When many Arkansas fishermen think about fishing, their thoughts naturally turn toward largemouth bass. After all, no other species of game fish is more popular in The Natural State.
In some parts of the country, however, Ol’ Bucketmouth plays second fiddle to what is, in fact, an oversized perch. Some call it jack salmon, dore or pike-perch. Others use the nicknames yellow pickerel, blue pickerel, marble-eye or walleyed pike. But whatever handle you hang on it, the walleye’s size, sporting qualities and savory flesh make it one of North America’s most important sport fish.
Despite the walleye’s popularity with some anglers, however, it is often ignored by others, even where common. This is because many fishermen don’t understand what kind of fish this is, what its habits are or how to catch it consistently.
Anglers need not shun the walleye, however. This fish is different than bass, yes, but much easier to catch than many suppose. And it is a common catch in many Arkansas waters, especially during the spawning season, which runs through parts of February, March and April.
Lakes where savvy anglers can enjoy great fishing include Greers Ferry, Bull Shoals, Ouachita, Norfork, Beaver, DeGray, Catherine, Hamilton, Blue Mountain, Hinkle, Dierks and Gillham. Lake Nimrod has also been stocked with walleyes, and Lake Greeson is periodically stocked.
Arkansas streams also harbor healthy walleye populations. Hot spots to consider include the upper forks of the Little Red River, the upper White River, the Eleven Point, Fourche la Fave, Strawberry River, Petit Jean River, Caddo River, Saline River and Little Missouri. Spring River is one of the state’s more popular walleye fisheries, with catches of 2- to 3-pounders common in spring. Other streams with moderate walleye populations include the War Eagle, Black and Kings rivers.
The walleye’s eyes are important indicators of its behavior. These peculiar, opaque-appearing organs, from which the walleye derives its name, lend the impression that walleyes are blind. In fact, walleyes see quite well. Their eyes are adaptations for a life spent in dark haunts. Walleyes shirk bright light and are most active at night.
This doesn’t mean walleyes can’t be caught during the daytime. In deep water, where only moderate light penetrates, walleyes strike readily between dawn and dusk. They are more active on overcast days than bright ones, often feeding in shallower water under a cloudy sky. If wind disturbs the water’s surface, diffusing light rays, this improves daylight conditions as well. Most successful walleye anglers therefore usually fish on cloudy, windy days during low-light periods or after dark.
The type of bottom over which one fishes is also exceedingly important. Walleyes are seldom found over mud or in areas of dense vegetation, preferring areas of open bottom covered with rocks, gravel or, outside the spawning season, firm sand. Spawning walleyes avoid sand because it may suffocate their eggs.
Walleyes are also attracted to current, which brings food to the fish. In streams, narrow stretches where the current quickens are walleye attractors. Incoming rivers and major feeder creeks provide reliable and easily located sources of current on lakes, especially in early spring when walleyes use them as both feeding areas and spawning sites. Dam tailwaters also attract walleyes, and tailwater fishing is so popular in some areas, it seems fishermen must outnumber the fish.
Walleyes are bottom dwellers, too, usually caught with lures or bait worked on or near the substrate. They’re schooling fish as well. When you catch one, others are usually nearby, especially during spring spawning, when huge concentrations are often found. Where one is caught, keep fishing until no more strikes occur.
In waters where walleyes don’t receive undue pressure, you can catch them on a host of lures. Jigs are a special favorite, as are small crankbaits and slender, three-hook floating/diving minnow plugs. Using the appropriate terminal tackle to achieve the required depth, then being able to work that depth consistently, is often the difference between success and no success.
A bait/lure combo is often more effective than either bait or lures used alone. A lead-head jig tipped with a lively night crawler is usually effective wherever walleyes are found. Whether the jig has a feather, plastic or hair body is unimportant, and many anglers prefer a bare jig. Hook the worm through the head so it can wiggle full-length behind the jig. This combo makes an excellent drifting or trolling rig in relatively slow currents. Jig/minnow and fluorescent spinner/minnow combinations are also popular for catching walleyes.
Minnows are among the best live baits. They should be hooked upward through the lower jaw and out through the top of the head, so the bait rides in an upright, natural-looking position. When stream fishing, work in slow currents and backwater eddies. Lake anglers should work over drop-offs, the edges of weed beds and point tips. Drifting a bottom-bumping minnow combo usually puts more fish in the boat than casting. The size of the jig used is determined by the amount of current, and walleye anglers should carry plenty of 1/32- to 1/2-ounce jigs in a variety of colors.
Hopefully, you’ve gleaned the following important facts while reading this article:
• Walleyes shun bright light and are usually taken at night or during low-light conditions.
• Walleyes congregate in schools, and when you catch one, it is likely others are in the same vicinity.
• Walleyes are primarily bottom dwellers and usually found in areas with current or near prominent structure that provides a good feeding or spawning area near deeper waters.
• Baits and lures should be presented slowly and naturally.
While walleyes puzzle and confuse many Arkansas bass anglers, there’s no reason they should. When you’ve figured out what kind of fish this is and how and where it spends its time, putting walleyes on the stringer is really fairly easy.