Minnesota Profile: Walleye
(Stizostedion vitreum vitreum)
The walleye’s distinguishing feature is its glassy eyes, caused by the retina’s reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum. This feature gives the walleye excellent night vision. Rough scales cover a nearly cylindrical body. Its head and back range from brown to olive to brassy yellow. Its sides are lighter and its belly pale yellow or white. The tail’s lower tip is white. The gill plates and stout teeth, curved slightly rearward, are sharp enough to slice a finger.
The 25-pound world record was from Old Hickory Lake, Tenn. The Minnesota record is 17 pounds, 8 ounces, Seagull River, Cook County.
Range and Habitat
Native throughout Minnesota, the walleye lives in warm-water streams, large rivers, and midsize to large lakes. It thrives in windswept lakes with gravel shoals, such as Mille Lacs, Leech, Winnibigoshish, Red, Lake of the Woods, and Vermilion. The walleye has been stocked in small, sandy lakes throughout central and southern Minnesota. Most of these lakes lack spawning shoals, and walleye numbers are maintained through frequent stocking.
Walleyes, especially young ones, eat zooplankton and aquatic insects, such as larval dragonflies and mayflies. Adult walleyes feed on many fish species. In big walleye lakes, the predominant prey is yellow perch.
Soon after ice-out, walleyes move into shallow water to lay and fertilize eggs on rock or gravel. A 5-pound female deposits more than 100,000 eggs. Spawning peaks at water temperature of 42 to 50 degrees and ends by mid-May. Eggs hatch in one week to one month.
DNR hatcheries raise more walleyes for stocking than those of any other state—more than 100,000 pounds of fingerlings per year. Natural production of a single large lake dwarfs this amount.
Walleyes move considerable distances between summer and wintering areas. In river systems they may migrate more than 50 miles.
Fight and Food
The walleye’s most sporting quality is its taste. It doesn’t strike with the rapacity of a northern pike or muskie. It doesn’t leap like a bass. It doesn’t tug with the power-to-weight ratio of a bluegill. But with firm, mild, flaky white flesh, it surely tastes good. Walleyes are caught on a wide range of live baits and artificial lures. Perhaps the most popular lure is a jig tipped with a leech or minnow.