Fly Fishing for Walleye

spawning walleye
spawning walleye

Why is Fly Fishing for Walleye so Fun?

Fly fishing for walleye is one of the most exciting times for fly fishermen. These freshwater fish put up an incredible battle when hooked. They are powerful fish, especially when hooked in a river. Walleye are a fun species of fish to target on the fly. They are also great-tasting fish to eat.

This article covers everything a fly fisherman will need to be successful in catching walleye from a lake or river. Whether you’re a seasoned trout bum or brand new to fly fishing, you’ll walk away ready to chase walleye on the fly.

The Top Flies for Walleye

One of the biggest keys for fly fishing success is matching the hatch by using flies that mimic the prey walleye eat. Here are 10 “must-have” walleye flies that should cover you in most situations:

  1. Clouser Minnow – This is arguably the most famous and productive walleye fly of all time. The dressing of bucktail, flash, and weighted dumbbell eyes allow it to be fished deep and with an enticing swimming action.
  2. Woolly Sculpin – Representing one of the primary forage species for walleye, the Woolly Sculpin’s bulky profile pushes water and triggers strikes.
  3. Zuddler Minnow – Another classic streamer pattern, the Zuddler’s marabou tail gives it incredible underwater motion.
  4. Stealth Bomber – Sparsely dressed but heavy, the Stealth Bomber sinks rapidly to get down in deep walleye lairs. Great for cold water.
  5. Trailer Hitch Minnow – Combining a sculpin helmet with a dressed minnow body, this is an excellent searching pattern.
  6. Egg Sucking Leech – Leeches on and around weed beds are a key food source, making this a “must-have” fly pattern for weed walleye anglers.
  7. Nuclear Egg Leech – The combination of a bright egg sac and leech dressing works well for triggering neutral and negative fish. Good for cold and warm water.
  8. Mini Game Changer – This small crayfish pattern excels for tempting finicky walleye when downsized offerings are needed.
  9. Slumpbuster – With its bulky saddle hackles and rubber legs, the Slumpbuster pushes a ton of water to trigger reaction strikes.
  10. Walleye Weapon – Featuring a holographic, flashy body, this is a great searching/attractor pattern for stained or off-color water.

Of course, have fun experimenting with colors, sizes, and dressings to find your personal favorites. The key is giving walleye something baitfish-esque, moving, and visible based on the water conditions.

Fly Line and Leader Recommendations for Walleye

You’ll fish walleye flies on relatively heavy and sturdy fly rods, meaning you’ll also need stout lines and leaders. The fly fishing market is flooded with different brands and strengths. Below is a guideline to follow when looking for line for fly fishing for walleye.

Fly Lines

  • Weight Forward Line – A weight forward 7 or 8 line is standard for most walleye rods. The heavier front taper helps load the rod to drive large, wind-resistant flies.
  • Sinking Lines – As walleye are often found relating to bottom structure or holding at specific depths, sinking lines (full sink, sink tips, etc.) are very useful.

Leaders

  • Streamer Leaders – Long and butt-heavy, streamer leaders turn over large, wind-resistant flies. 7-10 feet long with a 15-20 lb buttsection tapering down to 8-10 lb tippet is typical.
  • Fluorocarbon – Anglers should use fluorocarbon leaders and tippets as the dense, low-vis material gives an edge versus traditional monofilament.

How to Set Up Your Walleye Fly Rod

The typical walleye fly rod is a moderate-fast to fast action blank around 8-9 feet for 7 or 8 weights. A quality reel with a strong backbone and drag is essential for battling walleye. These longer rods suggested help in fighting larger fish. Fly fishing for walleye usually happens in the spring when walleye are spawning. It’s not uncommon to catch a 10 lb. plus walleye while fly fishing the river.

When rigging up, first run the fly line through the rod guides. Then, using a nail knot or manufacturer’s recommended method, attach the backing to the reel’s arbor and then the front end of the fly line. This prevents the line from pulling off the reel during a big walleye’s blistering runs.

