Walleye Fishing tips
Walleye is one of the tastiest and the most sought after especially considering that it is also beautiful and therefore attractive. Catching this fish species can be interesting and especially if you know how to go about the process. Catching walleye fish is an art that requires great skills including the following:
Use minnows: – Minnows are the best option when it comes to catching walleyes. The live baits are ideal when the water is clear and cool but the fish is known to be a short striker and therefore do not easily get hooked up. Your bait should be still and should not be moved much to avoid disruptions. You should use light line with a thin diameter as these allow for little resistance or less drag on bait. This way, the fish will such in the bait easily thus giving you a chance for a catch.
Use planer boards: – These trolling devices are ideal for catching walleye and especially in shallow waters. Their suitability is contributed to the fact that you can use multiple lines while dropping your lure a distance from the boat. You can easily change the distance between your boat and the planer board as the reel and towline are attached to the mast. The positioning of tour planer board is key to your success and should be placed approximately 15 to 30 meters away from your boat. Use dual boards or inline board planers if fishing in rough waters
Fish at night: – This is the best time to catch the biggest and most elusive walleye fish. You can wade in, fish from the bank or troll or cast from your boat as walleye are known to feed in shallow waters during the night. Additionally, you can use live baits but the best thing will be to learn the walleye feeding habits as this will help you greatly in increasing your catch. You can also lure walleye using glowing or lighted jug heads as walleye are known to be lured by light.
“FINESSE” PLASTIC FISHIN
That being said, let’s look at one special technique that can definitely improve your walleye
success ratio. This involves the use of plastics, rather than spoons, spinners or “hard baits”. Plastic
grubs, tubes and twisters…and some “swim baits”…are overwhelmingly the lures of choice for
most consistently successful walleye anglers on Utah Lake. There are plenty of ‘eyes taken on all
the other stuff. But for “finesse” fishing you can’t beat a well-presented piece of plastic.
The most successful walleye anglers on Utah Lake typically use a fairly light spinning outfit.
The rod should be anywhere from 5 1/2 to 7 feet, with a fast tip. You can use anything from light to
medium action…with medium light being a good choice for most plastics. It is a matter of feel and
personal preference. Reels should be small and light, with good drag and capable of fishing line
from 4# to 8# test. I usually fish 6#. It is light enough to cast well, with light jigs, but strong enough
to set the hook in big fish and to help save most of my snagged lures. Most importantly, the reel
should be ultra smooth so that you can concentrate on the feel of the jig and not be distracted by a
stiff or balky retrieve.
The choice of line is one area in which you do not want to buy the cheapest you can find.
Line for casting jigs in rocky areas for walleyes should be both strong and flexible. It should have
good knot strength and good abrasion resistance. Getting pulled through rocks and stickups and
being chewed on by toothy walleyes requires that your line can take some abuse. I have used
Excalibur by Silver Thread for several years and have never had a fish break me off on it. In fact,
it is tough to break 6# Excalibur when fishing from a float tube. You really have to kick back and
haul on it to break off a snag that will not come free. There are lots of good lines on the market
these days. The better quality you put on your reel spool the more enjoyment you will get from
your fishing and the more walleyes you are likely to hook…and bring to net.
You will usually need to make longer casts if you are shore bound or wading than if you are
afloat in a boat, tube or ‘toon. However, it is not uncommon for the fish to cruise within easy
casting distance from shore and many walleye chasers cast too far and “wash lures” in fishless
water a high percentage of the time. If you are casting out a long ways, but most of your strikes are
coming within a few feet of shore, try casting more parallel to the shore, in the same zone or depth
where you are getting bit most often.
Once you locate a holding area, either while wading or afloat, position yourself far enough
away to minimize spooking the fish, but close enough for easy casting and control. The shorter the
casts you make the greater the accuracy and the feel you will have while retrieving your lure.
While walleyes sometimes chomp fiercely on the lure, they often simply swim up and take hold of it.
You detect only a slight “back pressure”, also described as a “rubber band” feel.
