Walleye is by far Saskatchewan’s most popular sport fish. People come from all over North America to catch walleye in our province’s clean cool waters. Some of the best walleye fishing can be found in our northern lakes, but our southern lakes such as Rafferty Reservoir, Last Mountain Lake, Diefenbaker Lake and of course the extremely popular Tobin Lake are world class too.
I know for my family, my kids love nothing more than to go out and catch walleye off the shore at one of the many fishing holes that I have discovered during my time as an officer. We don’t even keep any of the fish as they just like to catch them. As a dad, there is no better quality time with my kids than fishing.
For me, this started at an early age when my family went to Jan Lake in early July. We used to catch walleye with a new jig called a Mr. Twister. Back then, the limits were quite liberal with the daily limit for walleye being eight and the possession limit being twice the daily limit.
Today, the limit of walleye is four, unless otherwise listed with your daily limit as a possession limit.
Back then, my dad used to call walleye a pickerel. Well monkey see, monkey do. And I called them the same until I went to school to be a conservation officer and learned that we do not have pickerel in Saskatchewan. True pickerel are found in southeast Manitoba and Ontario, and look like a small northern pike.
Pickerel is just a slang name for our popular walleye. The walleye is probably the most popular of edible fish in Saskatchewan, although the burbot, if you have not tried it, is a very close second in taste.
The walleye is named for its pearlescent coloured eyes, which is caused by a reflective layer of pigment in the eye that helps them see and feed at night and in murky waters. They are not fans of the light and often go to deeper waters during the light of the day and then come closer to shore to feed during the night. Walleye are predators and will eat a variety of food including insect larvae, crayfish, frogs, minnows and forage fish.
I did not know this until I referred to one of my old textbooks, but it is believed that walleye only see in green and red due to lack of blue and yellow pigments in the eyes. This may be something that you consider when picking a lure this summer.
There is another fish that looks similar to the walleye and that is the sauger. The one difference between the sauger and the walleye is the fact that the walleye’s caudal fin (tail fin) has a white spot on the bottom part of the fin. Sauger do not have this white patch.
Sauger are most commonly only found in more northern waters. Walleye are covered with unique rough feeling scales called ctenoid scales. One end of the scale has sharp teeth on it like a comb, while the other end is rounded and overlaps to make the fish flexible in water. This is why the scales of the walleye feel rough compared to northern pike scales.
Anyone who has caught a walleye knows to be wary of the mouth, dorsal fin and the gill plate. The mouth is full of sharp teeth and the gill plate, which covers the gills, has a sharp edge to it.
Lastly, we all have discovered the end result of improperly picking up a walleye with our bare hands. Doing this incorrectly will result in you leaking precious blood from one, or more punctures generated by stiff and sharp spines on the walleye dorsal fin.
To properly hold a walleye for that great photo it is best to use two hands – one to support the tail and the other under the belly of the fish. Catching a walleye can be tougher than woodpecker lips. Those who think that you can just go out and get your limit are sadly mistaken, or have a favourite hole that they should tell no one about. I know fishermen who say goodbye to their significant others early Saturday morning and are not seen until Sunday night. They can stymie the most prolific angler with its moody feeding tendencies and placement in unpredictable habitat and depths.
Walleye are natural spawners. In many lakes, females are capable of laying up to several hundred thousand eggs per year. This is why it is important to protect these large spawning females in April and early May.
Southern lakes are very productive with lots of feed for the hungry walleye. However, many of these lakes do not have the habitat to support natural reproduction. Because of this, the province has a hatchery program that stocks walleye fry into a number of these lakes where walleye cannot reproduce, and greatly increase the number of lakes we can catch these fish in.
Other interesting walleye facts include:
The lips of a walleye have thousands of taste buds on them.
Walleye are actually members of the perch family.
Saskatchewan’s provincial fish is the walleye.
Walleye can travel up to 50 km in one night in search of food.
Until next time, keep your rod tip up!
Editor’s note: Ministry of Environment conservation officer Lindsey Leko has spent more than 26 years as a conservation officer in Saskatchewan. For many years, Officer Leko contributed a column to local papers on a variety of issues related to hunting, fishing, and other resource-related issues. If you have questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.