One of the most popular sport fish in the northern and
central United states has developed a similar reputation in
Washington in the last couple of decades. Known for its
exquisite flavor and large size, this newcomer called “walleye”
is providing additional excitement and opportunity in a state
already rich with fishing resources.
The walleye is not a native Washington fish, and just how
walleyes originally entered the state is unknown. The first
verification of a walleye in Washington was in 1962, from
Banks Lake in eastern Washington. Soon afterwards, populations
began to show up in Franklin Roosevelt Lake (connected
to Banks Lake through a huge pipe and pump). Since then they
have spread from these original sites to the remainder of the
mainstem Columbia river, from near the mouth to the Canadian
Walleyes continued to advance to other waters in the
central Columbia Basin. Using irrigation canals as frontier
highways, they have established populations in Moses Lake,
Potholes Reservoir, Billy Clapp Lake, Long Lake, Crescent
Lake and Soda Lake. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has
also stocked walleyes in some of these lakes to supplement the
populations, as well as to create a new fishery in Sprague Lake.
The walleye’s appeal is certainly not its lethargic fight,
although fish get so big here they can generate intense interest
and excitement. Rather, it is their performance at the dinner
table that keeps anglers returning, trip after trip. Many people
consider walleyes to be the best-flavored white-fleshed fish in
freshwater. Aficionados of yellow perch (a close relative of
the walleye) might disagree, but not vociferously. Both are
superb in a number of recipes with the walleye’s larger size
contributing bigger portions.
A good day’s fishing for walleyes will yield several two-to-
three-pound fish, with an occasional fish up to ten pounds.
The current state record, caught in the Columbia River below
McNary Dam in April 1990, weighed 18 pounds and 12
One characteristic that helps identify the walleye is its
large, opaque-white eyes. This feature is an adaptation to the
fish’s habits and preferences, and a clue for the perceptive
angler. The large eyes have extremely fine light receptivity to
see prey in dimly lit waters. Walleyes evolved in turbid waters
and in deep lakes and this ability to “see in the dark” has
provided the necessary edge to survive.
Astute anglers know that this also means walleyes stay
away from bright, sunny waters. When they have to come up
to the surface or to
shallow shore areas to feed or
spawn, walleyes look for muddy waters or
they wait and move in from dusk to dawn. This is
the best time to fish for them.
When walleyes reach maturity, they become highly
migratory. As soon as the lakes and rivers begin to warm and
thaw in early spring, walleyes make spawning journeys from
their winter holding areas. Some of these migrations will cover
dozens of miles to headwater tributaries. Other spawning may
occur along shallow rocky lake shores, but in either instance,
spawning areas are less than five feet deep. The only proven
natural reproduction of walleyes in Washington is in Roosevelt
Lake and intermittently in Lake Umatilla (John Day Pool).
During spring spawning runs, walleyes stack up in
headwater streams and below dams and are easy prey for
anglers-in-the-know. Most of the famous walleye holes
throughout the country are these types of waters.
After spawning, walleyes will return to the main lake or
river, staying in the shallows throughout the spring and early
summer until the waters warm, then moving to deep, cooler
water during the day, returning to feed at dusk. During winter,
it is generally thought that walleyes hold up in deep waters
until the spawning urge strikes again, but little is actually
known about the winter habits of this fish.
Until 1985, statewide regulations for walleye fishing were
simple: a daily limit of 15, of which no more than five could
exceed 20 inches. But early in the 1980’s, as pressure
increased on the fish, biologists began to notice a drop in the
quality of fish caught in Roosevelt Lake, the state’s top walleye
producer. Average size of walleyes caught by fishermen
steadily declined from 18 1/2 inches in 1973 to 13 1/2 inches in
In 1985, regulations for Roosevelt Lake were changed to
try to reduce this trend. The daily limit was reduced to eight,
and a minimum size limit of 16 inches was established. The
following year, limits on the state’s other walleye waters were
reduced to five fish per day, with an 18-inch minimum size
In the spring of 1990, regulations at Roosevelt Lake were
changed again, after it became apparent that the 16-inch
minimum size limit was giving too much protection to small
fish. Fish below 16 inches were becoming quite thin, and
growth had slowed markedly, due to a lack of forage to support
the growing population of small fish. The present regulation at
Roosevelt Lake is a “slot limit”—only fish less than 16 inches or
more than 20 inches may be kept. The daily limit remains at
eight walleyes, but only one of the fish in a limit may be over 20
inches. This regulation has been working well, and the average
size of walleyes in the catch has been increasing.
The same size and limit rules apply to these Roosevelt Lake
tributaries: Kettle River arm from Burlington-Northern Railroad
Bridge at Twin Bridges, upstream to Napoleon Bridge; SanPoil
River arm upstream from Manilla Creek; and Spokane River
arm from SR25 bridge upstream to Seven Mile Bridge. The
season is open year-round in Roosevelt Lake, but closes from
April 1 to May 31 in the Kettle, SanPoil and Spokane River
In Yakima County, I-82 Ponds 1 and 2 are closed to
walleye fishing, and in Grant County Alkali Lake is closed to
fishing for walleyes. These closures are to allow the department
to conduct research and studies on walleyes.