That’s why it is important to have light well-balanced tackle that allows you to feel
everything that is going on at the business end of your line. You must be prepared to strike
whenever there is a “change in the force”. The other fishermen around you might laugh at your
“whiffs” but when you are the only one hooking fish you can laugh back at them.
Focus and concentration are key elements for maximizing your catch of walleyes. Once you
have the right tackle that allows you to cast and retrieve effortlessly and to maintain your full
attention to your lure you are better prepared for getting serious. Focus on the difference in the
way different lures are acting on the retrieve. You can actually feel the variations in the depths
they run and how the actions differ with other sizes and designs on the vibrating tails.
You must fish every cast with positive expectation that a fish will interrupt your retrieve at
any second, regardless of what has happened on your previous 100 casts. If your mind is wandering
when you get an “inquiry” you give the fish time to spit out the fake food before you set the hook.
Sometimes the only indication of a taker is the sudden stop of the vibration of the lure …with no
detectable strike. If you are not paying attention you might just keep reeling until the fish (which
has been swimming toward you, along with your lure) simply opens its mouth and releases your
lure. You completely missed an opportunity because you were bored or distracted.
Something I suggest to walleye “newbies” is to fish with a “cocked” wrist. Make the cast and
then lock your wrist in one position…letting the reel do the work. Don’t use the rod tip to add any
additional motion. Reel slowly and steadily, keeping the wrist cocked and ready for an instant hook
set. Turn the reel handle just fast enough to keep the plastic running slightly above the bottom.
It is important that you not only maintain total feel of the rod, reel, line and lure, but that
you watch the line and the rod tip too. Sometimes the line will just give a slight twitch, where it
enters the water. At other times, the visible vibrations on the rod will suddenly stop and the tip will
dip just a little. You don’t always feel these things. You must watch carefully for them and if you
do not react and set the hook you just released a fish without the fun of the fight.
Mastering feel, finesse and technique is more important than which size, shape and color of
plastic you throw. Remember, good fisherman can catch fish on the “wrong” lures…but poor
fishermen often cannot catch fish on the “hot” lures. That being said, there is a lot of both art and
science in putting together a good lure box for Utah Lake walleyes.
Since we have been discussing plastics let’s talk about colors for both plastics and jig heads.
A good generalized statement would be that visibility is more important than using an exact shade
of a certain color. Even though walleyes can see shapes in the dark they cannot always see colors
well enough to differentiate them. Only in clear water and good light can subtle color shades have a
noticeable effect on walleye acceptance.
Utah Lake is not famous for having clear water. But, when water levels are up and there has
not been any significant wind for a few days the lake sometimes becomes more green than brown
and visibility can be measured in feet instead of inches. On those days solid colors can be more
effective than bright contrasting colors.
Good solid colors are white, black, purple, and chartreuse. Sometimes a motor oil or brown
color can work well too. All of these can give off light waves in the same spectrums as natural food
in the lake…leeches, worms, crawdads, small catfish and the lighter colored species, like white bass
or crappie fry.
If the lake is in a more typical “murky” condition solid dark colors like black or purple can
still work well. However, rigging them on a high visibility head can help. Try using dark red, hot
red, orange or pink heads. Or, you can use black, purple or red heads with high-vis chartreuse
eyes. Eyes can add a lot to the effectiveness of almost any jig, of any color, in any water condition.
Much of the best finesse plastic fishing for walleyes on Utah Lake is done during the fall
and/or spring. The water is comfortably cooler than peak high summer temps and is usually
somewhat clouded by seasonal breezes. During these “transition times” of the year, there is
traditionally more wind, which keeps the water stirred up. When the water is cold and cloudy,
that’s when you tie on brightly colored two-tone plastics, with contrasting colored jig heads. The
fish move more slowly in colder water and they will not chase faster moving lures. You need to
serve something that they can see well and which moves slowly enough to trigger a strike.
Most of the regulars on Utah Lake favor plastics that combine a dark colored body with a
tail of chartreuse, for contrast and visibility. Black and chartreuse is among the most contrasting
and visible combinations for cold murky water. However, almost any other dark color combined
with chartreuse will work. Other popular main body colors are smoke, purple, blue, watermelon,
orange and red. Black and white combos can also be effective, as can orange and white, chartreuse
and white, pink and white, etc.
