Walleye Habitat, Fishing, and More

Walleye, a freshwater fish species is native to North America. Walleye inhabit rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs throughout much of the United States and Canada. It is the largest member of the Percidae family, which includes perch and darters.

Man on a dock holding up a trophy walleye.

In New York State, walleye is a popular gamefish with anglers due to its size and fighting spirit. The NY state record Walleye is 18.2 pounds, 32 inches long. This trophy walleye was caught on 5/5/2018 by Brian Hartman on the St. Lawrence River.

Identifying Features

  • Eyes appear to have a glossy white sheen or reflective layer which provides for excellent low-light vision.
  • The pectoral and pelvic fins of walleye are darkly colored
  • The dorsal fin, is divided into a distinct front and back. The front is spiny and the back is soft.  The front dorsal fin is larger and longer than the back. 
  • A white tip on their lower caudal fin.
  • Slender body
  • A long and pointed head
  • Bodies are usually silver or gold, with mottled greenish-black markings on their back.
  • Vertical yellow-green stripes along the sides of their body
  • Adult walleyes typically measure between 15-20 inches in length.
  • Mature walleyes usually weigh in the 2-3lb range but can grow much bigger.
  • Walleyes usually live around 10 years

More About Their Eyes

Walleye have a special pigment in their eyes that allows them to see in low-light conditions. This pigment is responsible for the unique reflective layer, that gives them their glassy, or “wall-eyed” look.

Walleye Habitat

Walleyes prefer to inhabit deep, cool waters with moderate currents and lots of structure. In New York State, they can be found in lakes and rivers ranging from 10 to 40 feet in depth. Their preferred water temperature range is between 67°F and 76°F; and structure like logs, rocks, and submerged vegetation in which they can hide while searching for food.

Two men holding up fish caught at night - primetime for walleye fishing.

Walleye are largely nocturnal. They move into deep, cool waters to escape the heat of the midday sun. As the day turns to night, walleye move from the deep into the shallows to hunt for baitfish.

Fishing for Walleye in New York State – Best Places

Walleye are located throughout New York. To provide you a comprehensive look at the best place to fish for walleye, we’ve combined input from a number of sources including online research as well as a link an extensive page on the NYS DEC website. 

Online Research

From our online research, we’ve identified these five locations as among the best places to fish for walleye in NY. 

1. Lake Ontario – One of the best places to fish for walleye in NY is Lake Ontario. It has an abundance of structure and deep waters, making it a perfect habitat for walleye populations.

2. St Lawrence River – This river is abundant with walleyes due to its cold temperatures, murky depths, and plentiful structure. It is also one of the most popular spots for tournament fishing.

3. Oneida Lake – This lake has many deep channels and bays, making it a great spot to fish for walleyes.

4. Oswego River – Known as one of the best walleye fisheries in NYS, the Oswego River has excellent spring and fall fishing.

5. Seneca Lake – This lake is abundant with walleyes due to its ample structure, deep water, and cool temperatures. It is a great spot for anglers looking to catch trophy fish.

Man holding a walleye on a boat in front of a lake, walleye habitat.

Some other notable places to enjoy walleye Fishing in NY include: Conesus Lake Inlet, the Susquehanna River, Black Lake, Skaneateles Lake and the Allegheny Reservoir.

NYS DEC – Statewide Walleye Fishing Opportunities

We’ve got to hand it to the NYS DEC for producing really great content about where to fish for walleye in NYS. This page provides a detailed account of the best places to fish for walleye in NYS. We recommend that you check it out. 

Eating Habits and Natural Prey

Walleyes are primarily active at night, as they prefer to hunt in the dark. They will also feed during the day if there is enough cover or structure to hide them from prey. 

Walleyes usually hunt alone, but they also form schools to take advantage of bigger prey items. When hunting, walleyes use their sense of smell to detect prey. 

Walleyes are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will take advantage of any available food sources.

Walleye’s Natural Prey Includes:

  • small baitfish including shiners, smelt, and minnows
  • crayfish
  • leeches
  • frogs
  • aquatic insects

Walleye Spawning Habits

Walleye spawning in New York State usually takes place in the early spring. The ideal water conditions for a successful spawn include clear, shallow waters with a moderate current and plenty of vegetation or other structures like logs or rocks to hide within. They prefer to spawn in depths ranging from 1-10 feet, although they can also spawn in deeper waters.

As temperatures rise to the 40-50°F range in early spring, walleye congregate near creek mouths in lakes and rivers where they spawn over cobble, gravel, or sand on riverside flats and windswept shallows in lakes. Walleyes are broadcast spawners meaning that females lay between 300 to 400 eggs during multiple five-minute intervals. Eggs are then fertilized by several males.

The eggs attach themselves securely to the bottom and incubate for a period ranging from 10 to 20 days. The sheer number of adult fish gathering together makes for quite a sight! After the eggs have been fertilized the adults leave the eggs to hatch and survive on their own.

Fishing for Walleye in New York State

Fishing for walleye in NYS can be a rewarding experience. The best time of year to catch walleye is generally during the spring and fall when water temperatures are cooler. During these times, they tend to be more active and can be found in shallow waters ranging from 1-10 feet from evening through the early morning hours.

Man holding a big walleye in a lake.

Walleye Fishing Techniques

Most anglers trolling, jig, or cast for walleye.

Trolling is a good technique for deeper waters as it allows you to cover a large area quickly, especially when utilizing planer boards to accommodate multiple lines.

Jigging is a popular method for shallow water fishing, as the vertical presentation of the bait can be easily seen by walleyes.

Lastly, casting is often used in shallow waters to cover a wide area and also for targeting specific structures where walleyes tend to hide.

Bait and Lures for Walleye

When it comes to bait and lures, live bait such as worms, shiners, or minnows are popular choices that walleye are known to respond well to. Artificial lures such as crankbaits, jigs, spoons, and spinners are also great options that can be used with success when fishing for walleye in New York State.

DEC regulations

In New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation regulates fishing for walleye to ensure that the population remains healthy and sustainable.

A new statewide regulation has been put into place for walleye in the last year in NYS. According to the New York Department of Conservation, open season for walleye now starts on May 1st and runs through March 15th. Fishing for walleye outside of this date range is specifically prohibited, even for catch and release, as per the new statewide regulation for open season dates. The DEC’s previous rules remain in place for both daily possession limit, and statewide minimus size. New York State continues to have a five fish daily limit for walleye and a statewide minimum size limit of 15″ long.

It is important to check the specific regulations in terms of open season, minimum size limit, and daily position limit for each body of water before fishing as they can vary from location to location.

Nestled in the Village of Constantia, Oswego County, and alongside Oneida Lake’s north shore is a state walleye hatchery that underwent reconstruction in 1992. This facility collects over 200 to 300 million eggs from Oneida Lake each year, releasing millions of fry into nearby waterways to support the walleye population of New York State.

A group of men stocking walleye into a lake - natural walleye habitat.

By following New York State DEC regulations, fishing enthusiasts can ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the sport of walleye fishing for years to come. So the next time you go out fishing for walleye, remember to obey all applicable laws and regulations!

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