What Do Walleye Eat? Walleye Eating Habits

Walleye, one of the most popular freshwater game fish, is highly coveted by anglers, with its popularity on the rise in commercial fishing and restaurant menus due to its delectable taste. What do Walleye eat? This knowledge is valuable for anglers looking to target Walleye, as it informs the choice of bait and fishing techniques to use when pursuing these fish, significantly improving their fishing success. 

Adult walleye have a diverse diet that primarily consists of smaller fish such as yellow perch, minnows, and shads. In some cases, larger Walleye may even consume smaller bass or crappie. Juvenile Walleye, on the other hand, primarily feed on zooplankton and insects. This wide-ranging diet helps sustain walleye populations in different stages of their life cycle.

What Do Walleye Eat

Indeed, Walleye’s diet is quite versatile, and they also have a taste for crayfish, worms, insects, leeches, and other aquatic organisms, further highlighting their adaptability as opportunistic feeders in their aquatic ecosystems. This varied diet allows them to make use of a range of available food sources in their environment.

To understand and know more about What Walleye eats the most, eating habits, and bait preferences, keep reading!

Check Is walleye A Good Fish To Eat?


What Food do Walleye Eat?  

The Walleye, scientifically named Sander vitreus for its distinctive glassy, shiny eyes, is native to a wide range of freshwater environments across North America, making it a popular game fish. A study in the Journal of Great Lakes Research focused on Lake Winnipeg’s (in North America) Walleye diet says that “ In the North Basin, Walleye primarily consumed rainbow smelt, while the South Basin had a more diverse diet.” Lake Erie in Canada is renowned for its ideal water temperatures and is a prime destination for Walleye fishing. Walleyes are fed on threadfin shad on Lake Erie.

What Food do Walleye Eat

Walleye are known for their preference for low-light conditions. They are primarily nocturnal feeders, meaning that they do most of their feeding at night. This behavior is due to their sensitivity to bright light, which makes them more effective hunters at reduced light levels. They are ambush predators, often found in deeper waters during the day and shallower waters during dawn and dusk, waiting for prey to come close before striking. Walleye are also very good at finding and following schools of baitfish.

Understanding the dietary preferences of Walleye at different life stages is not only crucial for fisheries management and conservation efforts, as it helps ensure the availability of suitable prey species and the sustainable management of Walleye populations, but additionally, anglers need to catch Walleye.

Check How To Catch Walleye?

Their diet changes as they grow, starting with invertebrates and shifting to fish. They are found in waters with temperatures around 60-70 degrees and are known to hide near structures such as reeds, rocks, and ledges while they wait for prey. They are not selective eaters and are sometimes known as piscivorous ( feeding on fish) and consume a variety of prey, including:

Small fish, such as yellow perch, minnows and freshwater drum Aquatic insects like mayfliesCrayfish 
Frogs Leeches Tadpoles
ZooplanktonNymphsFlying Insects
CrayfishWormsShad
ShinersSmall WalleyeSuckersSmall BluegillSmall TroutSmall Crappies
SmeltCiscoWhitefish
Snails MudpuppiesSalamanders  

By knowing the list of food for Walleye, you can imagine that Walleye have a versatile eating habit, and this is because they can eat anything available in the given environment. For their dietary behavior, they are dependent on the water environment and what kind of fish or food is available; they adopt the same eating behavior.

Check Best Crankbaits And Jerkbaits For Walleye.


Do Walleye Eat Crayfish?

Yes, Walleye do indeed consume crayfish. Crayfish serve as a common and nutritious food source for Walleye, particularly for young Walleye. Walleye have a preference for live crayfish but will also eat dead or cut-up crayfish. These crustaceans provide essential protein and nutrients for Walleye and are relatively easy for them to capture. 

Crayfish

I love to eat crayfish, and the taste it offers, so why would Walleye not like to have them, while they are abundantly available as a source of food in lakes for them? Many times I found half digested crayfish in the stomachs of the Walleye I have caught. All around the year, crayfish is the consistent diet for Walleyes. Though they have hard shells, it’s a belief that Walleye’s teeth and jaws are well equipped to crack open these crustaceans, which is why crayfish is often an underrated bait among Walleye anglers.

Check Best Walleye Rods.

Crayfish can be found in various aquatic habitats, including lakes, rivers, and streams, and they are most active at night, making them a favored meal for Walleye during nocturnal feeding.

For Walleye fishing in lakes, where crayfish are available easily, you can use them to catch Walleye as bait or use a bait or plastic resembling crayfish and have fun catching Walleye!