Some of these colors can be purchased from tackle manufacturers or retailers. Some of the
more exotic combos must be made to order…either by the angler or someone with the materials
and know-how to do the job. A few of the Utah Lake walleye crowd actually “hybridize” their own
combo plastics. They buy packages of two different colors…say one of solid purple and one of
chartreuse…solid or sparkle. Then, they cut the tails off one and the thick front parts off the other,
and then weld them together. It is not difficult, if you have either an electric hot plate or a small
burner. The idea is to hold the ends of both pieces to be joined over the heat…or touch them to the
burner…and then join and hold them until the softened plastic hardens, heat welding the two
different colors together. You can also use special plastic glues…a type of super glue especially
formulated for gluing soft plastics together.
I have a couple of custom made hybrid colors that I use in Utah Lake more than any other
colors. One is bright red glitter body with a chartreuse sparkle tail. The other is a bright purple
glitter with a chartreuse sparkle tail. They work year round, for just about everything in the
lake…including white bass, channel cats, bullheads, crappies and even carp. All species have eaten
those crazy creations and sometimes I catch several species on the same day on the same lures.
I make all of my custom colored creations because I have never found the exact colors I
prefer from any other source. I buy solid color plastics, in 2”, 3”, 4” and 5” sizes and then color
them the way I want them, using plastic dyes. For the red sparkle and chartreuse sparkle combo I
start with a solid chartreuse sparkle grub or shad body. Then I use plastic dye to color the front
half red. For the purple and chartreuse I get a better end result by starting with a 3X clear sparkle
body and then dying the front purple and the back chartreuse. The solid colors I prefer to start
with are clear sparkle, smoke sparkle, chartreuse sparkle, solid white, solid pearl and solid pearl
I also pour and paint all of my own jig heads. I discovered a long time ago that I could not
find the exact combination of colors, hook sizes and weighted heads that I preferred…so I have
made my own for many years. When fishing in water shallower than six feet deep, it is better to
fish a light head, to avoid having heavier jigs dive into the rocks. I use 1/16 oz. jigs for fishing
around the rocky areas and off the dikes of Utah Lake. The lighter weight allows me to reel my
plastic slowly, just above the bottom, without having to reel too fast and without losing many jigs to
the rock gods.
You can buy lots of jigs with 1/16 oz. heads. The big problem is that the hooks are usually
far too small to fish them with the larger size plastics you need for walleyes. Most commercially
made 1/16 oz jigs have hook sizes no larger than size 6 or 4. They are made for fishing small
plastics for crappie and perch.
I pour my 1/16 oz. jig heads on larger hooks…from size 1 to 4/0. For the 3” and 4” plastics I
use the most, I typically fish them on 1/0 or 2/0 hooks. These balance just about right with the size
of the plastics, and provide much better hooking ability for large-mouthed fish like walleyes.
As mentioned, I also custom paint my jig heads. Some are plain white, black or dark red.
Some have single spot eyes, of white, black, red or chartreuse. The heads I use for fishing bright
contrasting combo colors, in cold murky water, are usually a bit gaudier. Some are two-tone black
and white, black and chartreuse, hot red and white, hot red and chartreuse or chartreuse with a hot
Some of my most effective heads…the ones I fish with my favorite red or purple and
chartreuse plastics…are either purple or red glitter with a bright chartreuse eye with black pupil. I
probably catch more fish, of all species, from Utah Lake, on my custom colored plastics…by using a
red glitter head (chartreuse eye) than with all other lures and baits combined. And, that same
combo is effective in many other waters too.
In the spring months, a “lime sherbet” plastic can be very effective. This is a combo of lime
green top and a white curly tail bottom (or vice versa), fished on almost any contrasting head. Hot
pink works well, but so does chartreuse with a red eye or hot orange glitter.
Several plastics manufacturers sell tubes, grubs and swim baits in “fire tiger” colors…green,
yellow and orange…sometimes with black stripes. For some reason this color combo is appealing to
walleyes…and other species…almost year round. I fish it mostly with orange
jig heads…often rigged in tandem with one of my other favorite colors.
