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With their slender bodies and sharp teeth, walleye are an angler’s favorite. Here are five cool facts about these gilled guys:
It’s in the eye
You may have heard of walleye before, but do you know where the name comes from? The fish have whitish, glossy eyes that help them see through murky and dark waters. Their eyesight lets them hunt for food easier, too.
The walleye is the largest species of the perch family - they can weigh up to 20 pounds. The state record was set in 1986 when Gloria Eoriatti reeled in a 14-pound, 8-ounce walleye from the Des Moines River. Walleye have strong canine teeth, which help them eat yellow perch, gizzard shad, and other aquatic animals such as crayfish, frogs, snails and insect larvae. Looking for more tips on reeling in a nice catch? Get more info on our How To Fish pages or our article on 4 Lures That Walleye Can’t Resist!
Plenty of fish in the rivers and lakes
As a highly migratory fish, walleye live in rivers and lakes all over Iowa. They’re abundant throughout the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, as well as major interior river drainages. In rivers, they prefer to stay at the bottom of deep pools that have logs or boulders during the day and head to shallow waters at night.
Walleye also live in natural lakes and have been successfully stocked in the larger constructed lakes throughout the state. They prefer large, cool lakes and reservoirs with sandy bottoms, but these fish are also found in smaller lakes and large streams.
In spring, when the ice melts and the water is 45 to 50 degrees, spawning season begins for walleye. In the cover of nighttime darkness, adult female walleyes find a spawning area. They usually choose a smaller tributary stream, a shallow spot in a river or shoal in a lake. The walleye look for a place with clear water that’s 1 to 5 feet deep.
Over the course of about three weeks, eggs and milt are released. The eggs sink to the bottom of the spawning area and lodge in crevices. This helps the eggs stay protected, oxygenated and silt free.
About 95 percent of the eggs laid by the female are fertilized. Of that, anywhere from five to 20 percent of the eggs will hatch under ideal conditions. After spawning, the adult walleye return to deeper waters.
While walleye naturally reproduce in streams and lakes, the Iowa DNR also hatchery-propagates them. Natural reproduction does occur sometimes, but it’s not enough to sustain a viable population. Poor natural reproduction can be linked to different things such as the lack of sufficient spawning sites and nursery habitat, or predators that limit the survival of newly hatched fish.
To ensure fishable walleye are available, fish need to survive to adulthood. The DNR's Spirit Lake and Rathbun hatcheries convert walleyes from a diet of zooplankton and insects to a manufactured feed to reach an average of 10 inches before they’re released. These fish are then used to stock larger lakes and reservoirs throughout the state.