Walleye fish are freshwater fish that can be found in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River drainage across North America. The fish are usually caught in deep water, near reefs, or beneath large rocks.
Walleyes are slim fish with a distinctive yellowish to silvery coloration along their sides and small spots on their backs. It has an oblong, rounded head without an operculum (ring of bony plates around the gills). If it gets too close to rocks while escaping predators or catching prey, it can break off its tough scales.
The most distinctive feature of a walleye is the large black eye with a yellow ring around it. The eye has good vision and helps them sense movements in the water. Walleyes are carnivores and their diet mainly comprises other fish, crayfish, insects, frogs, clams, snails, and worms.
Walleye fish usually weigh between 2 and 6 pounds when they are about 5 years old. The average size is from 3 to 5 pounds but can sometimes reach 12+ pounds. They can grow up to 55 inches long but in general, they are about 20-30 inches long.
Walleye fish spawn in the spring, usually between April and May. The male and female collect nests on a flat rock, then build a mound of sediment, which they cover with leaves and rootlets. When the eggs hatch, the female keeps them in her mouth for about 10 to 12 days before releasing them into the lake. In this time, she will also shed her seaweed-like vaginal plates inside her body to form a brood pouch.
Walleyes are very secretive and rarely seen by humans because of their tough scales which they shed when they are attacked by predators or enter shallow water to feed or breed. Walleye are known to be aggressive and may become dangerous if provoked or attacked. Male walleyes may guard their territory and fight another male, particularly if they think it is threatened. Walleye can reach speeds of up to 8 miles per hour when they are in pursuit of food but can’t sustain this speed for very long because they don’t have a continuous stream of oxygen to their gills, therefore they quickly return to the bottom of the lake to rest.
Walleye fish are valuable as food, sport, and commercial fish. Populations have been increasing due to careful management programs which encourage hatchery-raised fish to reproduce in order to reduce fishing pressure on wild populations.
They are excellent game fish because they fight hard and have good taste. They can be pan-fried, grilled, baked, or smoked, served with potatoes, red cabbage, and onion rings, or steamed as fillets. The flesh is white and flaky with a mild flavor that is great for frying or grilling but it can’t be used in stews because it disintegrates.
When fishing for walleye use live bait such as small frogs, nightcrawlers, leeches, or minnows.
Walleyes are protected by a number of regulations in state and federal waters. In addition to the banning of live bait and commercial fishing, the regulation includes limits on the number of walleye that can be taken from the Great Lakes in any year. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has established strict regulations on the possession, breeding, harvesting, or selling of walleye.