One of the best late fall colors, which also can be deadly in prespawn weeks, is hot pink
plastic with either a pink or a hot red head. If you can find a good bright hot pink, with silver
sparkle, it is well received by almost all the fish in Utah Lake during the cooler months. It seems to
work better on smaller walleyes than the bigger ones, but I have taken some bigguns on it too.
In the early months of the year, and through the spawn, a chartreuse plastic with silver
sparkles and a hot red, pink or orange head can be your most productive jig. It is a good combo for
smaller males through the spawn and for the bigger females after the spawn. Strangely enough, the
big post spawn females will often hit smaller plastics (in chartreuse and hot red) than at any other
time of year. I guess it is because they are easing their way back into the feeding mode and like to
start with smaller meals. Within a short time, however, you will be catching them on your largest
plastics, marabou jigs and hard baits. Once they put on the feedbag in earnest, you almost can’t
use lures too large for them to attack.
One of the last three points on fishing plastics is that you should carry an assortment of
different sizes, colors and actions. Sizes and colors are easy. Finding plastics with just the right
“wiggle” can make a difference and is not always easy. I have tried twisters and swim baits from
just about every manufacturer. I test them very carefully in the water, observing how “busy” the
vibrating tails are at different retrieve or trolling speeds. Some barely wiggle while others almost
whip the water to froth. There will be days when the fish want very little movement. Other days
you will knock them dead with a heavy fluttering action tail. On still other days, they respond
better to the “know nothing” action of a slowly retrieved tube jig.
The next to last topic on fishing plastics is that you should learn how to rig, cast and retrieve
tandem rigs…two jigs at a time. This not only allows you to fish different colors, but sometimes
aids in triggering strikes from fish that need a “wake up call”. A single jig cruising by might not
create much interest. But, run a double rig through the water and it sometimes creates enough
extra commotion to trigger a “reaction bite”. On the other hand, if the fish are spooky and finicky,
you may have to scale back to fishing only a single well-presented plastic to avoid an unnatural
The last point on plastics is that fishing for walleye is not a purist thing. You are not
restricted to using unadulterated jigs. If you want to add a strip of crawler go head on. If you want
to add some strips of fish meat, or a piece of minnow (or a whole one), then just do it. Sometimes a
little bit of “sweetener” on a jig hook is all it takes to “seal the deal”. Also, adding a few drops of
your favorite attractant can sometimes make a difference. I favor either shad or anchovy scent, but
night crawler and crawdad can work well too.
TACKLE & TECHNIQUES
I have often stated that I believe there are more walleye taken by accident than by design.
Most people who have caught only one or two walleye will admit that they were fishing for
something else when their only walleye(s) climbed on. They will also usually admit to getting
skunked every time they tried to catch walleyes on purpose.
That’s the way it often goes. Some hungry or inquisitive walleye picks up a worm or piece of
cut bait meant for catfish, and the lucky angler gets to take one home to dinner. Then, when that
same angler tries to duplicate the feat, they catch only cats. Frustrated, they buy lots of walleye
lures and donate them to the lake’s snags without ever hanging another walleye.
There are many ways to go after walleyes on Utah Lake. One of the simplest and often most
effective methods is to soak a minnow. Of course, in Utah it must be a dead minnow. When walleye
are cruising around looking for groceries a dead minnow is usually welcome on the menu.
Minnows in the 3” to 5” range are generally best, but sometimes you will do better with either
larger or smaller ones.
If you don’t catch your own minnows you can buy frozen chub minnows or redside shiners
at numerous locations. Chubs hold up better as bait. Redsides usually get soft when frozen. Some
of the best minnows in Utah Lake are carp minnows…up to about 5 or 6 inches. You can
sometimes harvest large quantities of carplets in the late summer when they swim in schools in the
shallows, trying to avoid predators.
You can also harvest juvenile white bass for bait. There is no limit on them and no
restrictions on using them for bait…in Utah Lake…except they cannot be fished as live bait.
