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Dock Talk: Walleye wisdom for the opener

A large number of anglers will be heading to the lakes in pursuit of Minnesota's state fish, the walleye, this weekend for the 2011 opener. Lucky anglers might even land a beauty like this one. (Photo courtesy Northland Tackle)

Get your motor runnin' (outboard that is), because walleye season has officially arrived.

The state fish remains popular among anglers because it provides delectable table fare and is also challenging to catch.

Anglers sometimes misunderstand the biology and behaviors of a walleye, yet even individuals who study walleye occasionally come home skunked.

The Minnesota state record walleye, which weighed 17-pounds, 8-ounces, measured 35.8" and had a 21.3" girth. The enormous female fish was caught on the Seagull River in Cook County on May 13, 1979. The world record walleye weighed 22-pounds, 11-ounces and was caught from Greers Ferry, Arkansas in 1982.

The original range for walleye used to span from Canada to Alabama, but today walleye have been introduced to almost every state in the U.S. Walleye are present in every province of Canada.

A large female walleye can lay about 500,000 eggs while spawning, though smaller fish produce fewer. Walleyes are "broadcast" spawners and don't deposit the eggs into a nest, they simply release them onto the bottom. Neither the female nor male guard the eggs, which hatch about three weeks after fertilization depending upon water temperature.

Walleye can live up to 20 years, but have the slowest growth rates in the most northern portions of their territory. They reach maturity at 3-5 years and typically spawn when water temperature is between 42 and 50-degrees F.

The mouth of a walleye is anatomically unique. Walleye have cone-shaped canine teeth used to latch onto their prey, unlike northern pike that have rows of razor sharp teeth. Some anglers erroneously think walleyes have a soft mouth, but it's actually very hard and surrounded by bone and some cartilage. It's difficult for a hook to penetrate certain areas of a walleye's mouth, so anglers often mistake losing a fish as a result of a soft mouth.

Another interesting fact about a walleye's mouth is that it has thousands of taste buds, but not on their tongues where one would suspect - they're on their lips!

Walleye can travel several miles in a day in search of either forage or desirable water temperature. In the early stages of life walleye feed almost exclusively on insects. As they mature, walleye switch to a diet comprised almost entirely of minnows.

Though sometimes referred to as a "walleye pike", the fish has no relation to the northern pike. Walleye are actually a relative to the yellow perch, which is somewhat ironic since perch are a common prey.

Walleye got their name due to their oversized eyes that have a layer of reflective pigment called the tapetum lucidum. This allows the fish to see better in low-light conditions and permits them to feed after dark. Perch cannot see very well in low-light conditions, making them highly susceptible to an attack from a hungry walleye.

Walleyes spend most of their time swimming above, not in direct contact with the bottom. They will suspend in deep water but rarely remain deeper than about 50 feet because of low dissolved oxygen levels.