Walleye Fly Fishing in Rivers and Lakes (2021)
Most fly fishing anglers don’t specifically target walleye. Normally, when a walleye is caught on a fly, it was on accident, as the angler was probably trying to catch pike, trout, bass, or other species of fish. I live in Alberta, Canada, where there is a large walleye presence. After catching a few decent sized walleye on streamers and wet flies, my friends and I started targeting them.
Walleye are fun to catch and they can be quite challenging to get on the end of your fly rod. The main reason they can be so tricky to catch is because of how deep of water they like to hang out in. It can be hard to get your flies to the deep water columns on rivers that quickly, and to present your fly in a way that looks natural to the fish.
This blog will go over all the tips and tricks we use to bring in monster walleye on a fly rod. Everything from what weight your rod should be, to what fly patterns to use, and where to find these sneaky fish. Let’s jump right into it!
Why target walleye on the fly and what to expect
I think it is safe to say that fly fishing anglers like a challenge. Half of the fun is bringing in a big fish on a fly rod, but the other half is the hunt. If it were easy, we would probably all go back to spinner fishing. Walleye are challenging as they are normally very deep in the water column, and they tend to eat other fish. Because of this, you will most likely always be subsurface fly fishing unless a large mayfly hatch is on. Walleye will feed at the surface here and there, but it will be hard to get them on a dry fly.
Walleye tend to go after the same flies as pike, which is why when anglers are targeting pike, they might get walleye on their fly instead. Walleye can get quite large, so be prepared for quite the fight. A friend of mine just landed an 11 pound walleye on a clouser minnow. His arms were quite tired after that ordeal, but what an amazing experience.
Sizes and types of flies to use when fly fishing for walleye
Walleye mainly feed on smaller fish, so nymphing them can be hard, but using dry flies will be even harder. When we fish for walleye, we stick mainly to the woolly buggers, clouser minnows, deceivers, leeches, and sculpin patterns. My old man did catch a 4 pound walleye last week on a green warrior caddis nymph, so nymphing them is possible!
Fly sizes 4-12 are standard when fishing for walleye. Zinger Fishing carries a few patterns that work extremely well for walleye and pike.
The Clouser Minnow fly pattern is a solid choice, different colors work well, but I like the black and white the best. They can be found at the Zinger Fishing online store.
The Woolly Bugger is a tried and true wet fly. Don’t be surprised if you end up catching trout or bass when targeting walleye while using this fly pattern. Most larger fish will strike a woolly bugger. Every fly fishing angler I know has at least 10 woolly buggers in different variations in their fly cases. I normally always carry black and olive with me. When fishing specifically for walleye, I suggest only using brass head woolly buggers, as they will sink to the deep water columns the quickest.
The Schultzy’s Red Eye Leech is another great streamer pattern that will increase your chances of getting a large walleye on the end of your fly line. Like the other fly patterns mentioned above, this fly pattern can be found at the Zinger Fishing online store.
If you are up for the highest challenge, you could try your hand with the dry flies. I would stick to larger patterns like stimulators, but if a large mayfly hatch is on, definitely try to match the hatch. I have seen walleye rise for a large green drake hatch that happened down south last year. Luckily, we had some extended body green drakes in the fly box, so it was quite the eventful evening.
Zinger Fishing has a great blog post on fly fishing with streamers if you want to check it out.
What fly rod, reel, leader, fly line, and tippet to use when fly fishing for walleye
- Fly Rod – Your standard 5 or 6 weight fly rod that you would use to target trout can work, but a 7 or 8 weighted rod is better. This is for two reasons. The first is for when you latch onto one of these large walleye, a heavier rod will make it easier to reel in that big fish. The second is for casting the larger streamer flies. 5 and 6 weight rods are made more for dry flies, nymphs and smaller wet flies. 9 foot rods are ideal when walleye fishing.
- Fly Reel – The reel should match the weight of the fly rod, but you don’t need a huge arbor or anything. Walleye will work your drag a bit, but it won’t be like landing a massive salmon or anything. A smooth disc drag is what I would recommend for any fly fishing where you might catch fish over 5 pounds.
- Fly Line – We use both floating line and sinking line, depending whether we are river fishing or lake fishing. With lake fishing, you 100% will want sinking line as the walleye will probably be 30 feet deep in the water. With rivers, floating line with 9 foot leaders are ideal. The fly line weight should match your reel and rod. Sink tip lines are also popular with walleye fishing. They are used to help with the presentation of the fly to the walleye.
- Leaders and Tippet – Leaders don’t have to be bite proof, but they will help. 8 pound to 15 pound test is fine. Keep your tippet 12-24 inches from each hook when running multi hook setups.
Where to find walleye in rivers and lakes
Rivers – Walleye will be found anywhere your common fish are found, current seams, eddies, shoals, weed lines and inlets. Walleye tend to feed during the night, in the morning or at dusk. This is when they move to shallower parts of the river. If you are fishing mid day, chances are the walleye will be hiding in the deepest holes possible. Set your hook the same way you would with trout. Presenting your streamer is one of the most important aspects to fly fishing for walleye.
Lakes – When it comes to fly fishing for walleye in lakes, you will want to try deep water, structure and drop zones. If the temperature is warmer, bring out the leeches! When using streamers in the lakes, retrieve your fly slowly in 3-7 inch pulls. As mentioned above, set the hook the same way you would with trout.
If you are lake fishing, a boat is normally necessary to target walleye in the deeper areas. Lake fishing is definitely more challenging with walleye fishing, so if you are a newer angler, you may want to try river fishing first.
Fly fishing for walleye is well worth it
I know trout and bass fishing are the most popular when heading out with the fly rod in hand, but once you master them, walleye should be next on your list if they reside in your local waters. There are many rivers and lakes around where I live that have solid walleye populations in them, so we always spend a solid hour or so targeting monster walleye every time we are out on the river or lake. Like anything else in life, the harder something is to get, the most satisfying it is when you finally achieve it.
If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.