Minnesota is well-known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” With so much water covering the state’s surface, it is naturally home to numerous aquatic species. And while anglers each have their favorite fish to catch, the state has decided one particular species is heads above the rest: The walleye (Sander vitreus).
Understandably, the walleye takes top billing in the state. After all, its unique characteristics and tasty flavor captivate nature enthusiasts and anglers. In this comprehensive article, we delve into the fascinating world of the walleye. So, keep reading to discover more about the state fish of Minnesota and the waters it lives in.
The walleye (Sander vitreus) belongs to the family Percidae within the order Perciformes. Percidae is a diverse family of freshwater fish known as the perches. There are over 200 species within the family, including notable members such as yellow perch (Perca flavescens), sauger (Sander canadensis), darters (Etheostomatinae), and more. The walleye sometimes gets referred to as the yellow pickerel or yellow pike.
Habitat and Distribution
Walleye prefer cooler waters and live in streams, rivers, reservoirs, and lakes. However, walleye are not picky about their surroundings as long as they have cooler temperatures. So they are quite abundant in northern states like Minnesota.
This fish is native to Minnesota, so anglers and nature lovers stand a good chance of coming across the beloved state fish. It is readily found in lakes like Lake of the Woods, Mille Lacs, Lake Vermilion, Leech, Upper and Lower Red Lake, and Winnibigoshish. However, the state is also introducing the walleye to other bodies of water. Currently, there is an abundant walleye population in 100 streams and 1,700 lakes in Minnesota.
The walleye derives its name from its most distinctive feature: its eyes. This fish has large, reflective eyes that glow like a cat’s eyes, even in low-light conditions. Their bodies are elongated and streamlined, with olive or gold coloring on their backs. This coloring gradually fades to a lighter shade on their sides and belly. It has a dark spot on the bottom of its dorsal fin and a white patch at the base of its tail. Both these characteristics help distinguish it from its close relative, the sauger.
Adults typically don’t exceed 31 inches (80 cm0 in length. But the largest walleye ever caught was a whopping 42 inches (107 cm) long. Depending on where you fish, you may catch walleye as small as 1 to 2 pounds or as large as 20 pounds. Walleye have sharp teeth that ensure they can efficiently capture and consume their prey.
Walleye are opportunistic carnivores with a diverse diet. Their feeding habits adapt to the seasons and available prey. The adults primarily consume smaller fish, such as yellow perch, shiners, ciscoes, and minnows. But younger walleye tend to pursue smaller meals like insects, leeches, and snails.
Since walleye have adapted to see well in lower-light environments, they prefer to feed at dusk and dawn. Doing so also ensures they can more easily capture prey that cannot see well in low light.
During the height of the day, walleye retreat toward a more sheltered environment. They prefer hiding amongst logs, cliffs, weeds, and rocky areas. If their home does not have adequate shelter from the bright light of day, they will dive down deeper into the water. But walleye love choppy, turbulent water and stormy weather. So when the water starts to get a little rough, they will become more active.
Walleye spawn in the spring when waters are just warming up above freezing. One adult female can produce as many as 100,000 eggs in a single season!
Abundance and Fishing
The walleye population in Minnesota remains robust, thanks to the state’s unwavering commitment to fisheries management and conservation efforts. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) diligently monitors walleye populations and implements regulations to ensure sustainability.
The state also diligently monitors the walleye fishing season. Their efforts have proved fruitful. Minnesota is considered the premiere destination for walleye fishing. Anglers flock to the state from all over for a chance to catch one of these prized fishes.
In general, walleye season runs from mid-May to mid-February. It shuts down during peak spawning season so the fish population can safely reproduce. Depending on which body of water you hope to fish in, there may be local regulations to adhere to. So the DNR encourages prospective anglers to do their due diligence before heading out.
Where to Fish for Walleye in Minnesota
Since walleye live in nearly 2,000 lakes and roughly 100 streams and rivers throughout the state, you stand a strong chance of snagging at least one on your fishing trip. While we cannot cover each location in this article, here is a glimpse at some popular fishing spots to get you started.
One of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior, sits on Minnesota’s northeastern border. It provides exceptional walleye fishing opportunities. This massive lake allows anglers to catch trophy-sized walleye amidst the stunning backdrop of pristine waters and rocky shorelines. Head toward Duluth in June for the best chance at landing a prized walleye!
This northeastern Minnesota lake is known for its picturesque scenery and exceptional walleye fishing. Anglers may catch walleye in either shallow bay waters or deeper regions, depending on the time of year they visit. Local lodges and charters will have the best information on where to head and tips for success.
Affectionately known as “Lake Winnie,” Lake Winnibigoshish is another popular destination for walleye anglers. This expansive lake has roughly 57,000 surface acres and gets as deep as 60 feet in spots. That makes the north-central Minnesota lake an ideal place to fish for walleyes.
This river flows along Minnesota’s northern border. It also serves as an important walleye spawning ground. If you are ready for a thrilling fishing adventure, head to Rainy River in the spring. That is when walleye start to migrate up the river. But don’t worry if you can’t make it so far north in the early spring. There’s another opportunity for spectacular walleye fishing here in the fall as the fish begin their second run of the year.
Lake of the Woods
The Lake of the Woods is in the northernmost part of the state. It is a sprawling freshwater lake renowned for its walleye fishing. In fact, it is known as the walleye capital of the world. Eager fishermen can target trophy-sized walleye while enjoying the scenic beauty of the surrounding wilderness.
Lake Mille Lacs
The walleye at Lake Mille Lacs are impressive in size. That may tempt you to head up to central Minnesota for prime fishing. But beware. There are strict regulations on this lake. So check with Minnesota DNR before planning your trip.
This stunning lake straddles the border between Minnesota and Canada. It offers scenic beauty and outstanding walleye fishing opportunities. Its rocky shorelines and ample islands provide the perfect habitat for walleye (and the ideal fishing grounds for anglers).
Two lakes in this part of the state offer fantastic walleye fishing opportunities. They are Leech Lake, one of the state’s largest and most popular walleye destinations, and Cass Lake. Both lakes make wonderful fishing destinations! This list is a small sampling of where you may find walleye in Minnesota. But it is a great place to start your walleye fishing adventures!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/FedBul
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