Making Sense of the Walleye Spawn
While there are plenty of factors that help create a successful walleye fishery, we think the walleye spawn is a great place to start.
In Manitoba, the walleye is attractive for both catch and release and the frying pan. The quality and quantity of Manitoba's walleye and their host fisheries are well known across North America, and for good reason. However, what's often celebrated can also be misunderstood. Understanding walleye habits and what they need to successfully spawn is a topic of great importance. Here are some fun facts about the walleye spawn and their behaviour as well as some information on the aggressive post spawn walleye bite!
Two Keys to the Walleye Spawn
The walleye spawn has a plethora of factors that affect and trigger the spawn. Of these factors, the photoperiod and water temperature are kings.
The photoperiod is a key signal for the walleyes spawning journey from their deeper winter environment to their shallower spawning grounds to begin. The amount of light a walleye is to encounter throughout the day will eventually hit a critical point. This amount of light will trigger an internal signal in the body which initiates the releasing of hormones to begin preparing the walleyes for the spawn. The photoperiod is one of the only factors that allows for an exact date every year in relation to the spawn. No matter the weather or temperature, the amount of sunlight during a specific time will always be the same year after year.
When thinking about a timeframe of when the actually spawning of walleyes occurs. Anglers often refer to certain weeks of the spring. However, what they are actually referring to is the time of year when the water temperature is generally suitable for spawning to occur. The temperature of the water is a key ingredient for the walleye to spawn. In Manitoba’s northern climate, this magic temperature is typically around the mid 40 degree Fahrenheit range. During a warm spring this 44-48°F range can happen very early in the spring, during the fishing closures across the province. However, in my experience, cool springs like the one we just had, can yield waters too cold for the walleye spawn right away. This can push the spawn much later into the spring. In some cases, this will leave you with pre-spawn walleyes into the early weeks of the reopened angling seasons.
Stream and Lake Spawning = Success
Walleyes have particular preferences when it comes to spawning locations. This differs a lot based on the lake. Typically, in a lake there are two different types of spawning walleye; stream spawners and lake spawners. The primary environment’s for lake spawning walleye is in water shallower than 20 feet with a rocky bottom such as a reef or point. A good example of this would be the Canadian Shield lakes found across the province. A secondary environment that lake spawning walleye prefer, especially when a rocky shoreline is not present, is sandy beaches. An example of this in the province would be Lake Manitoba. These sandy shorelines have many sand bars throughout that provide excellent protection for the walleye to drop their eggs. For stream spawning walleye, they will migrate to creeks and rivers during the spring run-off, to spawn in the rocks and gravel substrates of the waterway. Having both the stream and lake spawning walleyes in the same waterbody is an excellent way to ensure spawning success for the population.
Spawn out and Cross your Fins
One incredibly interesting fact of the walleye spawn, is that the average female deposits around 100,000 eggs at once and after fertilized neither the male or female provide any parental care to the eggs. This just goes to show how relevant natural selection is in the process of walleyes reproducing. They simply deposit and then cross their fingers (or fins) and hope as many as possible survive.
Photo: Josh McFaddin
One Night Spawn
The majority walleyes actually spawn during the night, and a singular walleye will completely spawn out in only one night. With that being said, although the migratory spawning journey takes time, the actual act of depositing and fertilizing tens of thousands of eggs happens in only a few hours.
Importance of Maturity
The age and size in which a fish becomes sexually mature is an incredibly important piece to the spawning puzzle. Typically, female walleye mature around the age of 5 and males around the age of 3. This is important to realize with walleye because of their exceptional table-fare. While fishing throughout the year, it's good to keep this in mind when deciding which fish to keep and release. Due to natural selection, there are way more fish that are immature than are mature in a waterbody. Therefore, keeping sexually mature fish does much more damage on a fishery than keeping an immature fish. This is why numerous fisheries have regulations surrounding slot limits.
Post Spawn Walleye Fishing
Many anglers across the province partake in the amazing opportunities of fishing for post spawn walleyes each spring. During this time, these fish are hungry and often quite aggressive. In some of the larger bodies of water like Lake Manitoba there is an epic window of time to target these fish. Following the opening of the spring fishing season in the southern portion of the province. These post spawn walleyes can be found in the shallows and are super accessible for all anglers. One of the biggest perks of targeting these spring walleyes is they will eat just about anything you throw. From jerk baits to crank baits, spoons to spinners, all the way to a jig and minnow and the famous pickerel rig; These fish will eat them all.
One thing to always keep in mind when fishing during the spring season is inconsistent spring temperatures. During a spring like the one we had this year. Many waterbodies were still in the low 40’s for water temperature upon season opener. This meaning, many of the walleye were still in their pre-spawn phase. In a statement released this year by the Manitoba Conservation Officer Association, anglers were asked due to the late spring conditions to protect fish stocks by releasing any fish who are discharging eggs back into the water.
So, like in any angling situation, pay close attention to water temperatures... In the spring it will tell you a lot about what the fish are doing. If you see temperatures still in the low to mid 40’s. Protect our resource’s and release fish that are discharging eggs or milt. As the water temperature approaches 50 degrees. The majority of walleye will be in their post spawn mode and will be ready to eat your lures!
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