Understanding walleye behaviors and habits is key to successfully targeting these fish. In this post, we'll dive into the intricate world of walleye, exploring how weather and light influences their behavior and feeding patterns, and their spawning habits.
Walleye generally behave differently based on basic weather conditions: temperature, light, and barometric pressure. These variables coupled with a walleye's willingness to swim long distances make walleye difficult to target.
Impact of water temperature on walleye behavior
Walleye prefer water temperatures between 55°F and 70°F. They are cold-water species but also thrive in moderately warm waters. This temperature range is optimal for their metabolism, digestion, and overall activity.
The general principle behind targeting walleye based on water temperature is this:
- If water temps are below 70 degrees, fish shallow water up to 30'.
- If water temps are above 70 degrees, fish water deeper than 30'.
While this isn't a hard and fast rule, it should apply on most bodies of water 80-90% of the time. You can use this principle to identify spots for each season and temperature.
The only way you’ll be able to catch these fish consistently is to fish consistently. If you're only fishing during certain temperatures and conditions, you’ll likely find yourself fishing the wrong spots when the weather changes unexpectedly. There’s no replacement for time on the water.
How light impacts walleye behavior
Walleye are known for their light-sensitive eyes and prefer low-light conditions; usually early morning or late at night. Walleye have specialized vision adapted to low-light conditions. Here's their secret:
Their eyes are equipped with a layer of reflective tissue called the tapetum lucidum, similar to what is found in nocturnal animals. This layer enhances their ability to see in murky or dim waters by reflecting light back through the retina, increasing light availability for the photoreceptor cells.
This makes walleye some of the most effective predatory fish – especially at night or in murky/dark water. Keep in mind - walleye can see really well in the dark so they tend to move towards darker water during the day. It's pretty reliable to follow the depths depending on the amount of light in the sky. For example, at night there's very little light so shallow water isn't blinding, but a mid-day sun in the summer makes for a lot of light in shallow water!
If you’ve ever fished for walleye at night, you know that the night bite is where it’s at – especially in colder winter months (January to early March). There’s nothing like a 30” pre-spawn female strike on a crankbait at night.
If you aren’t sure what crankbaits work, contact us. We’re more than happy to share advice on the patterns that are working in the Pacific Northwest and popular patterns for in the Midwest. Our customers have found success on Lake Erie, Mille Lacs, and Saginaw Bay and are huge fans of our custom Bandit patterns.
How barometric pressure impacts walleye behavior
Weather plays a pivotal role in walleye fishing. Changes in barometric pressure and wind are the primary condition we’re talking about in this section. Walleye, like many fish, are sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. A falling barometer, often associated with an approaching weather front, can lead to increased feeding activity in walleye. This response is thought to be due to the fish sensing the change in pressure and anticipating adverse conditions, thus feeding more when conditions are still favorable. Conversely, a rising barometer, typically indicating clearer conditions, might lead to reduced feeding activity as walleye become more lethargic.
The pressure of water rising and dropping, even if only by minor amounts, creates water currents that can redistribute nutrients and baitfish. This redistribution can activate the food chain, making prey more available and active, which in turn stimulates walleye to feed more aggressively. Pressure driven currents also influence water temperature and oxygen levels, further impacting walleye behavior.
While the three topics we’ve covered above will help you target fish - adaptability is key. Walleye fishing is both a science and an art, requiring knowledge of the fish's habits and the environment. By understanding their behavior, feeding patterns, the impact of weather, and spawning habits, anglers can enhance their fishing strategy for a more rewarding experience on the water.