Regulations for the rest of the state remain unchanged: five
fish daily limit, no fish smaller than 18 inches, and only one fish
over 24 inches. (Note: regulations given above are current as of
the revision date of this document; check the regulations
pamphlet for changes. Special regulations regarding walleye
fishing contests were enacted in 1994—see box titled Walleye
While walleyes are a favorite game fish for many anglers,
they also can pose challenges for fisheries managers. A
voracious predator, walleye introductions into some waters can
impact populations of other game fish. Because of this concern,
fisheries biologists in Washington are cautious managers when it
comes to walleyes. A study conducted on Lake Umatilla (John
Day Pool) on the Washington-Oregon border documented that
somewhere between nine and 19 percent of the juvenile
anadromous fish in the reservoir were eaten by other fish. Of
these, 78 percent were eaten by squawfish, and only 22 percent
were eaten by walleyes, smallmouth bass and channel catfish
In the past, when it became necessary to supplement
walleye populations in lakes, the Department of Fish and
Wildlife would acquire eggs from other state’s fisheries agencies
(Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, etc.). However, recent
advancements in Washington’s walleye culture efforts may soon
eliminate the need to import walleyes from other states.
Walleye fry, whether acquired from other states or “home
grown,” are stocked into selected lowland waters such as
Sprague Lake, Banks Lake and Billy Clapp Lake.
ROOSEVELT LAKE: Washington’s first walleye lake
remains an important one. The best walleye fishing is in the
Spokane River arm, followed later in the year by the northern
part of the reservoir near Northport and Hunters.
Roosevelt Lake’s walleye production is important to
most of the other walleye fisheries in the state. To protect some
of the large fish and to improve the quality of fishing, a seasonal
closure has been established on the Spokane, SanPoil and Kettle
River arms from April 1 through May 31. Fishing on the rest of
Roosevelt Lake and the mainstem Columbia is open year-round.
Be sure to check the regulations pamphlet to make sure this
Access to the Spokane arm is available at Porcupine Bay
and Fort Spokane, approximately 20 and 24 miles north of
Davenport, respectively. Access to the upper part is available at
Hunters Park and Gifford.
BANKS LAKE: Located in an old glacial channel of the
Columbia River, Banks Lake is producing fat, fast-growing
walleyes. Access is available at a number of sites on the south
and east shores, from Coulee City to Electric City.
RUFUS WOODS LAKE: Immediately below Grand
Coulee Dam there is some fairly good walleye fishing. Biologists
report that the fish are larger now than before the 18-inch
minimum size limit. Access to this stretch is available off state
route 155, three miles north of Elmer City. The only other
access to this lake is on the lower section near Chief Joseph
LAKE PATEROS: Walleye productivity below Chief
Joseph Dam has been low in recent years, but dedicated anglers
may find the tailrace a sleeping giant during spring spawning
runs. Access to the tailrace can be found in Bridgeport.
LAKE ENTIAT: The tailrace below Wells Dam has also
been a slow producer in recent years, similar to Lake Pateros.
Access is very limited, but a few knowledgeable anglers avidly
fish this area.
ROCK ISLAND POOL: A limited walleye fishery exists
in Rock Island Pool and in the tailrace below Rocky Reach
Dam. Access to the reservoir and tailrace is available near
WANAPUM POOL: Walleye fishing has improved
recently in Wanapum Pool, from Vantage up to the tailrace
below Rock Island Dam. Fair fishing occurs year-round, with
peaks in November-December and February-March. Access is a
problem, however. The closest boat ramp is at Crescent Bar, 14
miles below Rock Island Dam, with three others at the lower end
of the reservoir near Vantage.
PRIEST RAPIDS LAKE: A small walleye fishery exists
below Wanapum Dam, and a boat launch is conveniently located
at the Wanapum Dam Tour Center. A limited fishery also exists
below Priest Rapids Dam, but access is poor. There is a
restricted-use boat launch at Vernita Bridge, and the next access
is near White Bluffs. Boaters and bank anglers should watch for
rapidly fluctuating river flows.
LAKE WALLULA (above McNary Dam) and
HANFORD REACH: The only walleye fishery in this area is
adjacent to the Hanford Reservation, for a few large fish.
Boating the channels, however, can be treacherous.
LAKE UMATILLA (John Day Pool): Large walleyes are
the target of anglers in this stretch. Best fishing is from Paterson
Slough upstream to McNary Dam. The current 18+ pound state
record walleye was caught in this area. Access is available near
LAKE CELILO (above The Dalles Dam): Biologists feel
that there are a fair number of walleyes below John Day Dam,
and this is a favorite spot for Washington and Oregon anglers.
There is a boat launch just downstream of John Day Dam, and
another near Maryhill.
BONNEVILLE POOL: This is another possibility for
walleyes for Washington and Oregon anglers, particularly in the
upper portion near The Dalles Dam, and in the Stevenson and
Wind River areas. Access on the Washington side is available
in Bingen, along Highway 14 at Drano Lake, at Waterfront Park
near Carson and at Sailboard Park in Stevenson.
