How big is a trophy walleye, and which walleye states offer the best odds for catching one? Most states have trophy programs, and most have determined the 8-pound range is where walleyes first enter the “trophy zone.”
The best place to catch one? Trophy anglers in the East might point to Lake Erie, or Bay of Quinte—Lake Ontario, or the Niagara River. Anglers from the Rust Belt blurt out “Erie” too, but certainly include Lake St. Clair, Saginaw Bay, Bay de Noc, and Green Bay. Folks on our northern frontier might mention the St. Mary’s River, Rainy Lake, Portage Lake, or the Muskegon River, where a 14 pounder turns up now and again.
In Minnesota, it might be Mille Lacs, Lake of The Woods, or the Mississippi River. Anglers from the Dakotas might say Oahe, Sharpe, or Devil’s Lake. Folks from the Far West would nominate the Columbia River.
When it comes to walleyes over 13 pounds, I can only say I’ve watched others haul them in on the Columbia, Lake Erie, and the Saginaw River. But I have put four over 12 in the net. They came from the Columbia River, the Tittabawassee River, Lake Huron, and the Winnipeg River. Some 11-pound walleyes that stretched my line arose from Bay of Quinte, the Muskegon River, Mille Lacs, the Rainy River, Lake Erie, Green Bay, and the Mississippi. Those fisheries are spread all over the place, separated by hundreds, even thousands of miles in some cases. In other words—I have no reason to be prejudiced toward any particular region.
If provinces were states, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Quebec might top the list. Just saying. We go to Canada a lot. Anyone on a bucket-list mission to net a walleye over 15 pounds must pay homage to Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, journey to the Columbia River along the Washington-Oregon border, and dabble along the Saskatchewan River down to Tobin Lake.
So why didn’t Oregon or Washington make this list? Because overall best states for walleye fishing are the only ones on it. While the Columbia River is one of the greatest trophy walleye fisheries on earth, it’s the only world-class fishery found in those two states. Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana have some great fisheries, too. But one Fort Peck, Lake McConaughy, or Boysen Reservoir isn’t quite enough.
States on this list have: 1/ Multiple resources that harbor walleyes statewide that include lakes, creeks, rivers, reservoirs, and/or flowages; 2/ A state fisheries department committed to improving walleye fisheries through not only stocking, but also the enhancement and protection of natural reproduction; 3/ Some native populations, and 4/ The presence of multiple fisheries with the potential for producing good numbers with some waters offering a sporting chance at trophies in the 8- to 10-pound class.
- All other claimants can stand down. No state has more lakes, rivers, streams, and reservoirs stuffed with walleyes than Minnesota. The Gopher State leads the nation with over 13,000 natural lakes. It should be called the Walleye State. According to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, walleyes create over 43,000 jobs in Minnesota. Those jobs include guides, biologists, outfitters, marina employees, and workers that manufacture lures. They also include retail sales, bait gathering, boat building, rod building, resort operation, boat inspecting, boat storage, and boat rigging.
The state fish in Minnesota? What else? Fling a dead cat here and it hits a walleye. Walleye madness grips the state year ‘round. During winter, small cities of fish houses pop up out on Mille Lacs, Leech Lake, Bemidji Lake, and just about everywhere walleyes swim. During fall and a special early season every April (weather providing), ramp lots overflow down the local highways on both sides of the Rainy River up on the Ontario border. On opening day in May, good luck reaching the ramps on the state’s major venues. (The DNR reports that about 35,000 licenses are sold in the last 24 hours prior to the opening day of walleye season every year.)
Summer is an endless drift down the Mississippi, a trolling pass into the wilderness surrounding Lake of The Woods—campfires on the islands of Rainy Lake with fillets on the grill. It doesn’t get any better anywhere else.
The state record of 17.9 pounds was taken in 1979 from the Seagull River, which makes nobody’s list of top walleye fisheries in Minnesota. Look at it this way: No state produces more 10-pound walleyes from waters not appearing on anybody’s list of the best venues for walleye fishing.
World-class walleye fisheries in Minnesota: Mille Lacs, Leech Lake, the Mississippi River, Lake Winnibigoshish, Cass Lake, Lake Vermillion, Whitefish Lake, Lake Bemidji, Lake of The Woods, Rainy Lake, Big Stone Lake, Gull Lake, Red Lake, Lake Pepin, and the Rainy River.