The Walleye, also known as the Yellow Pike, Yellow Pikeperch, or Yellow Pickerel, is a freshwater perciform fish native to vast regions of Canada and the Northern United States. These fish are highly prized by anglers and greatly appreciated by food enthusiasts owing to their delicious taste and delicate white meat.
The largest member of the perch family, the Walleye has successfully been introduced to many new environments, making it a popular and commonly-stocked game fish. And here in Minnesota, Walleye are a popular target for anglers.
Keep reading to learn all about this species of fish and where you can find them locally.
All About the Walleye
Walleye are long and thin fish, with a primarily gold and olive coloration. They have a white belly, and their back is crossed with five or more black bands. One of the distinct features of Walleye is their two dorsal fins—one spiny and one soft-rayed.
They also possess low-light vision due to a specialized structure in their eyes called the tapetum lucidum, which enables them to see better in murky waters.
Range and Habitat
Walleye can be found throughout most of North America, with a native range that extends from the Great Lakes region to the northern United States and much of Canada. They are common in rivers, reservoirs, and the Great Lakes. The Walleye prefers to inhabit areas with rocky or sandy substrate, clean water, and suitable cover, such as vegetation or sunken trees.
These fish are well-adapted to life in various aquatic habitats, but they tend to avoid areas with poor water quality or high turbidity. They can often be found in areas with low light, where their specialized vision gives them an advantage over their prey.
Walleye typically spawn in the spring, when water temperatures reach 42-50°F (6-10°C). They choose shallow, rocky habitats near shores or tributaries for spawning. During this time, female Walleye release thousands of eggs, which adhere to rocks and other underwater structures. The fertilized eggs hatch about 7-21 days later, depending on the water temperature.
Walleye are primarily piscivorous, which means they primarily feed on other fish. They heavily prey on yellow perch and other small fish species found in their habitat. However, their diet also consists of invertebrates such as crayfish, insects, and leeches. Their feeding habits are influenced by their sensitivity to light, meaning they generally prefer to feed in low-light conditions like dawn and dusk.
Walleye Fishing Techniques
Successful Walleye fishing often involves nighttime outings, as these fish are more active during the night when they come out to feed. Anglers should be prepared with an assortment of lures and, if possible, live bait in order to cater to the local Walleye population’s preferences.
Tackle and Bait
When targeting Walleye, it’s essential to use the right tackle and bait. A medium power 6-7 ft. spinning rod paired with a medium-sized 35 reel will provide versatility to fish various popular Walleye techniques. However, for more finesse tactics like jigging and rigging live bait, it’s better to use a medium-light power rod.
In terms of bait, both artificial lures and live bait can be effective for catching this species.
Crankbaits, jerkbaits, and blade baits are some of the best artificial lures for Walleye fishing. Crankbaits typically imitate minnows, coming in stout bodies made from plastic or wood, and have a bill that helps achieve a specific depth. They are great for attracting Walleye. Jigs can also be productive, especially when used with soft plastic bait or tipped with live bait.
Live bait can be appealing to Walleye because it mimics their natural prey. Examples of live bait include minnows, leeches, and nightcrawlers. Using a fluorocarbon leader with a live bait rig is essential since it provides increased invisibility underwater, thus not spooking the Walleye.
Fishing Gear and Electronics
To help locate schools of Walleye, electronics like fish finders and sonar can be invaluable tools. Utilizing a fish finder in conjunction with your knowledge of the underwater terrain will enable you to pinpoint weed beds, drop-offs, and rocky structures – all popular hiding spots for walleye.
Best Locations and Times
Walleye can be found in various environments, from shallow weed beds to deep waters, and are known to be more active during low-light conditions or at night.
Using a lake map can help you find Walleye, especially when fishing larger bodies of water. It will give you a detailed view of the underwater landscape, which can be very helpful in locating areas of interest. Keep in mind Walleye spawning habits: they typically spawn in shallow, gravelly, or rocky areas during the spring months. This information can further assist you in targeting the most productive fishing spots.
By following these Walleye fishing techniques and using your own knowledge, you can become a better angler and increase your chances of catching these elusive fish.
What to Expect
While Walleye are not typically known for being aggressive fighters, they can still put up a challenging and enjoyable fight for anglers.
Their sudden bursts of speed and headshakes, along with their tendency to stay close to the bottom of the water, can make them an exciting and rewarding catch for people who enjoy freshwater fishing pursuits.
