Similarities - fly fishing for Walleye
“Similar” as stated in the dictionary means “related in appearance or nature; alike though not identical. In the world of fly fishing trout are the number one species but there are others to be caught also!
Most people believe that there is no other fish that can compare with the finicky trout. This is where the word similar comes in. There is another fish that can be and is as selective as trout. Pursued mainly by conventional anglers the Walleye offer the same challenges and shows the same selectivity as any species of trout.
Take a look at what trout eat. Mayflies, Stoneflies, Caddis flies, Midges, Backswimmers, Boatman, Freshwater Shrimp, Baitfish, Crawfish, Leeches, and some I missed are all on the trout’s diet. The same list of food items are on the Walleye diet as well. Most anglers will associate Walleye being caught on heavily weighted streamers in gaudy looking colors and do not think about the natural food items that are present in the water. In my home province of Manitoba there is a plethora of aquatic insects that hatch throughout the summer months. The most prolific hatch that occurs is the HEXIGENIA family of mayflies. Because of our oliogotrophic lakes and silt bottom rivers, we experience a hatch that consists of roughly 4.2 metric tons of mayflies per year. During the months of June and July fly fishing for Walleye is at its peak using different mayfly imitations. One of my most favorite memories occurred during one of the biggest hatches I have ever witnessed. My friend, Dean, and I were casting and having a grand old time ribbing each other on our lack of fishing skills, then without warning dusk was upon us. The hatch was phenomenal! The Walleye and every other fish started to rise and gorge on the adult mayflies. Of course we targeted the largest swirls and every time we put our dry fly over one we were rewarded with a nice size Walleye.
In the months of May and October the Boatman and Backswimmers is the main quarry for Walleye. I have caught fish up to 26 inches on these imitations that range in size from a 10 to a 16. Being a Stonefly addict I can't wait for the first week of August. Conventional fishermen will usually go down to thirty feet to catch fish at this time of year because of their beliefs, but what I do is fish the ACRONURIA Stonefly hatch that occurs this time of year. I regularly take 5 - 7 pound Walleye in one to three feet of water depth and no more than three feet from shore.
Caddis flies are another staple of the Walleye diet. They are especially fond of the LIMNIPHILIADE larva. Occurring mostly in lakes these insects help make the bulk of the Walleye's diet in June. I remember when my father was cleaning a couple of eaters for shore lunch. "Let's see what they were eating?" I asked. So my dad cut the stomachs open and out popped hundreds of little sticks. I didn't realize what I saw until a few years later but I always carry a couple of cased caddis patterns in my fly box all the time.
There are times when Walleye, like trout, will feed on the surface. They will readily take, when conditions are right, the adult stage of Mayflies, Stoneflies and Caddis flies. Match the size of the fly to the natural and start fishing. In fact the surface activity can be so hot it looks like someone turned a stove to make the water boil. When Walleye take the adult it is more of a slash/swirl type of rise. Walleye tend to be a bit more aggressive in their take.
There are other aquatic insects that Walleye will feed on. Freshwater Shrimp, Sow Bugs, Dragon and Damsel fly nymphs, and Midges all find their way into the Walleye's diet. Some other food items are Leeches, Crawfish and the different forage minnows. In retrospect most fly anglers believe that a weighted fly with a sinking line is the only way to catch Walleye. This is a falisy. Walleye like trout will feed from the surface down to the bottom. With all the food items available how can you think in a liner dimension? You can't! Learn to think outside the box.
Walleye and trout are so similar in this respect I find that there is no difference. If you fly fish rivers for trout you can fly fish Walleye. Current seams, back eddies, tail race sections of dams, rip rap, mid stream rocks, and the head and tail of pools are just some of the areas that will hold Walleye. Have I told you about an area that you don't fish when out trout fishing?
As with any fish that live in lakes they have to cruise to find food. Where is the most productive area? I make things to simplistic at times, just the way I am I guess. When giving instruction to clients I always ask them "Where do you go to eat?” Some say at home which is true but if you want to impress the better half you find a nice restaurant and if the establishment has a reputation then you are going to wait in line. Same as in fishing, the best restaurant for fish is a weed bed. It has a reputation of having just about every food item available and there are schools of Walleye waiting their turn. To make this a better scenario this weed bed would be adjacent drop off down to 10 to 15 feet. What more could one ask. Protection from predators, cooler water when required and a full menu.
The other areas to try are inlet and outlet rivers, underwater humps, islands, and drop offs.
If you fly fish trout you already know every technique you need to know to fly fish Walleye. There is absolutely no difference. If you use a Liesering lift for trout you can do the same for Walleye. Dead drift a nymph for trout, you bet you can do it for Walleye. Any style of fly fishing can be adapted to Walleye.
Now comes some interesting points from conventional anglers. Ever thought of using a drop shot rig. Well if you are fishing tandem flies you are doing it. Slip bobbers, we have strike indicators. Suspended crank baits, a booby fly on a sinking line does wonders. All we fly fishermen have to do is think outside the box.
A 9 foot medium style of action rod capable of casting a 7 weight line is ideal. The reel has to hold 50 yards of backing. Walleye do not take extremely long runs; they are more of a bulldogging type of fighter. The leader is the most important items in your tackle selection. When fishing with a dry line and nymph or streamer, I prefer to have my leader two feet longer than the depth of water I'm fishing. In other words when I'm fishing in eight feet of water I will use a ten foot leader. This allows the fly to sink to the required depth while I keep my eye on the floating line to detect a strike. When fishing with a sink tip line my leader gets cut back to six feet and when I get down and dirty with a sinking line my leader is down to three feet or less depending on conditions. One thing to keep in mind is that Walleye will co-habitat with Pike and of course Pike are notorious for hitting anything that swims including your flies, the reason for using a 7 weight.
Listed below are local and common patterns that can be used to take Walleye.
Gold Ribbed Hares Ear
Will's Hex Dry
Will's Hex Nymph
Will's Hex Emerger
DDH Rubber Legs
The list can go on but these patterns are the best producing.
As stated earlier, these two fish are very similar. They have the same characteristics, the same diet, live in the same water, and provide the angler with hours of frustration. What else could you ask for? Take the challenge. Go outside the box.