Young-of-the-year whities are about 4” long by late summer and there are huge swarms of them
back in some of the harbors and inside pockets in shoreline reeds. Use a fly rod and small flies or a
small jig and worm, under a bobber to fill buckets with them for the freezer. Almost all species in
the lake will munch the baby whities…even other white bass not much bigger than the bait.
There are several ways you can rig minnows according to the varying conditions of water
temperature, depth, clarity and bottom conditions. A lot of Utah Lake walleyes are taken on
nothing more exotic than a minnow pinned to a hook and allowed to rest on the bottom for
whatever comes along. Like night crawlers, minnows will take virtually all species from this lake.
It’s a “chuck and chance it” deal. Some like to hang the minnow below a bobber…either on a plain
hook or on a jig. A bobber helps keep the bait off the bottom (and out of the rocks) as well as
serving as a strike indicator when something munches on the bait.
One of the “top secret” methods of presenting minnows to walleyes incorporates an old
steelhead lure…the floating “Corky”. These little brightly colored floats were originally designed
to help float gobs of roe up above the rocks when drifting for salmon and steelhead. Walleye and
catfish anglers have discovered that Corkies also act as both attractors and floats to keep the bait
up off the bottom and to make it more visible. There have been a lot of walleye taken from Utah
Lake on corky rigs…and floating jig heads.
One of the good things about fishing a corky rig is that you can vary the length of the leader
to present the bait as high or low in the water column as you wish. You make a corky rig by putting
a small sliding weight above a swivel. To the swivel you add a leader…a 12” to 14” leader is most
common. The corky is threaded on the leader between the swivel and the hook and then the bait is
pinned on the hook. The sliding sinker lets you see or feel bites better and allows you to let the fish
move off with the bait a little before you cross their glassy eyes.
Night crawlers are good walleye baits almost everywhere. They work well in Utah Lake if
you can keep the white bass, bullheads, channel cats and other pesky nibblers from eating them
first. Rig and fish crawlers just as suggested for minnows. Many crawler fans soak them below a
bobber. They are also good when drifted or dragged slowly behind a boat…either plain, on a jig or
on a bottom bouncer rig with a spinner and worm “harness”. That is a time-honored method for
catching walleyes almost anywhere they hang out.
Cut baits of many kinds will also catch walleyes. Perhaps one of the best for Utah Lake is a
strip of white bass flesh. Since walleyes feed heavily on white bass they develop a taste for them.
The fresher the better. No fish attractant needed. Stick with the natural flavor. Again, you can
fish cut baits on the bottom, below a bobber or riding up off the bottom with a Corky rig.
Yellow perch also make excellent bait for Utah Lake walleyes and it is legal to use perch
here. Perch have increased in numbers and comprise a significant part of the walleye diet. Whenever you go fishing at a lake full of pesky perchlets, keep a bunch to serve up to the marbleeyes in Utah Lake. Use them whole or cut into fillets or strips.
Wallies will also hit carp meat strips being soaked for kitties. Ditto for Sucker meat. But,
since the beginning of the June Sucker Recovery Program it is illegal to keep or use any kind of
suckers for bait here.
Now, let’s talk about specifically targeting walleyes with lures. It is probably more difficult
than you might expect, but not as hard as some “experts” try to make you think it is. Catching
walleyes on lures is more about location, timing and technique than simply the model or the color of
the lure. This is truly a type of fishing where poor fisherman might not catch anything…even on
the “right lure”…but knowledgeable anglers often catch something even on the “wrong” lure.
Like many other Utah Lake anglers, I have caught some of my walleyes on small lures being
fished for white bass or other species. I once caught a fat 12# wallie while vertical jigging a small
spoon for white bass from my float tube in American Fork Boat Harbor. The spoon was no larger
than a nickel and the big walleye had three whole white bass in its gut. Go figure. Maybe it was
planning to use my small lure to “floss” after the main course.
Walleyes seem to share a few common traits wherever they are found. One of those is that
you will typically catch more with a slow steady retrieve (or troll) than with a faster or jerky motion
on the lure. Many successful walleye trollers jokingly refer to trolling at “paint drying” speed. It is
especially important to troll slowly when dragging a worm harness or a minnow and jig across the
bottom. You will definitely get more hits if you don’t over-work the offerings.