Walleye Conservation and Management
Population and Fishing Regulations
To maintain a healthy walleye population, various fishing regulations have been put in place. In many locations, there is a daily limit of 5 walleye caught with a minimum length of 15 inches. States and provinces often have specific regulations to ensure sustainable fishing practices and a stable Walleye population. For instance, in the Great Lakes, anglers follow strict guidelines on catch limits and seasons to protect the walleye population.
In recent years, genetic tools have aided in the management of walleye populations. For example, molecular data has been used to track Walleye movements and migrations in the North American Great Lakes to improve conservation efforts.
Environment and Ecological Impact
Walleye prefer cooler water temperatures found in clear and turbid, shallow or deep waters, and can be found in rivers, natural lakes, and reservoirs. Being a top predator, they play a vital role in controlling other species’ populations in their native habitats. Their diet consists predominantly of fish such as cisco, yellow perch, and small crustaceans.
Preserving Walleye populations is important for maintaining the ecological balance of their habitats. However, conflicts sometimes arise between U.S. and Canadian organizations due to the international nature of the Great Lakes and differing opinions on the walleye population’s health.
Efforts to manage and conserve walleye populations are crucial to preserving the health of the ecosystems they inhabit and ensuring a sustainable future for this important game fish species in North America.
Walleye in Minnesota
Walleye is a popular fish species in Minnesota, known for its excellent taste and fighting spirit. The fish is native to most parts of the state, thriving in large, shallow, windswept lakes with gravel shoals such as Mille Lacs, Leech, Winnibigoshish, Upper and Lower Red Lake, Lake of the Woods, and Lake Vermilion. Additionally, walleye can be found in many smaller lakes and streams throughout Minnesota’s major drainages.
To enhance Walleye populations in Minnesota’s waters, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conducts regular walleye stocking programs. These efforts have proven successful and continue to contribute to the healthy populations of walleye across the state.
Minnesota is a thriving hub for Walleye fishing, offering numerous scenic and productive locations for anglers to enjoy this exciting and delicious game fish. The state’s efforts to maintain healthy Walleye populations, paired with the diverse habitats and fishing opportunities, make it a renowned destination for Walleye enthusiasts.
Preparing and Cooking Walleye
Cleaning and Preparing
First and foremost, when preparing Walleye, it’s essential to select fresh fish. Ideally, the fish should not smell “fishy,” nor feel slimy, and the flesh should be firm but not dried out. Be mindful of Walleye’s sharp teeth while handling the fish, as they can cause injuries. Cleaning and filleting Walleye involves removing the scales, head, and entrails before cutting it into your desired portions. You can choose whole fillets with the skin on or off based on your preference. Remember that around 3 lbs. of fillets can feed up to 10 people.
There are various cooking techniques you can use to prepare Walleye, such as:
- Breading and frying: A popular method of cooking Walleye that involves dipping the fish in a mixture of beaten eggs and all-purpose flour, then coating them with breadcrumbs before frying them in vegetable oil.
- Marinating and grilling: This technique involves marinating the fish in a mixture of lemon or lime juice, salt, and sugar, then grilling it over medium heat.
- Baking: You can also opt for a healthier cooking method by oven-baking your walleye. Typically, this takes about 20 to 25 minutes at 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).
Below are some Walleye recipes to try:
- Crispy Baked Walleye: For this recipe, you’ll need eggs, water, bread crumbs, potato flakes, Parmesan cheese, and seasoned salt. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F, grease a baking sheet, combine the coating ingredients, dip the fillets in the egg mixture, and then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake for around 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown.
- Grilled Marinated Walleye: Marinate the walleye fillets in a mixture of ½ cup lemon or lime juice, ½ tsp salt, and ½ tsp sugar for about 30 minutes. Grill the fish for around 4-6 minutes per side (depending on thickness) on medium heat, flipping halfway through.
- Broiled Walleye with Basil: This recipe requires walleye fillets, fresh chopped sweet basil, garlic, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, mayonnaise, soy oil, and paprika. Leave the skin on, brush the fillets with a paste made of garlic, mustard, lemon juice, mayonnaise, and soy oil, then dust with basil and paprika4. Broil the fish for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness.
Preparing and cooking Walleye can be as simple or adventurous as you desire. By following the right techniques, you can enjoy delicious and nutritious meals featuring this popular cold-water sport fish.
Time to Go Catch Some Walleye
Whether you’re new to fishing or a seasoned angler, fishing for Walleye here in Minnesota is an experience you don’t want to miss out on!
These freshwater fish are not only super fun to catch, but they are also super yummy–making them a favorite of anglers and foodies alike! So what are you waiting for? It’s time to plan a fishing trip!
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