Where to Find Them
Equipment
Baits & Lures
Angling Tips
Walleye Fact Sheet

Fishing for Walleye

Challenging to catch, a hard fighter and excellent table fare, the elusive walleye is a prized game fish targeted by many anglers. They can be caught with a variety of different techniques and are abundant in many of Iowa’s lakes and rivers.

Where to Find Them

Iowa has many quality walleye waters. With the exception of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, most walleye fisheries in Iowa are maintained through aggressive stocking programs. A list of rivers and lakes that contain fishable walleye populations is available on the DNR website.

Walleye begin to move from their deep overwintering locations as soon as the ice cover melts from the lakes and rivers. Often a bump in river flow or an increase in water temperature is all that is needed to trigger the move toward traditional spawning locations. This pre-spawn period is an excellent time to catch fairly aggressive walleyes as they congregate in shallower water near barriers, riffles, and rocky areas.

Spawning takes place when water temperature is 42 - 54 degrees F (usually in early April in Iowa). Adult females move into the shallows at night accompanied by several males. Walleye fishing can be challenging during the spawn since the fish are not actively feeding. Most walleyes caught during this time are the more aggressive males.

After spawning, walleyes disperse from their shallow spawning areas to various locations throughout rivers, reservoirs and lakes. Fishing can be difficult for a couple of weeks as fish recuperate from the rigors of spawning.

As summer approaches, look for walleyes in deeper water in lakes and reservoirs. They can be found along the outside edge of weed beds, submerged islands, points with drop-off’s, flooded creek channels, rip-rapped dam faces and submerged roadbeds. Walleyes are often found spread out over open hard bottomed flats in reservoirs. River walleye become strongly associated with current as summer heats up. Look for walleyes in interior rivers in 4-6 feet of water next to a current break created from downed trees or rock. On the Mississippi River, look for walleyes in flowing side channels or along the upstream side of wing dams.

As the water begins to cool in September, walleyes move from their summer haunts to prepare for winter. They move from deep water to shallower areas in lakes and reservoirs, often near rocky shorelines, rock reefs and islands. River walleyes are often found in shallower riffle areas. Walleyes can be very aggressive during this time as they bulk up for winter.

Walleyes begin their move to overwintering locations when water temperatures drop below 40 degrees F. Look for them in the deepest areas of rivers where there is little to no current. Mississippi River walleyes congregate downstream of the lock and dams, in deep current free side channels or in scour holes created by wing dams. This is a great time to catch a trophy fish..

Equipment

Medium weight line and tackle is the best choice for walleye anglers. A sensitive 6 or 6½ foot medium or medium-light graphite spinning rod loaded with 6 to 8 pound-test monofilament or braided line is a must for detecting light biting walleyes. A 6 or 6 ½ foot medium or medium-heavy graphite casting rod with 8 - 10 pound-test works well for trolling larger crankbaits or 3-way rigs.

Baits & Lures

Many baits and techniques can be used to catch walleye. Jig-fishing is a favorite method. Make sure the jig is just heavy enough to make contact with the bottom. If the jig is too heavy, it is difficult to detect bites. A 1/8 oz. jig is ideal for most normal river/lake conditions. A 1/4 oz. or larger jig may be needed in areas of fast current, deep water or high wind. Jigs can be tipped with various colored twister tails or live baits such as night crawlers, leeches or minnows. Three-way rigs tipped with live bait work well when walleyes are inactive. Try a colored hook with a couple of red or chartreuse beads forward of the hook for an additional attractant. Trolling a 3-way rig can be very effective for covering a lot of water to locate schools of walleye. A slip bobber rig is an excellent choice for catching inactive walleyes, plus it’s exciting to see your bobber disappear. Make sure your bobber is set so your bait is within a foot of the bottom.

Minnows work well in late-fall through early-spring. Use night crawlers or leeches in late-spring, summer and early-fall. Thread the night crawler on the hook for a natural presentation. Using half a night crawler can improve your chances of hooking a fish. Hook the minnows through both lips when using a jig or a 3-way rig or just below the dorsal fin for a slip bobber rig. Hook leeches through the sucker disk.

Crankbaits are an excellent choice for aggressive fish or to cover large expanses of water to locate fish. Crankbaits come in a variety of sizes, designs and colors. Look on the package for the depth range and use the appropriate size and design for the depth you will be fishing. Silver, gold, blue and black that mimic natural forage fish are good for clear water, but bright colorful crankbaits work best in dark, stained water. Crankbaits can be casted and retrieved or trolled behind a boat. Experiment with your boat speed and retrieve to catch more fish.

Angling Tips

Concentrate your late fall through early spring, river walleye fishing efforts in deep, low-current overwintering areas. Late fall until ice up offers some of Iowa’s best walleye fishing opportunities, with a good chance of catching a real trophy (>10 lbs.). A slow retrieve is essential and using live bait will increase your odds of catching walleyes in these overwintering areas. Try a jig or a 3-way rig tipped with a fathead minnow. Use these same techniques to target walleyes in the Mississippi River tailwater areas below the lock and dams.

Walleyes begin to make the migration to their spawning grounds as spring progresses and water temperatures rise. Dams are good places to target walleyes, but don’t neglect the river section further downstream that often provide deeper resting pools for migrating walleyes. Use a jig and twister combination or baitfish imitation crankbait as water temperatures rise and walleyes become more aggressive. A slip bobber rig tipped with a minnow or leach fished close to known spawning areas is a great choice in lakes and reservoirs. A 1/8 oz. jig tipped with a minnow or leach can also be very effective. Try fishing these areas at night when walleyes are more active.

The outside bends in a river consistently has the deepest water and are great places to find walleyes in spring through fall. Concentrate your efforts near logjams and fallen trees if they are available. These structures provide cover and attract forage to the area. Fish tight to the trees with a 1/8 oz. jig, but don’t stay in one spot too long. Throw minnow imitation crankbaits in the transition area between the inside sandbar and the deep outside bend.

Walleyes are more spread out in summer through early fall. Move often: if you don’t catch a walleye in 20 minutes move to the next spot in your search for hungry fish. On rivers, look for areas of slack water near current and underwater obstructions. Walleyes often utilize current breaks (created by fallen trees, rocks, bridge abutments or abrupt changes in the channels) because they provide resting areas out of the current and deeper water near adjacent food sources. Run habitats between riffles and deep outside bends can be fantastic areas to fish in the middle of the summer. They tend to have moderate water velocities and depths (3-5 feet). Actively feeding river walleye are found near current in the dog days of summer. Try fishing eddies created by boulders and downed trees. Fish a 1/8 oz. jig with a ringworm or half a night crawler along the current seam.

Summer is a great time to aggressively troll crankbaits and 3-way rigs near deep weed beds in lakes and over hard bottomed flats in reservoirs. Walleye fishing the wing dams on the Mississippi River can be outstanding this season. Fish a 3-way rig on the upstream side of the wing dam.

Riffles, shallow rocky areas in rivers and streams, are great spots to fish for walleyes in the spring (April) and fall (October). Use a 1/8 oz. jig with a twister tail or throw a shallow-running, minnow-imitation crankbait. These riffle areas can be very good during low light conditions (early morning/late evening) when walleyes use their superior night vision to invade these shallows in search of an easy meal. Areas of streams that have boulders or rip rap are also great areas to catch walleyes. Try baits that imitate crayfish along these rocky areas.