Year of the Fish: Walleye


If you’ve ever seen a walleye, the first things you will notice are its long, torpedo-shaped body and its teeth. The walleye is a fast, agile predator, making it one of the most sought-after fish in Lake James. The walleye is considered a gamefish, targeted by anglers across the country. Naturally occurring in northern parts of the country and Canada, walleye are thought to have had historic population ranges into the western extremes of North Carolina, but not Lake James. So how and why did they get here? Like many of the lakes across the country, Lake James’ walleye were stocked to supplement sport-fishing opportunities.

While anglers can be seen “lipping” or holding trophy bass by their lower lips, you won’t see walleye anglers doing the same. Walleye are toothy critters, using their teeth to secure prey items such as fish. Walleye have long bodies that are built to move quickly through the water in pursuit of prey. They range in color from a light, golden/tan color to a drab, olive green/brown. They often have 5 – 12 dark saddles, similar to dark tiger stripes. Since walleye are in the perch family, they are similar to the yellow perch of the lake. They differ from perch by having a large white spot on the base of their tail. Walleye average between 14 and 18 inches and typically weigh between .75 to 1.5 lbs. The state record was caught in Shooting Creek near Lake Chatuge and weighed 13 lbs., 8 oz. The world record was caught in Tennessee, weighing a massive 25 lbs.

As young fish, walleye feed on plankton and eventually graduate to feed on crayfish, mollusks, worms and other invertebrates. As adults, they use their large eyes to actively hunt fish such as shad, bass, perch, sunfish and trout if available. When walleye reach maturity, they will return to spawn at the mouth of a creek or river where they were born. This takes place around late February as the water temperature reaches 42 degrees. Fortunately for anglers, Lake James’ walleye have become self-sustaining and haven’t required additional hatchery releases. After
spawning, the walleye eggs hatch between 7 to 26 days depending on the water temperatures.

Walleye can be a tough fish to catch in Lake James, but knowing where they can be found can help anglers be more successful. Walleye like cool water, so unlike largemouth bass, they prefer water below 77 degrees. Lake James’ largemouth and smallmouth bass cohabitate with walleye, but they rarely share the same water. Walleye move around in the lake depending on the temperature of the water. They can be found near the surface in the cooler months of the year, but move to deeper water in the summer to find the cooler water. The general rule with fishing for walleye is the same as many other fish species; find their desired food and water temperature, and you will find the fish. It may be February and the lake may be cool, but the walleye can be caught this time of year. So, if you’re up for the walleye challenge, grab your
fishing gear and hit the lake. One of the country’s most sought after game fish is waiting to see if you’re up to the challenge.