US Fish and Wildlife

Fishing for Walleye on Lake Roosevelt

One of the most popular sport fish in the northern and central United States has developed a similar reputation in Washington, and specifically at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, in the last couple of decades. Known for its exquisite flavor and large size, this newcomer called "walleye" is providing additional excitement and opportunity in a state already rich with fishing resources.

The walleye is not a native Washington fish, and just how walleyes originally entered the state is unknown. The first verification of a walleye in Washington was in 1962, from Banks Lake in eastern Washington. Soon afterwards, populations began to show up in Franklin Roosevelt Lake (connected to Banks Lake through a huge pipe and pump). Since then they have spread from these original sites to the remainder of the mainstem Columbia river, from near the mouth to the Canadian border.

Walleyes continued to advance to other waters in the central Columbia Basin. Using irrigation canals as frontier highways, they have established populations in Moses Lake, Potholes Reservoir, Billy Clapp Lake, Long Lake, Crescent Lake and Soda Lake. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has also stocked walleyes in some of these lakes to supplement the populations, as well as to create a new fishery in Sprague Lake.

The walleye's appeal is certainly not its lethargic fight, although fish get so big here they can generate intense interest and excitement. Rather, it is their performance at the dinner table that keeps anglers returning, trip after trip. Many people consider walleyes to be the best-flavored white-fleshed fish in freshwater. Aficionados of yellow perch (a close relative of the walleye) might disagree, but not vociferously. Both are superb in a number of recipes with the walleye's larger size contributing bigger portions.

A good day's fishing for walleyes will yield several two-to- three-pound fish, with an occasional fish up to ten pounds. The current state record was set in Februrary 2007 with a 19.3 pound walleye caught just upriver of McNary Dam.

One characteristic that helps identify the walleye is its large, opaque-white eyes.This feature is an adaptation to the fish's habits and preferences, and a clue forte perceptive angler. The large eyes have extremely fine light receptivity to see prey in dimly lit waters. Walleyes evolved in turbid waters and in deep lakes and this ability to "see in the dark" has provided the necessary edge to survive.

Astute anglers know that this also means walleyes stay away from bright, sonneteers. When they have to come up to the surface or to shallow shore areas tiffed or spawn, walleyes look for muddy waters or they wait and move in from dusk to dawn. This is the best time to fish for them.

When walleyes reach maturity, they become highly migratory. As soon as the lakes and rivers begin to warm and thaw in early spring, walleyes make spawning journeys from their winter holding areas. Some of these migrations will cover dozens of miles to headwater tributaries. Other spawning may occur along shallow rocky lake shores, but in either instance, spawning areas are less than five feet deep. The only proven natural reproduction of walleyes in Washington is in Roosevelt Lake and intermittently in Lake Umatilla (John Day Pool).

During spring spawning runs, walleyes stack up in headwater streams and below dams and are easy prey for anglers-in-the-know. Most of the famous walleye holes throughout the country are these types of waters.

After spawning, walleyes will return to the main lake or river, staying in the shallows throughout the spring and early summer until the waters warm, then moving to deep, cooler water during the day, returning to feed at dusk. During winter, it is generally thought that walleyes hold up in deep waters until the spawning urge strikes again, but little is actually known about the winter habits of this fish.

To learn more about walleye and how to catch them visit our bookstore.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area
1008 Crest Drive

Coulee Dam, WA 99116



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