LOWER COLUMBIA RIVER: Walleyes are being
caught in the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam almost to
Ilwaco. The number of fish being caught is limited, but the fish
are large. Numerous access sites exist along this stretch of the
mighty Columbia, including: below Bonneville Dam, at Beacon
Rock, in Camas, Vancouver, Kalama, on the Cowlitz near
Kelso, and at Cathlamet.
MOSES LAKE: Reports from fishermen indicate that
there are a lot more walleyes in Moses Lake than in recent years.
A survey conducted in 1988 found many small, but fat and fast-growing
fish. Located adjacent to the city of Moses Lake, there
are several access sites for fishermen to use.
POTHOLES RESERVOIR: Located south of Moses
Lake, this lake also has good walleye potential. There are
several boat launches available on the south end around
O’Sullivan Dam. Walleyes can also be caught in several of the
Seep Lakes below Potholes. The best are Soda, Long and
Crescent Lakes. Boat access is available on Soda and Long
BILLY CLAPP LAKE: Located east of Soap Lake, this
lake’s walleye fishery is similar to Banks Lake, and may get
walleyes migrating from Banks Lake through the canal. Access
is available on the south end, off state highway 28 as well as at
Summer Falls State Park on the north end.
SCOOTENEY RESERVOIR: Situated between Othello
and Mesa near state highway 17 in Franklin County, this
component of the Potholes canal system provides fair fishing for
walleyes up to eight pounds. Two boat launches are available
on the reservoir’s south end.
SPRAGUE LAKE: A walleye fishery is developing in
Sprague Lake, following the highly-successful rehabilitation of
this system in 1986. Located near the town of Sprague within
sight of Interstate 90, this is becoming one of the best all-around
fishing lakes in the state. Access is available on both sides of
SNAKE RIVER: A few walleyes are caught in the Snake
River below Ice Harbor Dam, but little is known of the extent of
this fishery. Best bets for finding walleyes are the areas below
the dam in the spring. Three access sites are available at the
confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers near Highway 12,
southeast of Pasco.
There are three secrets to catching walleyes (at least): fish
on the bottom; fish slowly; and use night crawlers. The first two
of these are the most important. Walleyes stay close to the
bottom, and they don’t spend a lot of energy chasing their food.
The most consistent fishing depth during daytime is 18 to 25
feet. Rocky bottoms are usually preferred, with a nearby depth
change or “breakline” a desirable feature. Good catches can also
be made in or around weed beds at certain times.
A good walleye rig is one that can be cast or trolled slowly
along the bottom without getting hung up too often. Although
not necessary, a stout wire leader 12 inches above the hook will
protect the line from abrasive rocks, and will keep the walleye’s
sharp teeth from cutting the line once the fish is hooked. But
heavy leader may also make your offering less attractive to the
Many kinds of lures, jigs, spinners and spoons will fool
walleyes, with most of them being much more effective if a live
night crawler is attached. Trollers will often put a worm on a
stout, sharp 1/0 hook attached to a flashy spinner with a wire
leader tied to a good swivel. Eighteen inches in front of the
swivel they will put a small split shot that will keep a one to
two-ounce barrel weight in place. Casters must use a lure that is
heavy enough to sink rapidly to the bottom.
Large deep-diving plugs are also a popular and productive
technique. These are usually in bright colors that will show up
in the depths, and are trolled without any bait attached.
Whatever bait or lure is used, it’s important to fish very
slowly. Some anglers even troll in reverse (when it is safe to do
so) to get their speed down to what a walleye will chase. Once a
walleye is caught, continue fishing the same area. Where there
is one there will usually be more. Also make note of the bottom
or “structure” and look for fish in similar habitat.
One final tip is to keep the hooks razor sharp. In
addition to a mouthful of teeth, walleyes have a hard, bony
palate to protect themselves from the spines of the fish they eat.
A sharp hook is mandatory to getting a solid hookup.
Rules for walleye fishing contests are consistent with
statewide walleye regulations, except as shown below.
For more detailed contest information, write the
department and ask for a copy of WAC 232-12-168 and
Amending Order #577.
SIZE AND BAG LIMITS: All current size and bag
limits remain in effect during contests, except that contest
directors or their designees may exceed possession limits
only for the purpose of transporting fish from a weigh-in
site to an open-water area for release. During
transportation, the transport boat must not leave the water
the fish were caught from, and a copy of the contest
permit must be on board during actual fish transport.
LIVE RELEASE REQUIRED: In any contests
targeting walleyes, all live walleyes must be released
alive into the water from which they are caught after
being weighed and/or measured. At the end of each day’s
competition, if the mortality of target fish caught that day
exceeds 10 percent, the contest must be suspended.
Suspended contests may be continued (within assigned
permit dates) only if the cause of the high mortality can
be positively identified and ceases or is corrected by
contest officials. Contests involving only juveniles are not
required to meet the 90 percent live release requirement.
INCIDENTAL CATCHES: Only those species listed as
a target of the contest may be retained by participants.
This means you cannot keep bass, perch or any other non-targeted
species if you are fishing in a walleye contest,
and cannot keep walleyes caught while fishing in a bass
or other contest.