Only during the post spawn period in late spring do walleyes typically become more active
and more prone to chase faster moving lures. This is when the water temps are rising and the fish
are trying to replace calories lost during the spawn when they did not feed. I have seen walleyes
taken around the first part of June that hit spoons or lipless crank baits being trolled much faster
than typical walleye speeds. They will also hit plastics fished with faster retrieves when they are on
the feed. But, for most of the year, if you fish specifically for walleyes you will do better by
presenting lures slow and steady, near the bottom.
Those who troll for walleyes on Utah Lake have learned to adapt to the challenges of shallow
and often murky water. They have found that stealth is critical. If they run gas trolling motors
they need to either use planer boards, to get their offerings well out away from the boat, or to troll
with a lot of line and to make turns to run the lures through water not disturbed by the passing of a
noisy motor overhead. Noise sensitive walleyes usually move out away from a boat as it goes by.
The availability of quiet yet powerful electric trolling motors has been a boon to walleye
trollers. These motors are increasingly popular on both boats and pontoons. A quiet running
electric allows the angler to move slowly across shallow flats, trailing baits or lures fairly close to
the boat, but only one rod length out, and to still catch a fair number of fish. In fact, you should try
to keep your crank bait or plastic down at about a 45-degree angle and not too far back, to
minimize snagging on the occasional rock or other debris on even the flattest bottoms. You can lift
or drop the offerings to maintain close proximity to the bottom without actually dragging the
bottom. Of course, rigging with a snag-resistant bottom bouncer rig can help a lot too, although it
may impede the action, feel and appeal of finesse plastics.
Trolling is the most efficient way to search for walleyes when they are scattered and not
orienting to shorelines or structure. Otherwise you are obliged to just “chuck and chance it”.
There are times when the fish congregate near shore…for spawning or feeding or to hang out in the
warmer water coming in from springs. This is when the bank tanglers, waders, tubers and tooners
have the best of it. In those situations you must position yourself in the right spot and cast into the
precise area where the fish are holding or cruising. Once you get “in the zone” you can sometimes
catch fish after fish while everybody else in the area is getting only casting practice.
Dedicated walleye chasers on Utah Lake carry big tackle boxes filled with a variety of
spinners, spoons and “hardbaits”…as well as the universal soft plastics. And, there will be
days…or times during any given day…when one lure will seemingly be more productive than any
of the others. That’s why it pays to bring an assortment. You never know what they might want
and sometimes you have to serve up everything in your arsenal before you get bit.
Walleye are well known for their attraction to blades…regular spinners, spinnerbaits,
crawler harness rigs and jigs with spinner blades…like the Roadrunners. The flash and vibration
put out by rotating blades draws in the toothy critters and gets them to open their mouths when
nothing else seems to work. Spinners can be fished by casting and retrieving, trolling or even by
vertical jigging from a boat or under the ice.
“Lipless crankbaits”…like Rat-L-Traps and Rattlin’ Raps…also account for a lot of
walleyes every year on Utah Lake. These so-called “idiot baits” are fished by casting and retrieving
with no special action required. They wiggle and rattle their way back in. Active or inactive
walleyes will bite them. But…rocks like them too. Like all lures, they can be costly if you let them
spend too much time too close to the structure.
There are countless crankbaits that include a diving lip on the front. Some are more
minnow shaped…like Rapalas. Others have deeper or wider bodies. The smaller the lip…plastic
or metal…the shallower the lure will dive. Those with bigger lips dive deeper. These are not good
for shallow rocky areas such as the rocky shelves off Lincoln Beach or at Bird Island.
One of the longtime favorite lipped crankbaits on Utah Lake is the Thin Fin. It used to be
the standard for the walleyes but was discontinued by the Storm Company…the original
manufacturer. It has since been bought out and resurrected and can be purchased from several
sources. The deep narrow shape and unique vibration really appeal to walleyes. It also runs less
than 6 feet deep which helps reduce your expenses when fishing shallower waters. They are also
great for trolling over wide areas when searching out walleye holding zones.
