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Life Cycle and Habits of Walleye

By Iain Loveman

Iain Loveman

Nature of the Beast

In order to become more proficient at catching walleye you should become familiar with the fish itself and its habits. So bear with me and let's get past the scientific stuff.

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Actinopterygii Perciformes Percidae Sander

Which finally ends with the species

Species (Stizostedion vitreum) of pikeperch (family Percidae), carnivorous food and game fishes found in clear, cool lakes and rivers of eastern North America.

Walleyes are slender and darkly mottled. They have two dorsal fins and generally weigh less than 10 lbs (4.5 kg), though some may weigh up to 24 lbs (11 kg).

They are at most 35 in. (90 cm) long. Walleyes are not true pikes.
Courtesy of Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Life Cycle

The walleye is a large member of the Perch family and is sought after for its mild flavored meat. Walleye have a long life span and typically the females grow much faster and larger than the males. Walleyes usually start spawning early in the spring when water temperatures reach 42° to 45°F.

The female prefers to lay her eggs on gravel bars or rocky shoals and the eggs are fertilized by one or two males. Young walleye grow at a fantastic rate and by the late spring the fry will grow to 1 1/2 to 2 in. and by the end of summer they will have grown to 4 to 6 inches in length.

They will continue to grow at this rate for the next four years at which time their growth rate will decline.

Freshly hatched walleye eat plankton/zooplankton, then as they grow into young 'fry' they change their eating habits to small aquatic insect life and then to minnows.

Once walleye have reached about six to ten inches in length, they will gradually wean off the insect life, and primarily eat minnows. This will be their food of choice but any walleye will still make a meal out of a juicy insect, but for the most part, once walleye get larger, they need more and larger food, which minnows provide.

Usually, walleye at his stage will eat ravenously, grow quickly, and will need to eat as much food as they can to sustain their rapid growth and once a walleye is mature, and large, they must continue to eat a large amounts of food, just to maintain themselves.

Walleye continue to grow throughout their whole lifetime.

Walleye are predators and are very good at what they do and what they do is eat and often. This is proven in the fact that they grow to a good size in a relatively short period of time.

Now let's talk about those "Eyes"

Walleye have big marble-like eyes which have a reflective pigment layer in the retina known as tapetum lucidum which is very similiar in nature to cat's eyes in that they reflect light which allows them to see well in low-light conditions which occur with stained, rough or breaking waters.

The disadvantage is that it makes them light sensitive.

Now if you think about it this will give them a huge advantage over their prey in deeper water and because they can see there is nothing preventing them from going into the deeper parts of a lake.

I am sure you have guessed by now that the name, Walleye is directly related to their eyes.

Walleye Habits

Walleye are very much like us in that they can live in and adapt to a variety of habitats and that they are creatures of habit.

Now, given their nature you can start to predict where and when you will find your next tasty walleye meal. You could safely say that you would find them in the open water in the 25 to 30 ft. range during the winter months.

Once the water temperature reaches the upper forties in the early spring they will want to spawn and move into the mid depths during the day, in the 10 to 20 ft. range and even shallower at night.

If you are fishing in clear waters during the day you will find that walleye prefer to hide in dark areas or low light areas. They will also come out at night to feed and because they are cruising predators they will cover a large body of water in one night.

During the mid summer months through October you'll find that most walleye are located in 15 to 25 ft. of water during daylight hours (depending on the clarity of the water) and at night they move into shallow water or the move into open water and remain at the same depth.

  Fishing Article Of Interest: Walleye Fishing Tips