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Updated Mar 17, 2023 10:41 AM
Fickle…That one word alone explains a walleye best, so it’s no wonder finding great walleye lures seems the same. When targeting these picky predators it’s often feast or famine for anglers, with either a livewell or stringer full of frisky fish at day’s end, or, a head hung low back at the dock. Once hooked, anglers will find there are no long, drag-screaming runs; no leaps and bounds; only a bit of bulldogging back to the shore or boat. It’s that aforementioned feast, however—the walleye’s fine table fare—why they are so sought after. And using one of the best walleye lures can help you enjoy fresh filets during your next dinner.
How We Picked The Best Walleye Lures
During the hay days of walleye fishing, when the Professional Walleye Trail (PWT), RCL and FLW tournaments were in full swing, I was blessed to be one of the main dudes covering the tips and techniques used by the best of the best walleye anglers in the United States. And I’m here to tell ya, the progression of lures and gear over the years I got to witness first hand was quite astonishing. And it was the very professionals I had the chance to pre-fish with who had their hands in helping create today’s walleye baits.
With that said, however, there are some lures that have stood the test of time, which are still a go-to for derby anglers and guides alike. Because of this, the baits that proven themselves time and time again as being high-quality fish catchers are why the best walleye lures for 2023 were chosen.
The Best Walleye Lures: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Northland Fishing Tackle Deep-Vee Jig
- Weights: 1/16-, 1/8-, ¼- and 3/4- ounce
- 12 head colors
- Large eyes for fish to zone in on
- Barb holds live bait and plastics snug to the head
- Simple design, no moving parts
- Long-shank hook
- No trailer hook
- Pricey compared to other jigs
Every tournament pro and guide I know, (and I know a lot) say a jig is the most versatile walleye lure ever made. Northland’s been a staple brand for walleye anglers for decades, and the shape of their Deep-Vee Jig is one of the most unique. The head, wide at the top and narrowing down at the bottom, allows the bait to fall straight and fast through the water column, as well ride true during a steady retrieve or when rip-jigging. Its shape also helps reduce snagging in rocks as easily as a standard ball-head jig.
Best for Trolling: Rapala Down Deep Husky Jerk
- Length: 4-, 4 ¾- and 5 ½-inches
- Weight: 3/8-, ½ and 13/16-ounce
- 24 colors
- Durable, neutral buoyant body
- Wobbles properly right out of the package
- 2 to 3 Premium VMC black nickel Round Bend hooks, depending on size
Lauri Rapala—credited for creating the world’s first floating minnow lure—using a shoemaker’s knife and sandpaper, created a lure from cork in 1936. The Down Deep Husky Jerk has that same life-like shape that’s been fooling fish ever since. The larger size of this lure can reach depths of twenty feet when trolled, can be pulled at a creep at 1 MPH, and runs well at up to 4 MPH (1.5 to 2.5 MPH most common speed for ‘eyes). This crankbait works wonders when cast from boat or shore, as well; diving down to 10 feet on the retrieve. The neutral buoyancy properties of this bait makes it suspend during a pause. It’s during the hiatus in swimming that fish like to whack it.
