Walleye are a temperamental fish. Some days they’ll bite almost anything you throw their way, while other times they won’t give you the time of day. You already know which color lures they like and your favorite body of water to fish for them on, so what gives? Turns out the season and time of day matters a lot when walleye fishing.
The best time to fish for walleye has to do with their eating and mating patterns. In this article, we’ll go over the best time to fish for walleye – both on a micro and macro scale. We’ll also go over where you can often find walleye, and how to catch them at night. We’ll even discuss when walleye spawn and how that affects the best time to fish for walleye. Let’s jump in!
When is The Best Time to Fish For Walleye?
The best time to fish for walleye is in twilight conditions, as this is when they like to feed. It’s also when you have at least a little light to fish for them. We like to call this time the “golden hour”. The golden hour happens twice a day, once at sunrise and sunset (it’s the best time to fish for many species, like striped bass). This means that if you want to maximize your chance of catching walleye, you should be prepared to get up very early or stay out fishing late.
For sunrise walleye fishing, we recommend fishing up to an hour before the sunrises through several hours after. This is usually between 5 am and 9 am in the summer, and 7 am and 11 am in the winter. That’s right – set your alarm, make your favorite coffee drink, and get up early! As the saying goes, the early bird gets the… walleye.
Author Note: In the evenings, aim to fish an hour before sunset and several hours after. This can be from 9 pm to midnight in the summer, and 4 pm to 7 pm in the winter.
It’s worth noting that these time ranges can change significantly depending on your latitude. The further north you are, the later the sun stays up in the summer and the earlier it goes down in the winter.
It’s also worth noting that walleye tend to like overcast and cloudy conditions more than sunny clear days. Overcast days add to the low light conditions and increase the activity of smaller fish – which the walleye like to feed on.
You should also pay attention to key periods like moonrise, moonset, and any majors or minors that occur throughout the day. You can find this information on weather or fishing apps. These periods could offer brief feeding windows even if they occur in the middle of the day.
Overcast sky conditions like we mentioned earlier, wave action, and approaching low pressure weather systems can also cause walleyes to fire up and feed aggressively, so while there is a “golden hour” for catching walleye, they will certainly bite in other periods with the right conditions.
When is Walleye Season?
Now that we’ve gone over the best time of day to fish for walleye, let’s talk about the best time of year to fish for walleye. Considering walleye like prolonged low light conditions, the best time of year to fish for walleye is in the spring and the fall. The months of March through May and August through October tend to be the most productive for walleye fishing.
Along with low light conditions, walleye also have preferred water temperatures that increase their eating patterns. As the water temperature begins to warm up in the spring, walleye feel more comfortable being active and begin to feed more. In the fall when the water temperature begins to decrease, it signals to the walleye that they need to increase their fat reserves for the cold winter months. Both of these temperature signals tell walleye they need to eat more, which makes them easier to catch!
The regulations vary from state to state, so be sure to check when you can catch walleye. For example, in Wisconsin many bodies of water are closed until the first weekend of May, with the exception of a few river systems, and the season opener is likely different in southern states, or even states right next door.
The regulations for walleye can also be different from one body of water to the next, and in most cases are. Harvest limits and size limits can vary greatly depending on the lake or river.
Author Note: It’s worth noting, however, that walleye can also be caught during the winter months. You just need to prepared for the cold weather and have a good walleye ice fishing setup.
When do Walleye Spawn?
Another seasonal change in walleye eating and bite patterns occurs during their spawning season. Walleyes spawn in the spring months when the water temperature increases to above 44 degrees. Depending on the latitude of where you’re fishing for walleye, this can happen between February and June.
During their spawn, walleye congregate in large numbers to lay their eggs in shallower parts of the lake or river they live in. These areas are typically coves, flats, inlets, and streams.
Walleye typically won’t feed when they are actively spawning, but they will feed before and immediately after, and when you consider that not all walleye spawn at the exact same time, there are always fish that will bite during spawning season.
In general, the best area of a lake or river to fish for walleye in the spring is the north end. This is because the water on the north end of the lake tends to warm up the fastest due to the sun hitting it more than anywhere else. These will be the best areas to fish for walleye after the spawn, as they will returning the larger body of water to feed.
Where Can I Fish for Walleye?
We’ve been talking a lot about the best times to fish for walleye, but what about the best places to fish for walleye? Don’t worry, we got you. Here are some general tips on where walleye like to hang out and feed.
- Walleyes love inlets. Inlets bring in fresh nutrients which in turn attract baitfish. Baitfish make a nice snack for a hungry walleye, so they love to hang out in and around lake inlets. When fishing from a boat or the shore, cast your lures into the main channels and retrieve back to you with vigor. After a big rain, inlets become even more productive for walleye.
- River walleye like deep holes. If you’re fishing for walleye in a river, look for the deeper slow-moving parts for walleye. They enjoy hanging out in areas of the river where the current isn’t moving too fast and they can sneak up on baitfish.
- Don’t forget about the weeds. Since walleye are active predators, they also like to patrol weeded areas for food – especially early in the morning. This is a great time to use a weedless lure and fish them like you would a bass. This technique works especially well early in the morning during the summer months.
- Look for transition zones. These are the spots where the water goes from shallow to deep quickly, and are another favorite hangout spot for walleye. It allows them to hide from smaller fish that like the shallow water.
How to Catch Walleye at Night
Since the best time to fish for walleye is during low light conditions, we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about fishing for walleye at night. Walleye are active nocturnal hunters and can be caught at all hours of the night. The darkness emboldens them to hunt in the shallower parts of lakes and rivers, so night time fishing can be a great option for fishermen without a boat or fishing kayak.
Fishing for walleye at night can also be a great option for less experienced fishermen, as they can fish from the comfort of their dock or campsite. Another pro tip for fishing for walleye at night: since the fish are active, you should try and cover as much ground as possible with your casts.
Author Note: They’re also a schooling fish, so if you find one you’ll probably find more in the same spot. If a shore location isn’t giving you any bites, try walking further up the shoreline to a different spot.
Figuring out the best time to fish for walleye can be the difference between a fishing trip full of bites and fun vs. getting skunked. Walleye are a very particular fish that is sensitive to water temperatures and specific locations.
If you’re in the market for a new reel, check out our guide on the best walleye spinning reels.
We hope that after reading this article you now know what the best time to fish for walleye is! Catch a monster walleye using our tips? Let us know about it in the comments below.