Best Walleye Fishing Baits for Beginners: Top Live and Artificial Options

Walleye, the prized game fish known for their delicious taste and challenging behavior, have captured the hearts of anglers across the United States. To successfully land these elusive creatures legally, it’s crucial to understand their feeding habits and preferences, as well as obtain the proper fishing licenses and follow regulations. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the top baits for catching walleye, including artificial lures, live bait options, and effective rigging techniques. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or just starting out, this article will provide you with the knowledge and strategies to maximize your chances of reeling in a trophy walleye while ensuring a safe and compliant fishing experience.

Obtaining Proper Fishing Licenses and Following Regulations

Before hitting the water, it’s essential to obtain the necessary fishing licenses and familiarize yourself with local regulations. Fishing without a valid license can result in hefty fines and penalties, so it’s crucial to prioritize compliance. Many states offer online resources and mobile apps to purchase licenses conveniently, and some even provide discounts for youth, seniors, or multi-year licenses.

In addition to licenses, be aware of regulations regarding catch limits, size restrictions, and seasonal closures. These measures are in place to promote sustainable fishing practices and ensure the long-term health of walleye populations. By adhering to these rules, you not only avoid legal consequences but also contribute to the preservation of the sport for future generations.

Artificial Lures: Versatility and Effectiveness

Artificial lures offer anglers a wide range of options for targeting walleye in various conditions. Here are some of the top choices:

Jigs

Jigs are versatile lures that can mimic a variety of prey, including minnows and crawlers. They can be fished vertically or cast and retrieved along structure, making them effective in a range of situations. Some popular jig options include:

  • Bucktail jigs: The natural hair on these jigs pulsates in the water, creating an enticing action.
  • Soft plastic jigs: These offer a lifelike appearance and texture, with options like twister tails and paddle tails.
  • Hair jigs: The flowing hair on these jigs creates a subtle, undulating action that can trigger strikes.

When selecting jigs, consider size, color, and weight based on the conditions and prey you’re trying to imitate. Be mindful of local regulations regarding the use of certain lure types or materials.

Crankbaits

Crankbaits are excellent for covering water quickly and triggering reaction strikes from walleye. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and diving depths, allowing you to target specific areas where walleye are holding. Some effective crankbait types include:

  • Minnow baits: These slender, elongated crankbaits mimic baitfish and can be fished at various depths.
  • Lipless crankbaits: With a tight wobbling action, these baits excel in cold water and can be fished through vegetation.
  • Diving crankbaits: These baits have a bill that allows them to reach specific depths, making them ideal for targeting suspended walleye.

When choosing crankbaits, match the size and color to the prevalent baitfish in the area, and select a diving depth that corresponds to where the walleye are located. Consult local regulations to ensure your chosen crankbait meets any size or material restrictions.

Spinner Rigs

Spinner rigs combine the flash and vibration of a spinning blade with the appeal of live bait, making them highly effective for walleye. They can be trolled along drop-offs, weed edges, and other structure to locate and catch fish. Popular spinner rig options include:

  • Nightcrawler harnesses: These rigs feature a spinner blade and a nightcrawler, creating an irresistible combination of flash and scent.
  • Minnow rigs: By replacing the nightcrawler with a minnow, these rigs offer a more natural presentation.
  • Slow death rigs: These unique rigs use a bent hook to give the nightcrawler a corkscrew action, enticing even finicky walleye.

Experiment with blade sizes, colors, and bait options to find the most productive combination for your fishing conditions. Ensure your chosen rig complies with local regulations regarding the use of live bait or specific components.

Soft Plastics

Soft plastic lures have gained popularity among walleye anglers due to their lifelike appearance and versatile presentation options. They can be rigged in various ways, including on jigs, drop shot rigs, and Carolina rigs. Some top soft plastic choices for walleye include:

  • Minnow imitations: Soft plastic minnows, like flukes or paddle tails, closely resemble walleye’s natural prey.
  • Leech imitations: These baits have a segmented body and undulating action that mimics the movement of leeches.
  • Worm imitations: Soft plastic worms, like ribbon tail worms, can be effective when fished slowly along the bottom.

When selecting colors, consider natural hues like black, brown, and green, as well as brighter options like chartreuse and orange for low-light conditions or stained water. Verify that your chosen soft plastic lures comply with any regulations regarding the use of specific materials or designs.

Live Bait: The Natural Advantage

While artificial lures can be highly effective, there’s no denying the natural appeal of live bait. Here are some of the top live bait options for catching walleye:

Nightcrawlers

Nightcrawlers, also known as earthworms, are a classic choice for walleye fishing. Their undulating action and scent are hard for walleye to resist. They can be fished on various rigs, including:

  • Slip sinker rigs: This setup allows the nightcrawler to move naturally while keeping it near the bottom.
  • Floating jig heads: By using a floating jig head and a nightcrawler, you can present the bait just off the bottom, mimicking a drifting worm.
  • Spinner rigs: As mentioned earlier, combining a nightcrawler with a spinner blade can be a deadly combination.

When using nightcrawlers, be sure to hook them securely and replace them often to maintain a fresh, lively presentation. Additionally, check local regulations regarding the use of live bait, as some areas may have restrictions or prohibitions.

Minnows

Minnows are a staple in the diet of adult walleye, making them an excellent live bait choice. They can be hooked through the lips or behind the dorsal fin to create a natural swimming action. Some popular minnow species for walleye fishing include:

  • Emerald shiners: These slender, silvery minnows are a favorite among walleye anglers.
  • Golden shiners: With their larger size and flashy appearance, golden shiners can be effective for targeting trophy walleye.
  • Fathead minnows: These hardy minnows are readily available and can be used in a variety of sizes.

