A Guide to Walleye Fishing in Northwestern Wisconsin

The only thing better than enjoying a meal featuring fresh walleye is enjoying a meal featuring fresh walleye that you have caught. North West Wisconsin is a perfect place for walleye fishing. Rice Lake is a particularly good place to catch walleye in Wisconsin. Before packing a tackle box and grabbing a rod, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with walleye and some tips for success, so that you will be the one bringing home the catch of the day.


Cloudy bulging eyes, spiky dorsal fins, and large pointed teeth are a few characteristics of walleye. Another distinguishing feature of the walleye is the olive to brown bodies with a yellowish underbelly. These fish can live up to twenty to twenty-five years and can exceed thirty inches in length. Walleye can weigh (typically) up to around 20 pounds.


Walleye fishing in Rice Lake, WI



The walleye is native to Canada and the northern United States; they are very common to the regions in and near the Great Lakes. Walleye prefer to swim in moving rivers and well-circulated lakes seeking cool waters and low light levels. Walleye have successfully acclimated to other areas of North America including New England and the southern United States.


Walleye are very mobile and will travel several miles or more for spawning. They are not territorial fish and build no nests; the young fend for themselves. Because the walleye is very sensitive to light, their preferred location varies with the seasons and the location of the sun.

Soon after the ice recedes, walleyes begin the spring spawning migration and seek water temperatures of 38-50ºF for spawning. Walleyes spawn in shallow water; usually less than six feet deep and they prefer areas with sandy or gravel bottoms. They will stay in the shallows to feed for much of the spring because the low angle of the sun does not irritate the walleye’s light sensitive eyes.


Boat fishing on Rice Lake in Wisconsin


In order to avoid bright sunlight and water temperatures above fifty degrees, walleyes move into deeper water during the summer. During daytime hours, the fish stay in water between fifteen and thirty feet deep. In the dim light of very early morning and evening hours, when the sun will not affect their eyes, walleye will feed in the shallows using weeds, wood, and rock for cover.

During the fall, walleyes return to the shallower water, as the sun is lower on the horizon and the light is not bright and water temperatures cool to fifty degrees or lower. The walleye are once again able to feed during the day.

Many anglers have tremendous success catching walleye while ice fishing. Walleye prefer dim light and early morning and evening are the best time to catch walleye; they bite right after the first ice and continue to bite into mid-winter. Although ice fishing often produces large catches, be cautious and test the thickness and stability before venturing out onto the ice.


Using an ice auger to ice fish in Rice Lake, WI


Bait and Lures

Walleyes are schooling fish, so finding one almost guarantees there are more in the area. However, they are famous for their selective feeding habits and usually need to be enticed and coaxed into taking the bait. Most anglers report walleye prefer live bait as it gives both scent and movement to attract the fish, yet others find artificial lures work well. Regardless of the method used to attract the walleye, a taut line is an absolute must when walleye fishing; a line that is not taut will not be sensitive enough to allow an angler the quick reaction time needed, as walleye are light biters.

Using live bait gives anglers flexibility and the added advantage of scent to entice walleye. Live bait presentation varies and it is effective when used on a plain hook, pulled behind a spinner, tipped on a jig, or put on a slip sinker or a slip bobber rig. Walleye bite for three basic types of live bait: minnows, leeches, and night crawlers. Leeches and night crawlers are readily available during summer months; minnows are the best bait for spring, fall, and winter.

The jig is the most popular lure for walleye fishing, in cooler temperatures when the fish are not active, present the jig slowly with small taps, in warmer weather, vigorous jiggling will get the attention of the walleye. Sinkers and bobbers are effective ways to maintain specific depths and increase the chance of a bite. Spinners are the oldest type of walleye lure and require weighting to reach desired depths; a half-ounce weight will take the spinner about ten feet down.


Tackle Box


Rods and Reels

Fishing rods have evolved from the basic stationary pole with a line to highly specialized models made of steel, graphite, fiberglass, carbon, or boron. Choosing a fishing rod involves a few basic factors, the most important factor is the rod’s material. For recreational walleye fishing, a rod made of a combination of graphite and fiberglass is a good choice. Another important feature in a fishing rod is the guide rings; these should be sturdy and preferably not plastic or very thin metal. A single piece rod between six and seven feet long is the best choice as there are fewer parts to break or wear down. Beware of overzealous sales people pushing highly specialized rods with promises of an epic catch. For a hobbyist, it is wise to choose a mid-priced rod. A high end, very costly rod will not increase the catch unless it is in the hands of a professional.

Smooth drag is the most important feature when choosing a reel. For catching walleye on Rice Lake, look for a spinning reel that is rated for 8- or 10-pound test line. Always check for the maximum drag rating of a reel, typically a drag rating between ten to twenty-five pounds is versatile and practical for a recreational angler.


Fishing Rice Lake, WI

Rice Lake in Rice Lake, WI is a 939 acre lake located in Barron County. The lake’s maximum depth is 22 feet. In Rice Lake, anglers may not keep walleye from 20″ – 24″. The minimum length for a keeper is 15″, only 1 fish over 24″ is allowed, and the daily bag limit is 3 fish. The current fishing season spans from May 7, 2016 through March 5, 2017. View a contour map of Rice Lake. View the latest fishing report for the area.


Keep this information in mind as you prepare for your fishing excursion on Rice Lake. With just a little planning, you will be sure to enjoy your time catching walleye in North West Wisconsin.

Do you have a walleye fishing tip you’d like to share? Post in the comments below.


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