Walleye are one of the more popular gamefish in New York, as they are exciting to catch and also good on the table. Walleye are aptly named because of their unique eyes that have a reflective layer of pigment called the tapetum lucidum, which allows them to see very well at night and during other low-light periods. This layer also gives walleye their “glassy-eyed” or “wall-eyed” appearance. Walleye can be found in a variety of habitats in New York, from large lakes to small rivers. The current state record is an impressive 18 lb. 2 oz. walleye caught from the St. Lawrence River. However, most walleye are much smaller with fish in the 2-3 pound range being more common. Any walleye 25 inches or larger is generally considered a “trophy” pretty much anywhere in the state.
Around 188 million walleye are currently stocked in 35 waters across New York. Many of these walleye are stocked as fry, just a few days after hatching, and are only a few millimeters long. Each spring walleye eggs are collected at the Oneida Fish Hatchery (Oswego County) on Oneida Lake. The hatchery is open to the public during this egg collection and offers a rare opportunity to see numerous walleye up close.
18 lb. 2 oz. NYS record walleye caught by Brian Hartman
Baits and Lures
Jigs are a popular lure for walleye, mainly because they work under a wide range of conditions. Basically, a jig is a hook with a weighted head that has either bucktail, marabou, or a plastic body attached to it. Bucktail jigs are the old walleye standby, but plastic baits offer a wider range of colors and shapes. Twister or shad style plastics seem to work better for walleye than worm or creature style baits that are popular with bass anglers. Three to four inch plastics are a good all around walleye size, but don’t be afraid to try bigger or smaller baits. Just about any color jig will catch walleye; however, darker colored jigs are the most popular with black, brown and purple being favorites. A jig’s appeal can be further enhanced by tipping it with live bait, such as minnows, leeches or night crawlers. A plain jig head works great this way as well. There are a number of ways to fish a jig, but the most common method is as follows: cast it out, let it sink to the bottom and then snap it up a foot or two, let it fall back to the bottom and repeat. Try different retrieves until the walleye let you know which one they prefer that day.
Blade baits are slim metal lures that can either be cast out and retrieved or jigged. Blade baits sink fairly quickly, so they can be fished in deep water. Popular walleye colors are gold, silver and fire tiger. Blade baits can also be tipped with a minnow head or piece of night crawler. To fish a blade bait, cast it out, let it sink to the bottom and then snap it up a foot or two, then let it fall back down and repeat.
Crankbaits are made of plastic or wood, and have a plastic lip (or bill) that allows the bait to dive down in the water. The size of the lip, diameter of the fishing line, amount of fishing line in the water (either distance cast or line let out when trolling), and retrieve speed all influence how deep a bait will dive. Deep diving crankbaits that can dive 10 or more feet are good options for walleye. Popular colors are black and silver, blue and silver, shad and yellow perch. Select a crankbait for the depth you’re fishing; you will want the bait to occasional contact the bottom. To fish a crankbait, cast it out, real quickly to get the bait diving and then use a steady retrieve to the boat. Walleye seem to prefer this steady retrieve much of the time, but sometimes it pays to add pauses or sweeps. A pause is done by not reeling for a few seconds, which causes the bait to stop and “hang” there or slowly rise in the water. A sweep is also done by not reeling, but the rod is pulled forward a few feet. Both of these methods cause the bait to suddenly “act different” which often triggers a following fish to strike. If trolling, you can speed up, slow down, or make a sharp turn with the boat to achieve the same effect.
Minnow imitating plugs, often called stickbaits or jerkbaits, work really well for walleye. Like crankbaits they can be cast or trolled. Stickbaits from 4 to 6 inches are commonly used, though walleye are also taken on very large stickbaits. Color choices are similar as crankbaits. To fish a stickbait, cast it out and reel it in at a steady pace. With walleyes this straight retrieve seems to work better than an erratic retrieve that’s often used for other species. But, as mentioned with crankbaits, experiment if not getting strikes.
Live Bait Rigs
Popular live baits for walleye are night crawlers, minnows and leeches. They can be fished in a variety of ways, such as spinner rigs, bottom bouncing, suspended under a float or on a jig head. Spinner rigs or worm harnesses are one of the more common walleye methods. They generally consist of a spinner(s), beads and 1 to 3 hooks. They can be trolled or fished near bottom as you drift. A walking sinker, also called a walleye sinker, works well with these bait rigs, as do bottom bouncers (a wire form with a lead weight attached). The wire arm helps to keep the sinker from snagging. Slip bobbers may also be used with bait. A slip bobber allows you to keep the bait off bottom and drift through an area regardless of depth. A slip bobber allows you to use a bobber at any depth; a traditional bobber is usually only good to a depth that’s less than the length of your fishing pole. A bobber stop is attached to your line, then a bead, and then the bobber. The stop is adjusted to the depth you are fishing; after you cast the bobber out the line will slide through the bobber until it hits the bobber stop.