Do Walleye Eat Bluegill?

Yes, Walleye like to eat bluegill, especially in the spring and fall when bluegill is easy prey. They prefer bluegill that is 3-6 inches long. These bluegills provide a substantial food source for Walleye without being overly challenging for them to swallow.

Do Walleye Eat Bluegill

For anglers targeting Walleye, bluegill can be an effective bait. Live bluegill is the preferred option, but dead bluegill can also be used. Additionally, artificial baits that mimic bluegill, such as crankbaits and jigs, can be effective for Walleye fishing.


Walleye Seasonal Diet

As evident, Walleye adapt their feeding patterns according to the season, influenced by three main factors, i.e., water temperature, spawning, and the abundance of available prey.

When water temperatures become too warm or too cold, Walleye reduce their feeding activity to conserve the energy required for maintaining their body temperature. During these times, they often seek deeper waters with more suitable temperature conditions.

Walleye Seasonal Diet

Prior to and following the spawning period, Walleye exhibited increased hunger and aggression. This is essential to ensure they consume enough food for successful spawning and to replenish the energy expended during the process.


What do Walleye eat in the winter?

During winter, to cope with cold water, Walleye seek warmth in deeper areas. They become less hungry and less aggressive since they are conserving energy to stay warm.

What do Walleye eat in the winter

While they do not eat as much, they still feed on easy-to-catch prey like blood worms. Although their favorite meals, like minnows, are scarce, they will grab them if they come within reach.


What do Walleye eat in the spring?

In early spring, just before and after the spawn, Walleye are at their hungriest. This is a great time to fish for them because they are actively feeding in the shallows, where the water temperature is ideal.

What do Walleye eat in the spring

During this time, Walleye go after bait fish, such as yellow perch and shiners, which are abundant in spring. Crayfish are also plentiful, and Walleye eat them too.


What do Walleye eat in the Summer?

During the summer season, it is obvious that water temperatures rise and more light penetrates the water. Walleye tend to move to deeper waters, thrive in low light conditions, and prefer cooler temperatures.

What do Walleye eat in the Summer

In these deeper areas, Walleye primarily prey on fish like smelt, cisco, shiners, and whitefish, as well as other bait fish that can be found at those depths, such as shad.


What do Walleye eat in the Fall?

In the Fall, as water temperatures go down, Walleye move to shallower areas, becoming more active. They sense winter is approaching, which triggers their aggressiveness.

What do Walleye eat in the Fall

To prepare for winter, Walleye chase and eat various bait fish like shiners and shad and will consume any small fish they can catch. Fall is when small bait fish are most numerous because they have finished spawning during the spring and summer months.


What Animals Eat Walleye?

Adult Walleye are top predators in their environment, mainly eating other fish. They have no natural enemies except for humans, who catch and eat them. However, young Walleye and their eggs can be eaten by other fish. To stay safe, young Walleye hide near coverings to avoid bigger fish. Here is a list of predators that Walleye need to watch out for:

What Animals Eat Walleye
  • Northern pike
  • Channel catfish 
  • White perch
  • White bass 
  • Muskellunge 
  • Largemouth bass 
  • Humans 

Humans like to catch Walleye for a delicious meal. Just like other fish, Walleye is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your health. Walleye also contains vitamin D, which, when combined with calcium, helps maintain strong and healthy bones.

Check Best Walleye Rod And Reel Combo


What do Walleye Like to Eat the Most?

Walleye are opportunistic feeders, meaning that they will eat a variety of prey items depending on what is available to them. Walleye have a strong preference for minnows and yellow perch, as they provide a rich source of protein and essential nutrients. These fish are also relatively easy for Walleye to capture. Additionally, crayfish and leeches are considered good food sources for Walleye, particularly for young Walleye.

What do Walleye Like to Eat the Most?

Walleye have sharp, pointed teeth and are skilled predators. They also consume worms, insects, and crustaceans when these food sources are available. When they are young and not yet fully developed, Walleye mainly feed on crustaceans and various insects and their larvae until they are ready to tackle more challenging prey.

As Walleye grows larger, they tend to focus on their preferred food choices rather than simply consuming what is abundant. Their favorite prey often includes soft rayed fish such as smelt and herring.


To Sum Up All

Understanding what Walleye eat is essential for anglers and conservation efforts. Walleye’s diet varies with the seasons and includes a wide range of prey, from fish to crustaceans and insects. They are opportunistic feeders and adapt to what is available in their environment. This knowledge helps anglers improve their catch. Moreover, Walleye offers a healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D for those who enjoy them as a meal!

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