Next, add your sinking tip, leader, and tippet. Terminal connections like a nail knot, triple surgeon’s knot, or braided loop can join components securely. Finish with your favorite walleye fly. Check retailer recommendations for the proper line, leader, and tippet for your walleye fly rod and reel.

Walleye Fly RodReel Size
8 wt, 9′5-8 wt
9 wt, 8’6″7-9 wt

Top Fly Tactics and Techniques for Walleye

While walleye are renowned drift feeders and can be caught swinging streamer flies across current seams, here are some of the top productive tactics for proactively fishing flies:

Stripping Streamers

One of the most productive and exciting ways to fly fish for walleye is stripping big, baitfish-imitating streamer patterns. Work the fly with a stripping cadence of occasional twitches and pops mixed with periods of rest, similar to how live baitfish behave. If you are sight fishing, try and drift the fly across the nose of the walleye. The walleye is more likely to strike when it sees the fly up close.

Vertical Jigging

When fly fishing for walleye on a lake, position your boat over key depth contours, points, humps, and drop-offs. Then use countdown methods to jig and vertically work your fly up off the bottom with constant motion and contact. Walleye will often inspect and strike jiggled, fluttering flies worked vertically.

Working Shoreline Cover

Walleye love ambushing prey around shoreline cover like weed edges, docks, logs, and rocks. Methodically work flies parallel to and tight to the cover, stripping and twitching to draw reaction strikes. Wear polarized sunglasses and watch for walleye shadowing or striking your fly. Look for rocks that stick out causing current breaks in the stream, these are great places to look for walleye.

Pitching Into Gaps

Holes, cracks, or openings in weed clumps are always worth blind-pitching a fly into. Lift the fly off bottom with twitches and pops, allowing time for the following walleye to find it. Color changes and flashes can trigger strikes in these visual feeding situations. Look for deep spots around shallow shoals. Walleye will hide in these deep holes hoping to ambush bait fish.

Long Lining for Roamers

When walleye are roaming flats or suspended higher in open water, shoot lots of lines and long, stripping streamers and working them in a swimming motion. The length gives big strips room to impart life-like swimming actions that walleye can’t resist striking. Electronics will help in this situation. Try marking fish before setting up on a flat where walleye might be.

Fly Fishing for Walleye Locations

While walleye can be caught fly fishing across most of the northern United States and Canada, here are some of the “bucket list” destinations for this unique sport:

Lake Erie Tributaries

The rivers and streams feeding Lake Erie offer exceptional fly fishing for walleye during springtime spawning runs. Access is abundant on legendary rivers like the Maumee, Sandusky, and Grand. The Maumee River in the springtime is a great place to learn how to fly fish for walleye. There are plenty of fish in the river system and you can learn what works and what doesn’t.

Green Bay, Lake Michigan

The protected waters of Green Bay and its tributaries offer ample opportunity to target walleye, especially in late spring, throughout summer, and into fall. Great urban fisheries exist right in downtown Milwaukee and Green Bay.

Minnesota’s Lake System

Minnesota’s 10,000+ lakes seem tailor-made for walleye fly fishing. From small, fertile prairie lakes to sprawling reservoirs, options are unlimited. The Mississippi River holds prime walleye too.

Canadian Manitoba

Traveling to Manitoba should be on every fly fisherman’s list of places to go. Manitoba’s fly-in lakes and remote wilderness waters offer untapped, trophy walleye fly fishing at its finest. There are opportunities for unpressured fish in Manitoba.

Northern Wisconsin Flowages

The flooded reservoirs of northern Wisconsin, like the Willow Flowage and Chippewa Flowage, have built reputations with walleye fly aficionados. Generous catch-and-release regulations help sustain strong populations. Wisconsin gets a strong spawning walleye run. Look for rivers that feed lakes.