For most average fishermen in Ontario, “the” fish to catch is the walleye. It is common over the eastern half of this continent to the Mississippi Valley, to Saskatchewan, and the Mackenzie River.
The walleye is called by many names—whiteeye, pikeperch, glasseye, and the most common wrong name, pickerel. Pickerel means small pike, but the walleye is not related to the pike family at all.
Rather, it belongs to the same family as the yellow perch, the sauger, and some small fish called darters.
The walleye, like all members of the family, have two separate dorsal (back) fins, and all of the major fins have sharp, bristly spines. The background colour of our fish is brassy yellow with dark blotches.
A dark blotch at the rear of the forward dorsal fin is said to distinguish it from its near relative, the sauger. The lower part of the tail fin usually has a light area—another distinguishing mark.
Walleye are very prolific. They require fairly cool water, in fairly large lakes and rivers. They are travellers, and like to be in places where they can move several miles freely.
Tagged fish often have been caught 10-25 miles from where they were released—and a few even have moved hundreds of miles.
They spawn in the early spring, sometimes even before the ice is all out. They travel up streams until they reach gravelled areas with fairly fast-moving water; the males going first.
The eggs are sticky and adhere to rocks and gravel downstream. The average female will produce around 90,000 eggs.
They also tend to return to the same spawning grounds year after year.
The young remain in these locations for a while, eating tiny aquatic organisms. As they grow larger, they move to deeper water, perhaps two feet or so by mid-summer.
Their diet changes to water insects and other invertebrates, and, when they are big enough, to other fish.
The walleye is a major predator, whose diet is 90 percent fish. They do not eat during the spawning season, but the do eat all winter, which some other species apparently do not.
In years gone by, harvesting of this fish was done in very large quantities. For Ontario, in 1973, 1,400,000 pounds was taken. Of this, more than 1,100,000 came from “northern inland waters,” most of it from Lake of the Woods.
For a very rough estimate, add about 50 percent and that will give a grand total, both commercial and sport.
It seems that, in the last few years, the walleye population has had a very serious decline, particularly in the border waters area. This is a great pity, indeed.
The walleye is so highly-prized, both by residents and tourists, that it alone has built up a large tourist industry.
The stocking of walleye seems to always be a controversial topic. Most of the literature, from both Canada and the U.S., suggests stocking of walleye fry makes no significant difference in the numbers.
I would be glad to be corrected, or brought up to date on this score.
The walleye, stizostedion vitreum, has a lot going for it. It is quite easy to catch most of the time, it is (or used to be) quite plentiful, it lives in areas which are pleasant to fish in, it is wonderful to eat, and it runs up to 20 pounds or more.
It certainly is one of the most important fish in Ontario.
From the records which I have, the world record walleye was caught in Old Hickory Lake, Tenn. in 1960 and was a 25-pounder.
The Ontario record was 22 pounds, four oz. and was landed in Fort Erie.