Walleye on the fly

A post on a local board stirred up a sleeping giant in my anglers brain...

Hmmmm, there is more to these tasty critters than anyone in the fly world gives em credit for. Until I started typing up this response I never actually thought about the scope and depth of my walleye on the fly experience.

It has rekindled a need in me to explore this species more in 2010!

Anyone care to share?

here is my response from the other board:

Walleye on the fly

This is a pretty cool topic actually...

Walleye might be the most misunderstood and underappreciated of all fresh water fly rod fish. IMHO.

I have had on and off success with walleye on the fly for the better part of three decades.

When I was a grubby little river rat growing up in Hudson, WI(on the St. Croix River) I used to just kick ass on the walleye during the 'Shad' fly hatch...some form of now long gone Hex. I remember we would get really excited when those flies would start showing up around the 4th of July. Sometimes getting so thick that they had to bring out the snowplows to clear the old blue I-94 bridge.

I recall being in the dug-out of the now gone little league field down by the boat launch in Hudson...and me and my pals eyeing up the thick spiderwebs in the mouldy corners of the dugout and seeing the mayflies and winking at each other between innings as if to say -
"Meet me under the Swing Bridge...at mid-night...it's gonna be a blood bath!" ;)

At first my buddies and myself would fish the surface feeding walleyes twitching small rapalas and could generally get a limit in a few hours of after-midnight fishing around the lighted bridges and dikes making up the waterfront in The Hud.

Then I figured out that my yellow buggy whip Eagle Claw fly pole (as we called it then) would work...with big, cheap China tied flies that came in circular plastic boxes up at Mullers True Value Hardware...really gaudy assortments that looked like butterflies.

But the walleye found them richly enticing when poorly cast into the shadow lines and feebly twitched. Satisfying swirls came tight to headshaking butterballs and I could easily outlimit my spin-head pals much to their chagrin.

I actually was a walleye wizard long before I ever broke into the trout on a fly ranks...and puzzlingly never considered those successes as qualifying me as a real fly fisher.

Years later in the BWCA and Quetico I had off-the grid experiences again with Hex hatch walleye in the Solstice gloaming...paddling away from camp merriment after midnight to acres of swirling fish greedily harvesting big crunchy spinners from the surface.

After I came up with a fly called The Chronic Leech...



...walleye became almost too easy! Anytime the mayflies started hatching on a walleye lake and the gear anglers started to belly-ache about how the walleye could not be caught until the hatch was over I just grinned...and came in to the fish-cleaning house in the wee hours with a stringer full - all bloated with wriggler nymphs...all taken in an almost boring taking_candy_from_a_baby method of casting out...waiting for a minute and then starting a painfully slow handtwist retrieve and slow rod lift until I got a wiggle and then the satisfying full rod bender...

So easy a caveman could do it as long as he was willing to go out at midnight! And many times I'd catch a fish on every cast.

And that is just the bug eaters!

White marabou muddler minnows on floating lines fished at dusk and just after dark on the sandbars down around my namesake rivertown (Afton on the St. Croix)...wow! And on the Wisconsin River down in Southern Wisco the same thing - Sauk Prairie and the sandbars after dark wet wading and waiting for the walleye to move up onto the structure...then a slow surface struggle...a minnow feeding or wallowing on the surface snacked up by a fatty 'eye in a subtle swirl.

Pure Joy!

Then there are the crayfish eaters in the rocky riffles of boulder strewn rivers like the Kettle, Snake, Yellow, Jump, Namekagon, West Fork of the Chippewa...

June in the middle of the daytime...right in the fast and deep rapids tucked behind boulders just waiting to pound a deeply scuttled fly. Better than brown trout I tell ya! And oh what fighters those current fish are.

Anyone who says that walleye fight like a wet sock has never tangled with a rough and tumble river perch!

I have actually gotten away from targeting walleye lately...shame on me I am reminded in typing up this response. Images come flooding back and my taste buds tingle as I think about crispy golden brown fillets curling up like lobster in hot bacon grease.

There was also a productive time in my Montana State days when we would go up to Canyon Ferry and catch big walleye after big walleye wet wading on windswept shores employing the old Wisconsin River white muddler minnow technique...

The fish you see in the images above are by-product catches from this past season(my notes show we boated 27 walleye by accident while fishing musky!). Musky streamers get pounded by big walleye in June around submerged timber. Walleye - not the light-shunning, bottom-hugging variety we all think of. No! More like a big top end predator swirling up from below to take a HangTime streamer or a Beauford as a musky would.

Right up in the upper water in plain sight. ROAR!

