If each Montana fish had it's own fan club, the club for the walleye would probably have the most members of any in the state. So why all the fuss over a walleye? Well, walleye anglers would probably ask another question right back: Why not?
Walleyes are found across much of Montana, but most common in some of the large reservoirs in the eastern and central parts of the state. Although there is no record of walleyes being native to Montana, they were found in the Missouri River downstream from what is now Montana.
Spring spawners, walleyes deposit their eggs along gravelly and rocky shorelines soon after the ice leaves the shore. The eggs filter down into the rock, where they are supplied with oxygen-rich water until the young fish hatch.
After hatching, young walleyes grow quickly in waters with abundant food. In waters with less available food, they grow more slowly. Once walleyes grow over 12 to 14 inches long, anglers become very interested in catching them. Montana walleyes can get much bigger than just a foot long however. Our state record walleye weighed over 16 pounds, and was nearly three feet long. It was caught in Fort Peck Reservoir in 2000. Bigger walleyes have been captured in biologists nets almost every year though, so chances are good that Montana may have a new state record before long.
If you want to catch that state record, your odds will get much better if you have someone who can take you fishing in a boat. Walleyes travel in schools, or groups, and they spend lots of time on the move searching for food. Although they can be caught by fishing from the bank, it often times requires a boat to locate the fish. Ice fishing is also a great way to catch walleyes. Anglers jig lures through holes in the ice, or set tip-ups, which are designed to suspend a bait in the water below the ice.
Once the walleyes are located, there are lots of methods to catch them. Walleyes feed on other fish, crayfish, insects, and other things. So of course anglers often favor fishing for walleyes with live bait, such as a minnow, nightcrawler or leech. Spoons, plugs, jigs, and other lures also will catch fish.
One of the best things about walleyes is eating them! There are few fish in Montana, and some would even say that there are few fish in the world, that taste better than a freshly caught walleye.
The anglers who love to catch walleyes often release their fish. They love catching walleyes so much, that they hope they can catch a fish one day, then come back and catch it again in the future, when it has grown even larger. Walleyes are popular fish for tournaments in Montana, when anglers from across the state, and even from across the nation get together and spend a few days having a contest to see who is best at catching walleyes.
But have we answered our question about why walleyes are so popular in Montana? They require anglers to have good fishing skills in order to catch them. They live in some of the prettiest places in Montana, especially the big reservoirs on the wide-open prairies of eastern Montana. They are lots of fun to catch, and are delicious to eat. No wonder so many people like walleyes!