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State of the (Walleye) Union: Our Best Walleye States

by Matt Straw   |  October 7th, 2013 14

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.

Giant Walleyes According To Calendar Periods

Giant Walleyes According To Calendar Periods

Check out this video: The search for big walleyes begins with an understanding of their nature, keying on prime locations during specific time periods.

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.


  • E. Reams

    The deal with the upper Columbia river in eastern Washington, isn’t the fact that it is one system it’s that it’s a large network. The river is so large and the number of tributaries with over 10 lb walleye should have made this list. Granted the Columbia is the only system with a strong Walleye population, but that system is immense, for example, trophies come out of the San Poli, Spokane river and lower Snake river at Tri-cities, Banks lake, Grand Coulee complex, Rufus woods, almost every year. The size of the river and it’s networks should have placed Washington on the list especially because only 2 other states on the list beat the weight of Washington’s record fish out of the Columbia (19.3 lbs) which came out as recently as the 2007 not the 1950’s. Heck you can meet the record holder out fishing at the local launches…how many other states can say that? I pull out 8+lb fish every trip to the upper Columbia complex. Not being critical just saying…I really liked the article, and now that I think about it, the less people know about my spots the better ;) so never mind.

    • Robert

      Kind of wondering how you left out the 25 lb world record walleye caught in Old Hickory Lake just outside Nashville in 1960.

      • E. Reams

        The 25 lb record was disallowed by the fresh water fishing hall of fame it was estimated on pictures, but yeah it was a monster, so I concede to that if weighed it would have beaten the heck out of WA.

        States with larger records than WA:
        Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon (but on the Columbia…), and err Tennessee I suppose, if there’s one there is bound to be more.

    • Howard Bouchard

      If you read their criteria for choosing the top ten it requires in part a the Fish and Wildlife agency managing for and stocking walleye. The Washington State Dept of Fish and Wildlife manages for stocked trout and hatchery salmon. They are gill netting walleye and killing those walleye, naturally reproducing populations on the Spokane Arm and the San Poil river in favor of hatchery kokanee salmon. They have no interest in promoting walleye and instead are more interested in reducing their numbers. Washington state does not belong in the top ten for much of anything anymore.

  • Eric Braaten

    Washington State shouldn’t be picked in my opinion..Walleye fishing is terrible..LOL.

  • Ralph Rusty Newkirk

    Washington state should only make the top 10 of cowardly politicians! Keep your powder dry!

  • Byrd

    I would agree that South Dakota is a great state to catch walleyes. Heck that’s half the reason I moved here. Tons of great lakes to catch nice walleyes, but to put the Oakwood Lakes as a “world class walleye water” is just ridiculous. Obviously whom ever put together that slideshow has never fished the Oakwood Lakes. Shallow, carp infested lakes that are prone to winterkill like Oakwood should not even be mentioned in the same breath as lakes like Bitter, Waubay, and Poinsett.

    • ChuckJake

      South Dakota resident here and 100% agree Byrd. Oakwood Lakes would literally not make the “top 40 Walleye Lakes in the entire state. What a Joke. Do your your homework IF. Thanks for the mention on your list, but the lack of depth is insulting and certainly does not give your readers true insight to what the state has to offer for walleye fisheries.

      • ChuckJake

        Oh yeah, leaving Bitter Lake off of South Dakota’s list would be like leaving Devils Lake off the North Dakota list.

        • Rippinlips

          Agreed chuck and byrd. This guy obviously has not done enough homework on south dakota fishing to leave out a lake like bitter and put oaks in there. Probably afraid of wrecking his nice fancy boat!

          • Kevin

            Just have to add, Oakwood is likely on the list because of the insane amount of stocking done to it. Look at the GFP site and you will note they stock in the millions every year. “Our fish are stupid” yeah, and starving because you have no clue how to manage fish populations.

  • Mike

    What happend to Wisconsin????????

  • Wally Luvr

    Lake Erie for some larger walleyes….Central Basin area all the way to the Mighty Maume river not forgetting the Sandusky river during the annual “Walleye Run”!!!
    Can’t beat the action and quality of fish.

  • ClevelandBill

    The pictures above are weird to me. What’s with the jackets? Walleye have always meant summertime to me, here on Lake Erie … shorts, no shoes, no shirt, just sun, fun, and fish. Perch is best here in the fall, though. Come visit, we’ve got a big lake with a lot of fish in it … just don’t bring a bass boat. Lake Erie isn’t a bass boat lake …

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