|Crankbaits||6 1/2 to 7 1/2 foot medium or medium heavy action||Baitcasting||10 to 12 pound Monofilament or fluorocarbon|
|Blade Baits||6 to 7 1/2 foot medium heavy action||Spinning or Baitcasting||10 to 12 pound Monofilament, fluorocarbon or braid|
|Jigging||6 to 7 1/2 foot medium action||Spinning||6 to 10 pound Monofilament, fluorocarbon or braid|
|Stickbaits||6 to 7 foot medium action||Spinning||8 to 10 pound Monofilament or fluorocarbon|
|Live bait rigs||6 to 7 foot medium action||Spinning||6 to 12 pound Monofilament, fluorocarbon or braid|
|Lead Core Trolling||7 1/2 to 9 foot medium heavy action||Baitcasting||Lead core with fluorocarbon leader|
|Trolling||7 to 9 foot medium heavy action||Baitcasting||10 to 12 pound Monofilament or fluorocarbon|
When fishing a river for walleye, you are usually looking for the deeper pools or holes. Depending on the river, this may only be 8 to 10 feet of water. Areas within a pool where there is also some available cover or current breaks can make the spot even better. Cover can be in many forms, such as overhanging trees, bridge pilings, boulders, or downed trees in the water. Below dams or other barriers are also good locations for river walleye; dams restrict upstream movement of fish, which will often congregate below them. Just use caution when fishing around dams as the water is often swift and changing. Current seams can also be good fishing locations; a current seem is where you have a fast current meeting a slower current. These are often located where a stream enters a river, or a backwater area borders the main river.
When fishing a river it often pays to anchor off to one side of a hole and then cast your bait upstream and let the current carry it through the hole. Try to keep your bait or lure close to the bottom; jigs and bait rigs work very well for this. You will get snagged when fishing rivers for walleye, so bring plenty of spare tackle.
Lakes can be challenging areas to fish walleye because of the amount of available fish holding locations. When fishing a lake, you may have walleyes holding in shallow water in weed beds, flats, humps, drop-offs, or in the deepwater basin. Because of the diversity, trolling can be a great way to cover water to locate active walleye. You can troll effectively using your standard fishing equipment, but for more advanced methods please view Trolling for Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon. Just keep in mind you can use lighter gear for walleye as you will be fishing shallower than for trout and salmon, and, overall, walleye will be smaller. Good trolling lures are deep diving crankbaits, stickbaits and spinner or worm harnesses. Side planers, lead core line, and snap weights are popular for walleye trolling. Once a school of walleye is located you can slow down and fish with jigs or live-bait rigs.
Though most anglers don’t like fishing in the wind, fishing wind-blown areas can be prime for walleye. Walleye anglers often refer to this wave action as a “walleye chop.” These areas are often good for a number of reasons: bait fish are attracted to windblown areas as plankton collects there, the water is often more turbid then the rest of the lake, and this, along with the wave action, reduces the sun light entering the water. A wind-blown shoal, hump or point is always worth a few casts.
Generally during the early part of walleye season (which opens the first Saturday in May), you would start searching around spawning areas. The first drop-off, hump, point, or weed edge outside a spawning tributary or shoal would be a capital location to start. As the season progresses, continue moving deeper. During the heat of summer, walleye can be found, for the most part, in the deep area of the lake. There are always some walleye in the shallow water areas though. For these deep water walleye, fishing jigs, blade baits and live bait rigs and trolling crankbaits are effective.
When the water begins to cool in the late summer, walleye often begin moving back to shore, allowing shore bound anglers good opportunities to catch them. An example of this is the fall walleye bite on Oneida Lake. Schools of gizzard shad come close to shore from late-September through November, and walleye follow them in. Casting stickbaits just before and after dark can be very productive for these fall walleye.
Fishing a reservoir is similar to fishing a lake, but there is generally less aquatic vegetation and there may also be some additional cover in the form of woody debris, such as standing trees or stumps. There may also be current if the reservoir is used for hydropower. Old river or stream channels are usually the deep water areas in reservoirs and are normally good areas to check for walleye. Reservoir water can often be turbid (having some color), and as a result walleyes often bite well during the day. If the water is turbid, using brighter colored lures may also be more affective.
Fishing methods will vary depending on the type of water you’re fishing and the bait or lure being used, but a few things to keep in mind when after walleye are:
Walleye tend to feed more actively under low light periods, such as just before and after sunset. Because of this, these low light periods are popular times for anglers to fish for walleye.
Walleye are generally found within a foot or two of the bottom. There are exceptions to this, such as when walleye are feeding on alewives and suspend off bottom. But fishing near bottom is usually a good starting point.
Unlike fishermen, walleye don’t read the “how-to” books and are often found in some unusual locations at unusual times. It often pays to “think out of the box” when traditional methods or locations don’t produce.
Fishing in waters with round goby
If fishing in a waterbody that has round gobies (like Oneida Lake, St. Lawrence River, and Lake Ontario) try these additional tips to help avoid some of the bait stealing gobies:
- Fish higher off the bottom if using worms or a jig/worm combo. Sometimes just getting 1 1/2 to 2 foot off bottom helps to avoid some of the gobies which are very bottom orientated fish.
- If using worm harnesses try trolling with them instead of just dragging them on bottom. Trolling helps to get them up off from bottom and the faster speed also helps to avoid gobies.
- Use artificial lures or artificial natural baits (like PowerBait, Gulp, etc.) instead of live baits. Artificial natural baits come in a variety of styles and can be a good substitute in place of natural baits like worms, minnows.
- Try for reaction bites. Walleye tend to be “well fed” in goby waters and full fish are generally harder to catch than hungry fish. With reaction strikes they bite out of reflex not hunger. Snapping a blade style bait is a good example of a lure that evokes reaction strikes, as is adding erratic motion to crankbaits or stickbaits.
So, if you haven’t tried fishing for walleye, this season would be a good time to give it a try. For more information on waters to try view Places to Fish. Please also review the Statewide Angling Regulations (leaving DEC website to official Fishing Regulations Guide vendor website) and also make sure you check the Special Regulations by County (leaving DEC website to official Fishing Regulations Guide vendor website) section of your Freshwater Fishing guide as many waters have special walleye regulations. Good luck fishing!