How to Choose Walleye Baits and Lures

By: Sarah Siddons
Netting Walleye
Wally Eberhart/Visuals Unlimited/Getty Images

To get a fish to bite, you need to know how, where, whe­n, and what it eats.

Walleyes are most active in morning and evening. They feed on small yellow perch, trout, smallmouth bass, northern pike or sunfish; you can often find them around schools of these smaller fish. They eat a lot, they're aggressive, and they're not picky, which is good news for you. Because walleyes eat by sucking in water around their prey, you'll probably want to try smaller bait.


Look for walleyes around submerged rocks, weedy flats, bars or other underwater barriers in lakes or rivers. Many predators like such obstructio­ns, which help them ambush their food. Walleyes locate their prey by sight, which means you're not likely to find them in sunny waters; they retreat coyly to the shadows or the darker depths, often in groups. Walleyes' strong vision also means you'll have better luck with brightly colored lures, and you might even want to experiment with different colors. [Source: Eggerston]

­In the case of walleyes, to suss out the location, you'll also need to consider the time of year. Walleyes like water between 55 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and they move to follow it. In spring and fall, you'll find them in the shallows of lakes. In summer, they'll be a bit deeper -- though you're not likely to find them in very deep waters (more than 50 feet).

Now that you know those basics, let's find out how you can choose the right baits and lures.


Types of Walleye Fishing Lures

Lures are designed to mimic a fish's natural prey, so think about­ walleyes' eating patterns and food. Lures that move quickly will attract these aggressive hunters. Additionally, lures should be similar in size to the smaller prey fish.

If you're fishing with a jig head, choose the jig head based on water depth -- the deeper the water, the heavier the head. For the deepest walleye fishing, you'll want a jig head of about ½ ounce. In shallower waters, you can go as light as a 1/8-ounce jig head. If conditions are rough or windy, a heavier jig can help. [Source: Hoffman]


Depending on the time of year, you may want something that sticks close to the bottom, like a small but heavy jig (with a lead head) or a crankbait. [Source: Eggerston] If you go with a crankbait, again, choose one that mimics walleyes' natural prey -- narrow, and between three and five inches long. [Source: Hoffman]

In various fishing conditions, you might want to try:

  • High-action lures designed to go deep (especially in warmer months)
  • Crankbaits such as shad raps, jointed shad raps, or glass shad raps (with built-in rattles)
  • A balsa lure, such as a rapala
  • Live bait jigs (for casting or trolling at the beginning of the fall season)
  • A #3 or #4 spinner [Source: Hoffman]
  • Trolling crankbaits with more subtle action (better for the colder months [Source: Parsons]

Finally, you can key your color choice to the sort of water you'll be fishing. Use brighter colors for weedy or turbid waters.

Obviously, your bait depends on your choice of lure, as well as the fishing conditions. Read on.


Types of Walleye Fishing Baits

Remember that walleyes' behavior and location chan­ges seasonally -- so, the b­ait that worked so well at the beginning of September might not be the best one for March. Come prepared to try a few different kinds of baits, and remember that every angler works by trial and error.

When the weather is cold, you may find the best results with live bait. In cold water, walleyes are sluggish. The movement of live bait will likely be most effective at stimulating them to bite. Walleyes are more aggressive in warmer weather, and that can sometimes let you get away with plastic bait, especially plastic worms. [Source: All About Fishing] But many anglers swear by minnows year-round.


If you're using a live bait jig, try minnows, worms, leeches or red tail chub. With a spinner, try a piece of worm.

One approach you may want to explore is coordinating your baitfish to whatever is schooling in the water. If you see a school of perch, for example, walleye are probably feeding close by, so use perch as bait. Then let your jig drop a few feet at a time, the better to imitate the movement of the baitfish. [Source: Kane] Obviously, this requires a bit more observation, flexibility and patience on your part. But isn't that why you go fishing in the first place?


Lots More Information

Re­la­te­d HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • "All About Fishing for Walleye." All About Fishing. (Accessed 11/10/08)
  • Anlauf, Ron. "Early Fall Walleye Tactics." Lake Erie Walleye. (Accessed 11/10/08)
  • Eggerston, Daniel. "How to Use the Most Popular Walleye Fishing Lures." (Accessed 11/10/08)
  • Hoffman, Justin. "Top Lures for Catching Walleye." Ontario Walleye Fishing. 2001. (Accessed 11/10/08)
  • Kane, Fred. "Walleye and Bait." Ontario Walleye Fishing. 2001. (Accessed 11/10/08)
  • Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "Walleye Sander vitreus.",1607,7-153-10364_18958-45694--,00.html (Accessed 11/9/08)
  • Olson, Rick. "Top Tactics for Early Fall Walleyes." Lake Erie Walleye. (Accessed 11/10/08)
  • Parsons, Gary, and Kavajecz, Keith. "The Late Season Walleye Trolling Bite." Lake Erie Walleye. (Accessed 11/10/08)
  • "Walleye Recipes." Game and Fish Recipes. (Accessed 11/10/08)