When using minnows, be sure to keep them lively by using a quality bait bucket or livewell, and change them out regularly to maintain their effectiveness. Consult local regulations regarding the use of specific minnow species or size restrictions.

Leeches

Leeches may not be the most appealing bait to handle, but their unique stretching and coiling action can be irresistible to walleye, especially on calmer days. They can be hooked through the sucker end or threaded onto a jig for a more secure presentation. Some effective leech fishing techniques include:

  • Slip bobber rigs: Suspending a leech under a slip bobber allows it to move naturally at a specific depth.
  • Lindy rigs: This setup uses a sliding sinker and a leader to present the leech near the bottom with minimal resistance.
  • Jig and leech combinations: Threading a leech onto a jig can create a subtle, lifelike presentation.

Leeches are most effective in the early summer when water temperatures are cooler, and they can be particularly productive during low-light periods. However, be mindful of any local regulations regarding the use of leeches or other live bait, as some areas may have restrictions in place.

Rigging Techniques for Success

Proper rigging is essential for presenting your baits in the most natural and effective manner. Here are two popular rigging techniques for walleye:

Slip Sinker Rigs

Slip sinker rigs are versatile and allow for natural bait movement while providing the necessary weight to reach the desired depth. To create a slip sinker rig:

  1. Slide a sinker onto your main line, followed by a bead to protect the knot.
  2. Tie on a swivel, then attach a leader (usually 18-36 inches) to the other end of the swivel.
  3. Finish by tying on a hook and baiting it with your choice of live bait or soft plastic.

This setup allows the bait to move freely and naturally, while the sinker keeps it in the strike zone.

Float Rigs

Float rigs, also known as slip bobber rigs, are excellent for suspending bait at a specific depth and providing a visual strike indicator. To assemble a float rig:

  1. Slide a slip bobber knot onto your main line, followed by a bead and then the slip bobber.
  2. Thread on another bead and tie the line to a swivel.
  3. Attach a leader to the other end of the swivel, then tie on a hook and bait it.
  4. Adjust the slip bobber knot to set the desired depth, and watch for the bobber to twitch or disappear when a walleye takes the bait.

Presentation: The Key to Triggering Strikes

Even with the right bait and rigging, proper presentation is crucial for enticing walleye to bite. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Use a stealthy approach: Walleye are sensitive to noise and vibrations, so minimize disturbances when moving your boat or casting.
  • Mimic natural prey movement: Whether you’re using live bait or artificial lures, aim to present them in a way that resembles the movement of walleye’s natural prey. This may involve a slow retrieve, periodic pauses, or allowing the bait to drift with the current.
  • Vary your retrieval speed: Experiment with different retrieval speeds to find what triggers strikes. In colder water, a slower presentation is often more effective.
  • Be patient: Walleye may follow a bait for some time before committing to a strike, so don’t be too quick to reel in. If you feel a slight tap or resistance, wait a moment before setting the hook.

By mastering the art of presentation and adapting to the conditions at hand, you’ll be well on your way to consistently catching walleye while adhering to local regulations and promoting sustainable fishing practices.

Seasonal Considerations and Bait Selection

Walleye behavior and preferences change throughout the year, so it’s essential to adjust your bait selection and presentation accordingly. Here’s a general guide:

Spring

In early spring, walleye are typically found in shallow, warmer waters as they prepare to spawn. Slow-moving baits like jigs tipped with minnows or nightcrawlers can be effective. As the water warms and walleye move to post-spawn areas, crankbaits and spinner rigs become more productive. Be mindful of any seasonal closures or restrictions during the spawning period to protect walleye populations.

Summer

During the summer months, walleye often seek cooler, deeper waters during the day and move to shallower areas to feed at night. Trolling crankbaits and spinner rigs along drop-offs and structure can be effective, as well as using slip bobber rigs with leeches or nightcrawlers in low-light conditions. Check for any regulations regarding the use of specific baits or techniques during this time.

Fall

As water temperatures cool in the fall, walleye become more active and feed heavily in preparation for winter. This is an excellent time to use larger, more aggressive baits like crankbaits and soft plastics. Jigs tipped with minnows can also be productive as walleye move to deeper, rocky areas. Consult local regulations for any changes in bag limits or size restrictions during the fall season.

Winter

In colder regions, walleye fishing can continue through the ice. Jigging spoons tipped with minnow heads or soft plastics are popular choices, as well as using tip-ups with live minnows suspended just off the bottom. Be sure to obtain the necessary ice fishing licenses and follow all safety protocols when venturing onto frozen waters.

By understanding these seasonal patterns and adapting your bait selection and presentation, you’ll be able to effectively target walleye year-round while promoting sustainable fishing practices and adhering to local regulations.

Conclusion

Catching walleye consistently requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and adaptability, as well as a commitment to responsible and legal fishing practices. By understanding walleye behavior, selecting the right baits, and presenting them effectively, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle the challenge of targeting these elusive fish. However, it’s equally important to obtain the necessary fishing licenses, familiarize yourself with local regulations, and prioritize sustainable fishing practices to ensure the long-term health of walleye populations and the preservation of the sport for future generations.

Remember, fishing is not just about catching fish; it’s about enjoying the great outdoors, connecting with nature, and creating lasting memories. By following the tips and techniques outlined in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to a successful and rewarding walleye fishing experience, all while promoting responsible and ethical angling practices.

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