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Walleye Prey Selection             By Bob Fiesthumel & Pat OGrady

Pat OGrady with nice walleye.  

There is so much information out there on walleye fishing. It seems that everyone is an expert. The problem is most of the information is based on opinion and not on scientific fact. We decided that it was time to change this and only provide information that is based on scientific studies. To be a good walleye fisherman, it is important to know the predation habits of walleye.

Most walleye fishermen know that Walleye actively feed at lower light intensities suspended off the bottom, utilizing structure for cover. But do you know their attack habits and how about the size and shape preference of their prey? Do you know what bait fish they seem to prefer over others and can all of this help you become more effective in your presentation? We think so.


Wildlife biologists Lisa Einfelt and David Wahl conducted a study on walleye predation habits and found some interesting results. The first result observed was that Walleye are more pursuers of prey as opposed to stalkers. They follow schools of bait fish and look for opportunities. They usually attack and consume any baitfish that strays outside the school. This indicates that you should always fish your lure on the extremities of baitfish schools as opposed to the middle of bait fish schools presenting the feeding walleye with that easy opportunity.

Next it was interesting to find out their point of attack. Iíve seen it suggested that walleye hide in wait and attack from the side. This wasnít the case in this study. It seems the walleye like to follow and attack from below and behind inhaling the baitfish from the tail region. Next, they manipulate the prey in their mouth to allow for head first swallowing and ingestion. The exception to this rule is when they are attacking a larger bait fish which would be difficult to maneuver prior to swallowing. This requires a head first attack which does occur but on a lesser scale. This makes a good case for using trailer hooks in the presentation of your lure to ensure you take advantage of the walleyes attack habits. And yes they did find that larger walleye tended to select larger prey. 

Walleye chose prey sizes that were toward the upper end or larger than those predicted to be optimal. For instance they observed a 100-mm walleye consumed prey over a 20-mm size range, whereas for 200-mm fish, this range was about 50 mm. It seemed that body depth of the baitfish offers more of a constraint than body length. For bait fish with larger depth bodies the walleye would selectively pick out smaller targets. They also preferred baitfish with more of a contour at the head and the tail. This probably has a lot to do with their smaller mouth openings and has been learned over thousands years of evolution. 

The lesson here is to fish lures with proper contour that have less depth and may be a little longer in size. It also seemed that Walleye preferred bait fish that lacked a spine and stiff body structure. Even though gizzard shad have more body depth they lacked a spine and had bodies that could easily be compressed for swallowing. Gizzard shad were preferred over both golden shiners and especially blue gill. Learn what baitfish exists in the fishery you are going to be fishing. Next watch the hatch so to speak utilizing your knowledge of the baitfish that would be preferred based on the above results. 

Obviously blue gill are less preferred and golden shiners and especially gizzard shad are more preferred targets. Do your homework. Walleye also donít like to put a lot of energy into their pursuits. Their prey preferences were related to the amount of time and energy spent on capture. The walleye could more easily follow and get closer to the schooling Gizzard shad and didnít have to spend a lot of excess energy with wasted missed strikes. Gizzard shad presented more easy targets and thus were taken more often than the other 2 species. This is not really newsworthy. It simply substantiates what most walleye fishermen already know. Provide an easy target and get more strikes.

In conclusion knowing the predatory habits of the walleye does allow a fisherman an advantage. Utilizing this information can provide any serious walleye fisherman the edge in any of his or her fishing expeditions.


Walleye article.





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