One concept used widely by knowledgeable Utah Lake walleye anglers is the use of hardbaits
which float when resting but dive when retrieved…floating-diving crankbaits. These usually dive
no more than a few feet and return to the surface when you quit reeling. That can help a lot when
you need to free one from a snag. If you break it off, it may still float to the top so that you can
retrieve it. Otherwise, the floating and diving thing can sometimes be appealing to predators.
Then there are the spoons and “blade baits”…like Kastmasters and Sonars. These lures can
be effective when cast and retrieved…or trolled…but they work better for jigging through the ice.
Walleyes also munch “fur and feathers”. Jigs made from hair or feathers account for a lot
of walleyes every year. The use of these jigs has declined with the increased availability of plastics
in such a wide variety of shapes and colors. But it is hard to beat the live action of a marabou
jig…especially in cold water.
Ditto for flies. Walleyes are not widely recognized as good targets for a fly rod, but in the
shallow waters of Utah Lake it is simple and effective to present big patterns that represent small
white bass, bullheads or other forage species. And it is actually easier to swim a fly slowly over
shallow rocks than to work even the lightest jig the same way without snagging up. Back in the
1970’s and ‘80’s I did more fly fishing. I caught many walleyes on flies…both with a fly rod and on
flies fished with spinning tackle.
Yes, there are a lot of baits and lures that MIGHT catch walleyes…at any given time on any given
day. But, the trick is to accumulate enough knowledge about the fish and their eccentricities to
enable you to figure out the place and the pattern on any specific trip to the water.
There are probably more things that WILL catch walleyes than things that won’t. I am
amazed at some of the stories I have heard about what people have been using when they caught
one of those finicky fishies When I have watched groups of crazed walleye floggers working over a
small piece of water I see just about every type, size, shape and color of lure imaginable. And,
when the fish are active, it seems like they hit just about everything at one time or another.
I have long believed that whatever you fish will work, as long as you fish it in the right place,
the right way at the right time…and that you fish it with confidence. Yes, colors and types of lures
can sometimes seem very important, but fishing with constant expectation of success and being
ready for it will put more walleye fillets on your table.
Walleyes have been in Utah Lake since about 1952. I have fished them since the early ‘60’s.
In those days the locals called them “pike”…a shortened version of the equally incorrect name
“walleyed pike”. They were still a novelty in Utah and nobody really knew much about them.
Utah has always been a trout state. Until recent times most Utah anglers fished primarily
for “slimers” (as walleye fans call trout). Until sometime around the mid ‘80’s very few Utah
fishermen aggressively or successfully pursued walleyes. Most Utah Lake walleyes taken by anglers
were snagged while running upstream to spawn in the early spring. Walleyes are universally prized
for their great table qualities but not many Utah troutaholics knew enough about these fish to catch
them legally or with any regularity during the early years…and many still don’t.
Before the Utah DWR changed the regulations Utah Lake had generous limits and no size
restrictions on walleyes. There were some efforts to enforce no-snagging statutes but a whole lot of
these nocturnal fish were snagged at night during their spawning runs. Lots of walleye went home
with violators who could never have hoped to catch them legally.
For many years there have been closures on all tributaries entering Utah Lake during the
months when walleyes are spawning. This has helped reduce illegal harvest and to maintain a
healthy population of spawning adults. There have also been varying slot restrictions on length,
which reduces the number of larger spawning females harvested. The downside of this has been
that larger walleyes grow skinny during low water years when their food sources are diminished.
They feed mainly on white bass and the young of other species and when those prey fish have a poor
spawn cycle it impacts the walleyes too.
BASIC HABITS & HABITAT
Utah’s angling contingent includes a lot of “transplants”…people who moved here from
other states. Those who come from the upper Midwest or other walleye venues are happy to find
old “marble eyes” in the beehive state. However, they soon find that they have to relearn much of
what they thought they knew about these fish. The walleyes in shallow, warm, murky Utah Lake
just don’t act like the fish “back home” from typically deeper, colder and clearer walleye waters.
