How Walleye River Fishing Works

By: Chris Marlowe
Man holding fishing rod, close-up
Guy Crittenden/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

You wake up early­ on a Saturday in late March. It is just before dawn, but you can't sleep. You grab a mug of coffee and take a step outside. There's an exciting hint of warmth in the air that lets you know winter has finally passed, and spring has come to stay. Get out your gear -- it's time to fish.

Each spring, anglers across North America heed nature's call. They grab their tackle boxes, fishing poles and bait, and head out for a refreshing morning of walleye river fishing. Tho­ugh walleye can be fished year-round, even in winter, they become much more active -- and hungry -- in the spring. [source: Scott] If you have never fished for walleye before, this time of year is definitely your best chance to learn.


­Walleye river fishing is active and exciting. Walleye are big, tasty fish. The state record in Minnesota goes to a 17 pound, 8-ounce behemoth that was 35.8 inches long. [source: Minnesota DNR] This isn't your grandfather's fishing. Don't expect to nod off while you lazily float around in a boat. This is a hunt. And once you reel in that first big fish, your walleye won't be the only one that's hooked.

Are you ready to take the leap and learn more? Let's go fishing!­


Walleye River Fishing Lures and Baits

So you have decided to try walleye river fishing. You have ch­osen a river, have access to a boat, and your best friend has agreed to go with you. You are ready to hit the water, right? Not quite. In order to catch a walleye, you need to hook the bait that walleye prefer on lures that will make the bait look really attractive.

There is a debate as to whether or not to use live bait. Walleye are natural predators and typically feed on other fish and small aquatic animals like insects, crayfish, grubs, salamanders and frogs. For the live bait option, check your local bait and tackle shop, or, if you are a do-it-yourself kind of person, your own backyard or nearby pond. When deciding on live bait for walleye, try minnows, leeches or night crawlers. [source: Scott]


Plastic bait can also be used. Professionals have won walleye tournaments by using plastic crawlers, thumper plastics, twitch baits, shad raps or spoons. [source: Kalkofen]

The key to catching walleye is making the bait look alive. To do this, use a lure that creates the illusion of free-swimming live bait. You can use these three basic lures combined with any of the bait listed above:

  • Spinner rig -These come with a hook and blade that causes the bait to spin when it is pulled through the water. This is great bait for trolling, when the boat is constantly moving.
  • Slip-bobber -These are great for fishing in deep water or rougher areas of a river. The bobber slips (hence the name) along the fishing line until it hits a stopper you have positioned on the line, giving you control of the length of the fishing line in the water.
  • Leadhead jig -This is the simplest of the three lures. It is simply a weight attached to the top of a hook. This lure allows you the most control over the motion of your bait. [source: Scott]

Gather your tackle box, and read on to learn how to best use your equipment.


Walleye River Fishing Techniques

Having the correct bait and lure­s is great, but how do you use them? Techniques for walleye fishing can vary from season to season, but there are some general techniques that you can try at any time of year:

  • Fish for walleye just downstream of any protected areas. These areas include: wing dams, low head dams, dike fields, rock structures and fallen trees. Also, try deep holes in the morning and riffles (areas in the river where the water churns) in the evening.
  • Use a "yo-yo" motion for live bait on a jig. Cast your line, allow the bait to fall to the riverbed and then pull up on the line. Repeat this process. Vary the speed at which you pull up. In general, use a quicker pace in shallower water, and a slower pace in deeper water.
  • Troll your boat against the current of the river (back trolling) and fish with live bait on a spinner. This gives the illusion of the bait swimming up river -- a hard-to-resist treat for walleye. [sources: Pitlo and Scott]

Here are a few things to keep in mind when fishing in different seasons:


  • Spring - Walleye are hungry and ready to spawn. They like to bite fast-moving things. Try a quick "yo-yo" action.
  • Summer - Look for walleye hiding in vegetation, and try using a brightly colored lure to get their attention.
  • Fall - Follow the walleyes' lead: as temperatures cool down, slow down the timing on the up-and-down motion.
  • Winter - Walleye don't eat much in winter and are therefore more difficult to catch. As in fall, the lower the temperature, the slower the approach. [source: Pitlo]

Now you know the basics. Read on to learn other helpful hints.­


Walleye River Fishing Tips

­In general, fishing is a trial-and-error sport. There is no bette­r way to learn walleye river fishing than to grab a pole, your bait and tackle, and get out on the river. However, a little preparation can help a great deal. Here are some tips to make your first walleye fishing experience safe, fun and successful:

  • Dawn and dusk are the best times to fish for walleye. The walleye gets its name from its large, reflective eyes. These eyes have adapted to see especially well in dim light, and even full darkness. This helps walleye hunt their prey at dawn and dusk, when many other fish cannot see well enough to hunt. Fishing during their prime feeding hours will increase your chances of catching them [source: Pitlo].
  • Fall is the most likely time to catch a trophy fish. Imagine how nice that photo will look on your wall. Though it may take more patience to fish for walleye in the fall, your catch can be worth the wait [source: Pitlo].
  • Survey the river before you begin fishing. This will give you a good idea of the most likely areas to find walleye.
  • Make sure your live bait is actually alive. Walleye want to eat live animals. If your bait dies, replace it with a living one [source: Leer].
  • When using leeches, run the hook through the tail, in between the large suckers. In the water, the leech will try to swim away, looking even more like a good catch to a walleye [source: Leer].
  • Don't forget your life vest. Rivers can be dangerous places. Always be prepared.
  • When frustrated, remind yourself that walleye river fishing is fun. Enjoy yourself!


Lots More Information

Relate­d HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • DNR Staff Report. " Bragging nets DNR a poacher with plenty of walleye." International Falls Daily Journal. 10/17/08. (Accessed 11/07/08)
  • In-Fisherman. "Recipes." (Accessed 11/07/08)
  • Iowa DNR. "Telling Walleye from Sauger." (Accessed 11/07/08)
  • Kalkofen, Jim. "In-Sider Tips: Artificial Vs. Livebait." In-Fisherman. (Accessed 11/07/08)
  • Leer, Chip. "Live Bait Hooking Options--Which Way Is Best?" The Fish Sniffer. 04/30/04. (Accessed 11/6/08)
  • Minnesota DNR. "Walleye." (Accessed 11/07/08)
  • Pitlo, John Jr. "Fishing for Walleye." Iowa DNR. (Accessed 11/5/08)