So, you’re wanting to go catch something that’s not impossible (like some of the Muskies), but which is still a fun and aggressive fish that will make reeling it in a challenge?
The Walleye, or Sander vitreus, is going to be just the thing if you are in northern US or Canada.
They’re a pack fish that grow to around 20 pounds, with females being the larger fish, and they don’t just sit and wait to ambush their meal, they go hunting their prey.
As a fish that prefers cooler climates you might be forgiven for assuming that you’ll catch these beasts at great depths. While it is true that they do tend to stay in deeper water, they come up to the surface or head to the shallows to hunt prey.
One of the biggest advantages that the Walleye have in avoiding your hook is an amazing lateral line, which give them an exceptional ability to detect movement, vibration, and pressure gradients – this means that they won’t fall for just any old lure or rig. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateral_line
Experienced ‘eye anglers make it look like child’s play to catch these golden brutes because they know that Walleye are creatures of habit and like to follow certain patterns – to the point where they even remember where they were spawned and return to the same spawning ground each year. As a side note, although this particular tendency does mean that you will have a pretty good idea where to find them, fishing during spawning season will get you a few decent sized males, but the females won’t be at their full-size around this time.
The ‘Eyes See All
However, one of the difficulties that new anglers face is learning those patterns and habits, which are often quite different from any other fish that you may have gone after. For one, these fish have excellent eyesight, with their name coming from the placement of their outward-facing eyes.
Because their excellent eyesight allows them to see in very low-light conditions, you will usually find them jour hunting for dinner just after dusk, with some of the biggest not coming out until midnight. You’ll also find them when the water is choppy and in areas where the sediment has been stirred up. In these conditions, they can see their prey of smelt, suckers, shad and the odd perch, long before their dinner sees them.
Catching Sneaky and Aggressive Fish
Walleyes are aggressive, and they’re greedy, but they are not stupid. You will be able to catch one with an aggressive line pull and with a lure bigger than you would have thought of, but what you won’t be able to do is fool an ‘eye into thinking that the thing you have dangling in the water is a fish – they can tell the difference between a fish swimming longwise and something just dangling vertically. This is why your rod and rigging are important and you should spend some timing picking the top walleye fishing rods to suit your style.
You are going to want to go with something surprisingly lightweight considering how aggressive this fish is. But with a lighter more sensitive rod you have a better chance of pulling one of these in, if you try to go with brute force as you might with a pike then you are more likely going to lose whatever tries to bite.
One of the common complaints that you will find with rods most suited to catching something like the Walleye is that fishermen/women used to go after powerful fish are used to wielding a much heavier rod, and the lighter weight can take a bit of getting used to. Quite a few rods also have a tendency for tips that break.
Generally, you are going to be looking for a lightweight but strong rod, and these aren’t always well balanced, so if you can’t go in and feel it yourself, make sure that you are reading online reviews from sources that you trust.
Something else to consider is what sort of grip the rod had – ‘eye can be tricky as well as aggressive, so you don’t want them pulling your rod in and swimming away with a smirk. Finding the ‘eye and getting it to bite isn’t the hardest part of trying to catch this fish – but keeping it on the hook and getting it out of the water sure is. This is the aspect of fishing for these brutes that will test your skill and your equipment.
Fishing Tricks with Bounce
One of the tricks that you may find experienced anglers using with this catch is bouncing their jig along the bottom. You do need to make sure that you have the right setup, and the right bait, but using something like a minnow head with a spinner and letting it bounce to stir up the sediment can convince the Walleye that there is dinner just waiting to be caught.
The ‘eyes will tend to feed in the shallows and weedy areas rather than move to the top of the water, so running your bait near the bottom and throwing in the odd bounce is often a very effective way to ensure that you have a great catch, it’s the vibrations that they’re sensing as well as the sediment puffs – and it puffs you want to create, so don’t just drag your lure along the bottom and think that this will work, because it won’t. Again, these aren’t hard to find fish, but pulling them in requires you to be skilled as well as to know and understand their habits, behaviors, and patterns.
Taking into consideration how sensitive they are to vibrations and changes in pressure will help with this – hanging around the edge of a bed of weeds bouncing your lure a bit can bring the big fish running.
Live Bait or Artificial Lure?
There is always going to be the debate about using live bait versus artificial lures, but generally, you’ll likely find that using a live minnow or similar fish as bait when hunting for Walleyes mean that you’re going to lose them while bouncing around the weeds or lose your rod to a bass. As long as you have your lure floating right and acting as a live fish then you should be able to use an artificial lure with great success.