Yes, misunderstood and underappreciated indeed ;)


Trevor Thorp

Happy to be home in the NW
My cousin said that catching Walleye on a fly was not possible when I was fishing with him in northern MN. A couple of years later I was living in southern MI. Not much trout fishing, just warm water species. I was sure I could catch a walleye given the right opportunity. Last summer I had the chance to go out on a private lake to fish walleye with some people from work. More of a day out on the water than serious fishing. I brought my fly rod just in case. About a hundred feet off the dock we hit our first walleye. I asked the guy we were with how deep he was trolling the lures. He says "about four or five feet". Immediately I strung up my rod with a full sinking line and threw it off the back of the boat. I ended up catching more fish and the only keeper (15 inch minimum, private lake). Three 14 inchers to hand and the tasty 16 incher that I took home. The fight was nothing special, but they were not limp sticks either. Good tasting fish.
WA Walleye, Been a while since I've been out for them but here goes...

If you time it right, you can get into them during the spawn, particulary at night stripping big streamers. Think April/May Bass fishing tequniques only look for rocky shore with basketball size rocks mixed with some boulders in 5' -10' of water. If you have to fish during the day. Look for shaded areas. Sunlight appears to turn them off. Of course, It may just be me.

They'll pre spawn stage in 30 - 15 ft of water off of the spawning grounds and you can get to them then as well. I've heard that is when they start gorging themselvs on anything they can fit in their mouth. Obviously, presentation is an issue at those depths. I've used a rocket taper full sink with foxy minnow patterns with limited success. Other than that it's a pop gear deal around here.

East Coast, where it is also a moving water game is awesome. I really miss swinging flies for those guys on the big rivers.


It's all good.
Here's a big Ontario 'eye that took a surface popper on the fly while I was targeting northerns in about 3 feet of water off a reed bed near dusk. You can see I had a Tigerwire leader on. He took it with such a vicious strike and fought so hard that I thought he WAS a northern till he rolled near the boat. The best part is that I got him while everyone else was out getting skunked with the walleye jigs. He was in the slot size for this lake, so back he went, though - lots of smaller ones for the shore lunches...yum!
The lake was muddied up and chock full of mayflies, so I guess everything with teeth was looking up.
I really enjoyed AftonAngler's post. I live in Northern Kentucky, but grew up in Minnesota where walleyes very popular among fisherman. I can drive ten miles and fish in the tail-waters of the Mehldahl Dam on the Ohio River. Most often I fish streamers and never know what I'll catch. The Ohio River has responded well to pollution controls. Water clarity and quality has dramatically improved in the last 20 years. I see hatches of mayflies coming off the river in downtown Cincinnati and Louisville. (Unfortunately, not the hex's.). What do I catch in the Ohio? White bass, wipers (a cross between white bass and striper with a very bad attitude), walleyes, sauger, smallmouth, largemouth, skipjack herring (think 18 inch baby tarpon), and catfish. My biologist friends where teach have cautioned me to not eat any fish from the river, due to persistent pollutants. Although the walleyes have tempted me, I turn back everything. I lived in this area for many years and grumbled over the lack of the kind of fishing opportunities I was accustomed to growing up. I now have a much better appreciation of the fishing that is readily available here. I hope that water quality continues to improve in the Ohio River and that other under-appreciated resources are protected. AftonAngler's post has me fired up to go out and catch some walleye and sauger with my flies. Activity in the river for those two usually gets going in February.
Great post! I am now living on the banks of the Potomac in DC. I've heard that 'eyes are in the river but haven't put a lot of time in yet.. This thread is inspiring.


I've really been interested in doing this walleye thing for some time. Are steel leaders the requirement on these toothy critters?
Walleye, from my understanding, are cool water fish. They can live in colder and warmer waters, however, they thrive in cool water environments. I became a walleye addict as a kid and couldn't shake it. I read through the In-fisherman walleye series of books and became hooked. The problem is.....No boat. Cold fronts, fall, pre-spawn, spawn, parts of post spawn, and summer can be extremely difficult to fish from shore. After fishing year after year from shore, I realized that I could only catch fish consistently at the tail end of the spawn before they disbursed and some parts of summer (as always - weather permitting). I always fished conventional gear, but I've become addicted to fly-fishing now. I know a few areas that would be a blast to throw big streamers after dark. I've heard a few guys talking about this, but this thread is peaking my interest.....They're a tough fish to catch consistently.
Oh ya, I wouldn't fish with steel leaders. I was told as a kid to use steel leaders for walleye, but it wasn't necessary. We ended up fishing 4-6lb mono almost everywhere and rarely lost a fish. The leaders may be necessary if you're fishing areas that also have pike or muskie, however. In several areas, the species thrive together...I'm in Utah...Not much of anything here.


It's all good.
In the earlier post I've got a wire leader on because I was targeting northern pike. The walleye was a surprise catch on the popper, for sure. Spin fishing for walleye, I've never used a steel leader. They have the teeth but don't seem to slash at lures the way pike do.

Walleye are certainly native to the big cold lakes of MN, Ontario, etc, but I think they'll live in pretty much the same kind of places that will support smallmouth. In WA, I understand the Columbia (central WA part) has some big ones - non-native, but they were introduced a long time ago - and the lakes around there are pretty good, too. Banks, Roosevelt, etc. Your best bet for targeting them with a fly rod might be the dunes on Potholes before it gets really warm.