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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 with 6 to 8 pound-test monofilament or braided line is a must to find 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.
Many baits and techniques will catch walleye. Jig-fishing is a favorite method. Make sure the jig is just heavy enough to touch the bottom. If the jig is too heavy, it is difficult to notice bites. A 1/8 ounce jig is perfect for most normal river/lake conditions. A 1/4 ounce or larger jig may be needed in areas of fast current, deep water or high wind. Jigs can be tipped with different colored twister tails or live baits such as nightcrawlers, 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 in front of the hook. Troll a 3-way rig to cover a lot of water and find schools of walleye. A slip bobber rig is an excellent choice to catch lazy 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 nightcrawlers or leeches in late spring, summer and early fall. Thread the nightcrawler on the hook for a natural presentation. Using half a nightcrawler 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 work well for aggressive fish or to cover large stretches of water to find fish. Crankbaits come in many sizes, designs and colors. Look on the package for the depth range and use the correct 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. Cast or retrieve crankbaits or troll behind a boat. Experiment with your boat speed and retrieve to catch more fish.
Late fall until ice up offers some of Iowa’s best walleye fishing, with a good chance of catching a real trophy (>10 lbs.) in deep, low-current overwintering areas. Use live bait with a slow retrieve to increase your chance 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 start to move to their spawning spots as spring begins and water temperatures rise. Dams are good places to catch walleyes, but don’t avoid the river section further downstream that often provides 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 ounce jig tipped with a minnow or leach can also work well. Try fishing these areas at night when walleyes are more active.
The outside bends in a river usually has the deepest water and are great places to find walleyes in spring through fall. Try near log jams and fallen trees if available. These structures provide cover and attract forage to the area. Fish tight to the trees with a 1/8 ounce jig, but don’t stay in one spot too long. Throw minnow imitation crankbaits between the inside sandbar and the deep outside bend.
Walleyes spread out more in summer through early fall so move often. If you don’t catch a walleye in 20 minutes move to the next spot to look for hungry fish. On rivers, look for areas of slack water near current and underwater obstructions. Walleyes often use current breaks (made by fallen trees, rocks, bridge abutments or abrupt changes in the channels) because they offer resting areas out of the current and deeper water near food sources. Run habitats between riffles and deep outside bends can be great places to fish in the middle of the summer. They tend to have moderate water speeds and depths (3-5 feet). Try fishing eddies made by boulders and downed trees. Fish a 1/8 oz. jig with a ringworm or half a nightcrawler along the current seam.
Summer is a great time to 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 great in the summer. 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 to search for 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.
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Challenging to catch, a hard fighter and excellent to eat, the elusive walleye is a prized game fish of many anglers. They are abundant in many of Iowa’s lakes and rivers.
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 with fishable walleye populations is available on the DNR website.
Walleye start to move from their deep overwintering spots as soon as the ice cover melts from the lakes and rivers. Often a bump in river flow or an increase in water temperature can start their move to traditional spawning sites. This pre-spawn stage is an excellent time to catch fairly aggressive walleyes as they gather in shallower water near barriers, riffles, and rocky areas.
Spawning starts when water temperature is 42 - 54 degrees (usually in early April in Iowa). Adult females move into the shallows at night with several males. Walleye fishing can be a challenge during the spawn since the fish are not actively feeding. Most walleyes caught during this time are the more aggressive males.
After spawning, walleyes scatter from their shallow spawning areas to many places throughout rivers, reservoirs and lakes. Fishing can be difficult for a couple of weeks as fish recover from spawning.
As summer approaches, look for walleyes in deeper water in lakes and reservoirs. Find them 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 spread out over open hard bottomed flats in reservoirs. Look for walleyes in interior rivers in 4-6 feet of water next to a current break made 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 starts to cool in September, walleyes move from their summer hangouts to get ready 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 start their move to overwintering areas when water temperatures drop below 40 degrees. Look for them in the deepest areas of rivers where there is little to no current. Mississippi River walleyes gather downstream of the lock and dams, in deep current free side channels or in scour holes made by wing dams. This is a great time to catch a trophy fish.