Walleye, Sander vitreus
Identifying characteristics: (Native Fish) Two dorsal fins separated into a spiny and a soft-rayed portion, cloudy eye, white tips on anal and lower caudal fins, canine teeth.
Walleye are the largest member of the perch family. They lack the distinctive vertical bar makings of the Yellow Perch and have fan-like canine teeth. These battling fish are exciting to catch, delicious to eat and because they feed actively all winter, they provide a fine year-round sport fishery.
In spring and fall Walleyes congregate in shallow bay waters of the great Lakes and some inland lakes, where they seek out rocky areas and submerged bars. During the bright part of the day they retreat in schools to the shade of deep waters or submerged objects. In the summer, Walleyes range into cooler, deeper waters. They prefer a water temperature of 65 to 70 degrees F and are seldom found in waters deeper than 50 feet.
Walleyes are greedy predators. They eat small bass, trout, pike, perch and sunfishes. Prime feeding times are early morning and evening. Although in turbid waters Walleyes are active throughout the day. Walleyes often associate with Yellow Perch, Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike and Muskellunge.
In March, April and even May, Walleyes spawn over rock shoals in tributaries or lakes. Males mature at age two to four years, females at three to six years. The average Walleye caught by anglers is five years old and weighs from one to three pounds. Northern Pike and Muskellunge prey heavily on Walleyes, while Yellow Perch, Smallmouth Bass and Lake Whitefish compete with Walleyes for food.
A close relative and look-alike of the Walleye, the Sauger shares habitat and, to some extent food sources with this species. Sauger are more adaptable to turbid water than Walleyes are. Like Walleyes, they are sight feeders which shy away from intense light, so they are most active at dawn, dusk and on cloudy days. Immature Saugers feed on plankton and aquatic insects, while adults prey on small fish, insects, crayfish and leeches.
For more information on how and where to catch Walleye see our Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them and Better Fishing Waters.
Walleye graphic courtesy of Joseph R. Tomelleri and copyrighted.