounce jig weight works well in deeper or strong current settings.
The idea is to fish with the lightest weight possible, just enough to let you feel the bottom. If you keep a variety of different weight jigs, you’ll be ready to match all environments. Jig color is also an important factor in attracting hungry walleye. Chartreuse, orange, and green are popular colors. Again, usually the darker the water, the brighter colored jigs you’ll want to try. They stand out in the walleye’s eye, but each situation is different, so if one color isn’t working for you, switch over to another. There’s sometimes no telling what walleyes might be attracted to on a given day.
Crankbaits, also known as plugs or divers, are hard bodied lures that come in many sizes, shapes and colors. There are hundreds of them to choose from, but look for specific characteristics that are the most successful in enticing hungry walleyes. The “action” of the lure is all-important. Most hard baits wobble from side to side as they are reeled in. But walleye are most attracted to a bait’s top-to-bottom roll, or “side flash”. Walleye lures typically have bright colored sides and dark backs. As these hard baits move forward through the water, their roll presents an alternating flash of color that simulates live prey, a presentation walleyes find hard to resist.
Check this video of Rapala Pro Anglers, Al Lindner and Dan Sura, catching Walleye using three-way rigging techniques with Rapala lures like the Rapala Flat Rap, Rapala Original Floater and Jointed Rapala.
A spinner lure (aka crawler harness) includes one or more metal blades that spin as it moves forward. Its attraction is twofold in that the spinning action creates a visual flash and the vibration mimics live prey. A spinner rig also includes a number of small brightly colored beads to increase visibility. Add a juicy nightcrawler, leach or minnow to the trailing hook and you’ve got yourself one of the best walleye baits there is.
There is no doubt plastic baits are very successful in landing this elusive fish, but artificial baits and lures are missing a couple of key traits that live baits offer. First, hard baits don’t display the natural random movement of a live minnow or crawler. Second, artificials don’t exhibit the typical flight response of live bait when harassed and nipped at by a hungry fish. Minnows, crawlers and leeches are the most popular live baits for catching walleye, but they can be picky eaters. If they’re not interested in their usual fare, frogs, salamanders, and crayfish can be appealing alternatives.
And, by the way, none of the above are particularly expensive to buy. Every place from the neighborhood Walmart to your favorite tackle shop will likely have great walleye baits and lures for a decent price and purchasing online could save you even more.
You’re never too young to learn how to catch a walleye!