Walleye (Sander vitreus)

A golden colored fish with large eyes.

(c) MN DNR, C. Iverson

Fish of the Mississippi River

Introduction

Ask a Minnesotan to name a favorite fish and the most likely answer is walleye. Its delicious white fillets and elusive nature lead anglers to harvest 3.5 million walleyes annually in Minnesota. In the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, Pool 2 (the area between the dams at St. Paul and Hastings) is recognized as a world-class year-round catch-and-release fishery for walleye and sauger – thanks in large part to the federal Clean Water Act and state and local efforts to clean up the river.

The walleye’s popularity has helped its populations thrive and its range expand. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources protects critical habitat, sets fishing limits, and conducts an extensive stocking program statewide.

Walleye eat primarily small fish, capturing them with sharp, backward curved canine teeth. Never one to pass up a meal, it also eats insects, crayfish, leeches and other small prey. Named for its glassy eye, the eye’s reflective layer (tapetum lucidum) allows it to see well in low-light conditions. As a result, walleye are more active at dawn, dusk, night, and other reduced light conditions such as waves and cloudy skies.

Fascinating Facts

  • The walleye was named the Minnesota state fish in 1965.
  • The term "wall" in the walleye’s name derives from the Icelandic word Vagl, meaning "film over eye."
  • Walleye are featured on one of a series of eleven illustrated manhole covers in downtown Minneapolis designed by Kate Burke.
  • During the state's early years, no one paid walleye much heed. The Minnesota Fish Commission hardly mentions walleye other than to lump them with bass and "other fish" that might be propagated down the road.
  • Minnesota has more walleye, walleye lakes, and walleye anglers than any other state.

Identification

Key ID Features: Walleye have an olive-green back and golden sides mottled throughout in brown or black. Body color varies depending on where the fish swims. Definitive features are a prominent white spot on the lower tail fin and a dark spot at the base of the dorsal fin. An average walleye reaches 14-17 inches in length.
Present in Park: Common
Habitat: Large lakes and streams
MN Status: Sport fish

For Further Reading

Last updated: April 13, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
Saint Paul, MN 55101

Phone:

(651) 293-0200
This is the general phone line at the Mississippi River Visitor Center. Please leave a voicemail if we miss your call and expect a return call within 1 day, often sooner.

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