Of course there are some walleye traits that remain the same no matter where they are
found. They are always aggressive and successful predators and are usually at or near the top of
the food chain. They have great night vision and a sensitive lateral line so they are well equipped to
hunt in the dark and/or in murky water where other fish are at a disadvantage. So even though old
Utah Lake can get pretty “soupy” the wallies generally get along just fine.
Walleyes also tend to be “structure-oriented”. That means that you are more likely to find
them along break lines, from deep to shallow (or vice versa), near rocks or around sunken brush or
reeds. Places like Lincoln Beach, Bird Island and along the rock dikes of harbors are well known
by Utah Lake walleye fans for their natural attractiveness to wallies.
Even more important than having something to rub up against is food availability. Walleyes
everywhere follow their food supply wherever it goes. That means that you can sometimes catch
walleyes where you might never expect to find them. A good example is in the Great Lakes, and
other deep waters around the country. Walleyes traditionally remain close to the bottom as they
cruise for groceries. But they can sometimes be taken well above the bottom, over fairly deep
water, if their preferred food source is suspending at that depth. Of course that seldom applies in
Utah Lake because it is a shallow lake. But sometimes you can find them in either very shallow
water or out over featureless mud flats if that is where they are finding food.
If you know what the walleyes are feeding on and where they are finding that food you have
a better shot at scoring some tasty white fillets. Of course the food sources may vary from month to
month throughout the year as will the areas where food is most available. Furthermore, the size of
the average fish caught may also vary by area and food source.
For example, bigger walleyes typically follow schools of white bass. Smaller wallies
generally target smaller white bass and/or the fry of bluegills or crappies…or young carp before
they grow too large to be on the menu. It is not unusual to have a big whitie-munching walleye
accept the lure or bait you are fishing for the smaller fish. On the other hand, if you see
midsummer “boils” where schools of white bass are chasing small prey species you can often pick
up small walleyes around the fringes of the action on jigs or spinners.
There are times when large walleyes seek out the tasty and nutrient-rich flesh of black
bullheads. This happens most often when white bass are scarce and/or the “mudders” are more
plentiful. During the post spawn period in late spring it is not uncommon to find groups of big
walleyes laying in ambush at the mouth of the Jordan River. As the water sweeps by, pulled out of
the lake by the pumps, both white bass and bullheads get picked off by the hungry horde of
opportunistic walleyes. Fishing big black jigs or flashy hard baits can sometimes produce
memorable action on some of the biggest toothy critters in the lake.
There are many different potential food sources for walleyes in Utah Lake. In lean times,
they will dine on everything from leeches to aquatic insects. During times of plenty you may find
remnants of almost any fish species in the gut of harvested ‘eyes. Voracious walleyes will chase
down and swallow adult bluegills, crappies, suckers (even the protected Junies), carp up to a pound
in weight, bullheads, young channel cats, largemouth bass and even their own young. Anything
with protein and calories is potentially on the menu.
Now, how does that affect your fishing for them? The good news is that it makes walleyes a
lot easier to catch in Utah Lake than in some of the “traditional” walleye waters that have only one
or two major food sources. In some walleye waters the fish become “patterned” on a specific forage
species, of a specific size, and it can be difficult to entice them with anything other than natural bait
of the right kind and the right size. Utah Lake ‘eyes are more omnivorous and will often bite first
and sort out the identity later.
The bad news side of this situation is that because there is often so much food available for
walleyes in Utah Lake they are not as easy to catch as they are in lakes with limited forage. It is not
uncommon for our walleyes to feed only at night and for only a few minutes every other day or so.
They can get plenty of food during a short feeding cycle and then ignore everything else until they
are empty again. This has contributed to their local reputation for being tough to catch. They can
be exasperating. You have to be good…and lucky…good and lucky.
Utah Lake walleyes have developed quite a following. Today there are far more anglers who
target them than ever before. Some dedicated local wallie-chasers have been at it for many years
and SHOULD know enough about both the lake and their quarry to be able to score on almost
every trip. Not so. Even the most knowledgeable among them still suffers their share of blank
days. And, that is a big part of the appeal of those snaggle-toothed predators. They are
unpredictable and always a challenge. Every walleye brought to net is well earned.