Barbs and Backlashes

The Walleye Spawn is On by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
April 9, 2009, 9:58 am
Filed under: Fishing

I think I have answered the same question 1,243 times this week, “Are the walleyes spawning?” YES! It is early April ain’t it? Then the walleyes are spawning!

There can be many different cues that trigger fish to spawn. I believe in most of our Nebraska waters photoperiod or the amount of daylight is one of the primary cues. For that reason, the spawn occurs at about the same time every year — April 1 there will be walleyes spawning in Nebraska reservoirs. Spawning activity may vary a little bit from year to year and from one water body to the next depending on weather conditions and other factors, but it does not vary much. In addition, not all fish in a population will spawn at the same, some will spawn early, some spawn late, and the entire spawn period will last over a period of weeks.

Ideal spawning habitat for walleyes is well-oxygenated, shallow water with cobble substrate (rock just a little larger than gravel). We have darned little natural rock of any kind in any Nebraska water bodies, so the walleyes utilize what is available. In most cases, our walleyes concentrate on the dam faces where they can find rock rip-rap or soil cement. Most of the adult walleyes in a reservoir may be concentrated on or near the dam face.

During the spawn, those fish have things other than feeding on their mind. There are so many walleyes concentrated on dam faces that if they were actually interested in feeding an angler would catch a walleye every cast. That does not happen, but with the concentration of walleyes, if even a fraction of them will strike bait, you can still catch some walleyes. Most of the walleyes caught during the spawn period will be males, but occasionally a big female is caught.

I have stood on the shoreline and watched walleyes spawning literally at my feet. I have had huge walleyes splash water on my boots. Unfortunately, that is a temptation for some. Remember that snagging and dip-netting fish is illegal, and I would hope anyone engaged in that activity would also contract a fish pox! But there is no doubt that the walleye spawn fishing can be exciting, many anglers love to fish for walleyes at that time, and it gives anglers at least a chance to see some really big walleyes and perhaps catch one fair and square.

Walleyes spawn after dark and that is when most anglers target those fish during the spawn. The most popular technique is to throw shallow-running crankbaits (e.g. Rapalas) along the rocks. Male walleyes will be present on the spawning habitat early and late in the day and all day long on cloudy, foggy or windy days. Before dark, anglers may tempt some male walleyes to take a variety of jigs or perhaps a live minnow fished on a livebait rig.

Fishing during the spawn has no negative impact on our walleye populations, but I would encourage anglers to keep a male or two for a meal of fresh fish, and if they are fortunate enough to catch a big female, take a couple of photos and turn her loose. If you want one for the wall, get a graphite reproduction mount.

Female walleyes will move up onto the spawning habitat when they are ready to deposit their eggs. Typically all of their eggs will be deposited in one night and then the females get outta there. Males of course come early and stay late and can be found on or near the spawning habitat for days or weeks.

In Nebraska reservoirs, our walleyes will disperse throughout the reservoir when they finish spawning. They need to feed following the spawn, and natural prey is at its lowest annual abundance at that time so fishing for walleyes is actually better following the spawn. Take your pick, target some walleyes now while they are concentrated on the dam faces or wait a few weeks when they will be feeding.

Walleyes can be caught during the spawn from any of the traditional walleye reservoirs in Nebraska. I have heard walleye spawning reports from several reservoirs across the state with the exception of McConaughy, which may need a little more time to warm. If you are wondering about some of the best spots to target this year be sure to check out the 2009 Fishing Forecast.

Angler favorites like Lake McConaughy may get quite crowded during the walleye spawn, so if an angler would like to avoid the crowds, it would be a good time to check out some of the less-popular reservoirs. There may be less walleyes at some of the less-popular waters, but there will also be less competition and maybe a better chance overall of catching fish.


Lake McConaughy Fishing Report


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I thouroughly enjoy fishing the walleye spawn; however, has the fisheries division thought of haveing a walleye season? I know Minnesota does this and they have great reproduction with their walleye population, their season doesn’t start until after the first week of May. I know this will upset a lot of people but we would also have better populations if this was to take place and leave the females alone to do their reproduction cycle.


Comment by Patrick Hammack


We have no closed season for walleye fishing in Nebraska because there is no biological reason to close the season. Fishing during the spawn period does NOT harm our walleye populations, including on waters where we also have excellent natural reproduction.

Walleyes like most fish produce a lot of eggs; angling during the walleye spawn does not remove enough of those eggs to have any impact on reproductive success. One year using population estimates, walleye egg collections and angler surveys I calculated that angling during the spawn season would have removed only 2% of all the eggs the walleyes produced in one Nebraska reservoir, if every female walleye anglers caught was harvested, and if every one of those females was full of eggs when they were harvested. If you look at annual angler harvest from any Nebraska reservoir, you will find that more female walleyes are harvested during the months of May and June than are harvested during the spawn period. Because of that I have made the comment that IF we needed to protect female walleyes we could protect more by closing the season during Memorial Day weekend than we could by closing the season during the spawn period. It makes no difference when that female walleye is harvested–in early April 2 hours before she deposits her eggs or June, months before the next spawn.

We have at least some anglers who like to pursue walleyes during the spawn period. As long as they pursue those fish legally (snagging and dip-netting fish is illegal!) and as long as they are not harming the population, we would prefer that folks have every opportunity to GO FISH! I would be so bold as to tell you that in most cases the closed walleye season in other states is not needed to protect their walleye populations either. Sure there are some instances where the fish may be particularly concentrated and vulnerable to poaching, but Minnesota’s walleyes produce a lot of eggs just like ours and even with angling during the spawn period would successfully produce more than enough young to maintain those populations. So why do they have the closed seasons? Well for one it has been tradition; they have had those closed seasons for a long, long time. Secondly, by having a closed season they have a big event that attracts a lot of attention and excites a lot of people about going fishing when the season opens! Ironically the two different approaches may accomplish the same thing–getting more people to fish.

Daryl B.

Comment by Daryl Bauer

Daryl I would like know why a walleye would have eggs in the fall

Comment by Alan B

Excellent question! The development of eggs and milt takes a lot of energy and most of our species of fish begin that development in the late summer and fall. Those eggs you see now, or if you look close you will see the males developing milt, are next spring’s spawn!

Walleyes spawn in early spring shortly after the ice goes out, so most of their egg and milt development occurs now. The eggs and milt are essentially “on hold” over the winter, so once the ice is gone next spring there will be a quick maturation of the eggs and milt and then the spawn is on. I talk a little bit more about this in my most recent blog post, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”.

Daryl B.

Comment by Daryl Bauer

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