Walleye (Sander Vitreus), what makes a Walleye act the way they do? Why are Walleye so hard to catch? These are questions we here all the time and I always have the same answer. If I knew why the Walleye do what they do, I wouldn’t be here. However understanding the Walleye is the name of the game. Once you understand the Walleye’s biology and behavior, you will understand how to fish for them better. There are hundreds of methods used today to catch Walleye and some work often and some work seldom but the sooner you get a clear picture of the Walleyes behavior you will be able to narrow down those methods to the right time and place to implement them.
WallEYE? Yes, its main characteristic is its eye. ¹The Walleye has a thin layer of
tissue in the eye known as the Tapetum lucidum. This reflects light back through retina increasing the light available to the photoreceptors. This is what
contributes to its superior night vision, and the main reason Walleye are most
active in low light conditions. As the Walleye’s ability to see increases in low light situations most of its prey ability to see decreases making it more vulnerable. Fishing on windy, overcast, low light days and best of all at night will increases your odds of hooking up with a BIG Walleye. Understanding
the Walleyes ability to see in certain light and water conditions should help
you determine when and where you may want to target this methodical fish. Color may not be the most important factor in catching walleyes but it does have its place. Once you have located the fish and found a good method for catching them that is when you should experiment with color to fine-tune your presentation. Typical colors for Walleye anglers are reds, yellows, greens and Chartreuse or other bright colors in dark or stained water. Clear water calls for a more natural color presentation. However, do not be afraid to try what
seems to be non-traditional, the Walleye will tell you what they want you just
have to be listening. I prefer dark colors when fishing at night and in deep
water, as they have a larger silhouette, which can be seen from a greater
Walleye also have ultra sensitive nerve endings along the side of their body known as their lateral line. This sense enables the Walleye to locate a lure in deep or murky water well before they see it. The lateral line may be their strongest sense enabling a Walleye pick out minor vibrations in the water. This
sense is paramount to play off of when fishing in dark or murky water. Lures with lots of vibration such as a Berkley Flicker Shad, Spinners and blade baits that displace water quickly with a tight vibration are great tool for triggering a Walleye to bite.
Walleye have an acute sense of smell however, it has been determined that this does not play a major role in their feeding habits. In murky water, the evidence is that live bait doesn’t work as well as an artificial lure that creates lots of vibration making the lateral line sense more significant. Smell is definitely something that should not be overlooked. A sent of fuel, sunscreen or any un-natural smell is sure to turn a Walleyes head in another direction. However, good natural bait or Berkley’s Gulp Live is sure to close the deal once the Walleye is near your bait or lure.
We have all grown up listening to our fishing mentors tell us to be quite and for the most part that is true. Walleye have a great sense of hearing and any loud noise can send them swimming for deep water and cover. Just be cautious about the noise you make in the boat while fishing in shallow waters and if trolling in shallow water the use of Off Shore tackles OR12 boards are a great way to keep your distance. Walleye can hear a lure before seeing it in most low clarity waters so add a rattle when appropriate to increase your chances of triggering that bite.
I hope that this gives you a little better insight to why a Walleye is doing what they do. There are several good publications out there that get into great detail on this and I highly suggest you take a little time during these long cold winter months to read a few. The more time you spend preparing now the more fish you will put in the boat this summer.
Written by: Brian Bashore
pages 578-581 ofRuppert, E.E., Fox, R.S., and Barnes, R.D. (2004). "Chelicerata: Araneae". Invertebrate Zoology(7 ed.). Brooks / Cole. pp. 571–584