By: Gary Buchannan
Posted On: 2009-01-24
The Walleyed Pike, also called simply Walleye or Pike Perch, can't be rated among the classiest of fresh-water fighters, but as a game fish he won't disappoint you. When you tackle him, he lets you know you're in a scrap. He's no midget; he averages 4 to 5 pounds and his world record is 22 pounds, 4 ounces. Add the fact that he's a school fish (when he's feeding, catch one and you catch a dozen), and you have a combination of weight and number that's sure to keep you pleasantly busy.
He's certainly one of our most interesting fish. First, he's misnamed. The word "Walleyed" accurately describes his large, glassy, staring eyes, but he's not related to the Pike family. Only in color does he look like one of the Pikes. He's dark olive-green, his sides covered with mottled dark green and yellow markings which sometimes are arranged in vertical bars. In reality he's related to the Yellow Perch, and is easy to distinguish from a Pike. He has the Perch's slightly humped back with two separate dorsal (top) fins set in the center of it like a Perch, whereas the Pike has a single dorsal fin set back near his tail. And the Walleye's mouth is stubbier although it is armed with formidable teeth like a Pike.
Another interesting aspect is his unique method of cooperative feeding. A band of Walleyes will form a semicircle and herd a school of minnows into a shallow pocket near shore where they can't escape, then their captors will dart in and grab them—not with a mighty splashing as most fish do, but in silence, without causing more than a ripple on the surface. Although minnows are their main natural food, Walleyes like nothing better than big, juicy nightcrawlers. They're interested in artificial lures least of all.
The Walleye is native to Canada and the Northern United States east of the Rocky Mountains as far as New Jersey, but he has been transplanted to most other states except those in the deep South.
Only the clearest waters are chosen by Walleyes for their haunts. You'll rarely find them where the bottom is muddy. In rivers and streams they like the deep flows at the bends and the deep pools below the fast current. In lakes they prefer the deep holes off rocky ledges and bars. But in late spring you can find the Walleye spawning in the shallow water and here you can take him on a spinning rod with 10-pound-test line and a small flashing spinning lure. But tie a dead minnow or hook a nightcrawler behind the lure because he's not easily tempted by a bare imitation. And use a 6-inch wire leader so his teeth won't cut your line. Light bait-casting tackle can be used if you prefer it.
Starting in June, the Walleye moves to his deep-water retreat where he remains during the day, returning to the shallows only at night to herd his minnows and feed. In states where night fishing is permitted, this is the best time to catch him. Use small luminous plugs or luminous spinning lures cast toward shore and retrieved slowly. When you can't tackle him at night, the next best times are at dusk when he's approaching the shallows, and at dawn when he's leaving them. This is especially true on overcast days.
During daylight, anglers find that the Walleye in deep water won't pay much attention to a cast or trolled lure, even when there's a dead minnow or worm tied to it. His belly is so full from his feast of the previous night that he'll usually refuse even a live minnow, frog or squirming nightcrawler, although these are considered most likely to interest him at this time. But it won't hurt to try. Hook the minnow lightly under its dorsal fin so it can swim around near the bottom. When you use a frog, hook it through the upper lip or tie it in a special frog harness available at any tackle shop. Then anchor your boat, drop your bait to the bottom and settle down with a good book. And hope!
But these Walleyes have their weaknesses in spite of their full bellies, as old-time Walleye anglers have discovered. They take Walleyes by casting lures in deep water during the day. They weight the spinning lure so it reaches the bottom and then let it scrape along the sand, pebbles or stones as they retrieve it after a cast. Suddenly a fish snatches it. Why? No one knows! Maybe the Walleyes are sleeping and the sound awakens them and one of them grabs the lure before he realizes what he's done. And these anglers have another "sound" trick for bait-fishing. They tie a sinker to the end of the line and tie the hook about a foot above it. A foot above this hook they add a silver spinner. For bait they use the largest, liveliest nightcrawler they can find, hooked once through the band around its center so it can squirm freely. Then they fish this rig by jigging it up and down on the bottom. The sinker makes a noise every time it hits; the flashing spinner shows the Walleye where the sound is coming from. The next thing he sees is that big nightcrawler—and hungry or not, he's hooked!