Walleye Vision: How It Affects Their Feeding Patterns

John Malcolm
John MalcolmPublished: March 4, 2024
Walleye Vision: How It Affects Their Feeding Patterns

When it comes to freshwater fishing in North America, the walleye holds a place of esteem among anglers for its elusive nature and the quality of its meat. It's easily one of the best fish we've ever eaten, and they're also fun to catch.

Understanding the biology and behavior of this sought-after fish can significantly enhance your fishing experience. A key aspect of walleye biology that influences their behavior—and consequently how anglers should approach fishing for them—is their unique vision.

Like a dog uses its ears to hear the faintest of sounds, walleye leverage their vision to thrive and stand out as apex predators throughout waters in the northern US.

Understanding walleye vision.

Walleye have evolved to thrive in various aquatic environments, but their distinctive eyes set them apart and define their predatory habits.

These fish possess a layer of reflective pigment called the tapetum lucidum, similar to the one found in cat eyes.

Have you ever seen a cat's eyes glow at night with the beam of a flashlight? That's tapetum lucidum.

This adaptation allows them to see exceptionally well in low-light conditions, giving them a significant advantage over their prey.

The tapetum lucidum reflects light back through the retina, enhancing vision in murky waters, during overcast days, and especially at dawn, dusk, and nighttime.

How Walleye Vision WorksThis diagram of a walleye's eye shows how light enters and where the tapetum lucidum is.

This means that walleye are more active and effective predators during these periods.

Anglers aiming to capitalize on peak walleye activity should focus their efforts during these times, using techniques and lures that cater to low-light conditions.

How vision influences diet.

Walleye's vision dictates not only when they feed but also what they feed on. These predators prefer easily visible and slow-moving prey, which often includes smaller fish, insects, and crustaceans that inhabit the lower light zones of their aquatic environment.

The walleye's ability to see in low light doesn't just aid in their hunting; it shapes their diet, pushing them towards prey that other predators might overlook.

Pro Tip: To up your game, opt for lures that resemble walleye's favored prey in size, shape, and movement. Choosing colors that pop in dim conditions can make your bait more visible and enticing to them. 

This preference for certain types of prey during specific conditions has implications for anglers. Knowing what walleye are likely to feed on can guide the choice of bait and lures.

For instance, using lures that mimic the size, shape, and movement of the walleye's preferred prey—especially in colors that stand out in low light—can significantly increase the chances of a successful catch.

Adapting strategies for walleye vision.

To fish for walleye effectively, anglers must adapt their strategies to match the fish's visual capabilities and feeding behavior.

Since walleye are more active during periods of low light, anglers should plan their outings around these times. We recommend being on the water an hour before this time so you can get to your spot and be in place when the frenzy starts.

The choice of fishing spot can also be swayed by understanding walleye vision. Areas with structures that offer shade, such as underwater ledges or vegetation, can be hotspots for walleye, especially during brighter parts of the day when their light-sensitive eyes drive them to darker waters.

In addition to timing and location, lure selection and presentation are essential.

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Lures that produce vibration or noise can be particularly effective, as they can attract walleye's attention in conditions where visibility is limited. Like a northern pike, you want to get the walleye's attention and irritate them.

However, visual appeal should not be neglected; reflective or glow-in-the-dark lures can mimic the kind of prey walleye are naturally drawn to in their low-light hunting grounds.

Why walleye vision matters.

Understanding the role of vision in walleye feeding patterns offers more than just a tactical advantage to anglers. Although, it's probably the number 1 factor when going after these fish.

It provides a window into the life of one of North America's most fascinating freshwater species. The specialized vision of the walleye is a testament to the adaptability and diversity of fish, showcasing how different species have evolved unique traits to survive and thrive in their specific environments.

For anglers, this knowledge fosters a deeper appreciation for the walleye and the ecosystems they inhabit. It encourages a more mindful approach to fishing, where success is not just measured by the day's catch but by the connection to the natural world and the insights gained into the lives of its inhabitants.

Reel in a monster walleye!

The unique vision of the walleye significantly shapes its feeding patterns, offering valuable lessons for anglers looking to improve their technique. Most anglers we've encountered fish for walleye as they do bass or any other fish — toss in a line and hope something bites. However, walleye requires more of an active approach, and tapping into their vision is key to doing this.

By aligning fishing strategies with the biological and behavioral traits of the walleye, anglers can enjoy more productive outings and a richer, more informed fishing experience. And, when talking to other anglers, you'll also sound more like a pro.

Whether you're a seasoned walleye hunter or new to the game, understanding how these remarkable fish see the world can transform the way you approach fishing for them.

John Malcolm

John Malcolm

Expert Angler

John is a highly skilled angler with over two decades of experience and a passion that has led him to participate in numerous tournaments, including reeling in a remarkable 9lb bass on Lake Okeechobee. His dedication to fishing and willingness to share his expertise make him a respected ambassador for the angling community, inspiring others to appreciate the sport.