Best Budget: Berkley Flicker Shad
- Length: 1 ½-, 2-, 2¼, 2 ¾- and 3 ½ inches
- Weight: 1/8- , ¼-, ½-, 3/16- and 5/16- ounce
- Heavy-duty plastic construction
- 62 colors
- Good for trolling
- Good for casting
- Multi-species lure
- Lip can be damaged when hitting rocks
In 2007, I watched Gary Parsons win a walleye tournament along the eastern shoreline of Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago, while rocking in 3-footers. He and his amateur co-angler were casting a prototype lure from Berkley, which only came in one color at the time – white. Since then, the lure, now known as the Flicker Shad, has proven effective when casted and trolled. Overall, you get good-quality components on this crankbait, which you can sometimes find on sale for just under $4, with a suggested retail price going for $5.99. This is a good thing as there are so many sizes and colors to choose from you can afford to buy a variety. This is a great lure to try when trolling with lead core, as well
Best Swimbait: Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ
- Length: 4-, 5-, and 7-inches
- Extreme stretchy material
- 40 colors
- Snag resistant
- Easy to use
- Resilient to wear and tear
- Made in the USA
- Will react and melt other plastics if stored out of the bag
A swimbait is probably the easiest artificial lure to use. While a twitch here and there might induce a strike when fish are finicky, for the most part, a slow, steady retrieve is all that’s necessary. The DieZel MinnowZ is made of ElaZtech – an extremely stretchy material, which keeps it from ripping apart, even after fooling dozens of toothy walleyes. With only one, single hook, this lure will run through weeds without becoming a tangled mess, and it’s long, slender body allows you to cast further, to boot. Z-Man makes several swimbait heads that work wonders with this bait; but don’t forget about the best walleye lure overall, the Deep-Vee Jig mentioned above. Just remember to keep them in their bag when stored as they don’t play well with other plastics. And don’t toss ‘em on the dashboard of your vehicle, as a friend of mine learned the hard way.
Best for Rivers: Lunker City Fin-S Fish
- Length: 2 ½-, 3 ½-, 4-, 5-, 5 ¾-, 7- and 10-inches
- Multiple actions
- Up to 70 colors, depending on size
- Good all for seasons (even when ice fishing)
- Casts far
- Works in clear or stained water
- Can get chewed up by toothy fish
When vertical jigging from a boat in large, deep rivers, the Fin-S Fish can be fished at bottom while you drift downstream. Just do your best to keep your line straight up and down as you bounce it along the bottom. Depending on current speed, a jighead up to one ounce may be needed. The first time I saw walleyes being caught with this fork-tail minnow softbait, however, was from the banks of the Missouri River, below the powerhouse holding back Lake Oahe, in 1996. Here, the anglers that put on a catching clinic would cast out slightly upstream, then work the jig back with a darting action. Lesson learned.
Best for Spring: Custom Jigs & Spins AuthentX Pulse-R
- Length: 2 9/20- and 3 ¼-inches
- Ribbed body
- 24 colors
- Can be purchased in bulk (up to a 96 pack)
- Can be fished as a jig, worm or swimbait
- Good in deep water or shallow water
- Paddle tail may tear after a catch
During the walleye spring season, when water’s still chilly, the cold-blooded walleye can become as lethargic as a fish can get. In general, they’re not going to swim fast or far to take an offering. The AuthentX Pulse-R has a wide ribbed body that allows the bait to be fished extremely slow and still have plenty of vibration from the ribbing, as well a waggling action via its thin paddle tail. When casting and rip jigging it, the water resistance makes this lure fall ever so slowly, which is a good ploy along the edges of weed beds. River anglers will drift the lure to and around wing dams, which fish use to break the currant. A long cast and steady retrieve and it’s a swimbait you can reel in at a creep.
Best for Summer: Northland Fishing Tackle Pro Walleye Float’n Harness
- Length: 40-inch harness
- Blade: Size 4
- Two size-4 octopus-style hooks
- 8 colors
- Changeable blade via a speed clevis
- UV beads and painted blades
- Long harness keeps fish from spooking
- May have to be replaced if a northern pike whacks it
Crawler harnesses, like the Northland Float’n Harness, are a walleye angler’s staple during the summer months, especially when the water warms and fish move to cooler, deeper haunts. A lot of area can be covered throughout a day when trailing behind a Northland Slick-Stick bottom bouncer. The added scent of a lively night crawler nipped through its tiptop and mid body is always a fish pleaser. If pesky perch or ‘gills are nipping the tails of your worms, try a softbait worm, such as a Berkley PowerBait Power Nightcrawler. (Sometimes the walleyes prefer this over the real thing, as well.) One tip anglers overlook is not to drag the bottom-bouncer on bottom, but rather have it just “tick” it.
Best for Fall: Reef Runner Cicada
- Weight: 1/16-, 1/8-, ¼-, 3/8-, ½-, and ¾-ounce
- Two replicable double-point hooks
- 21 colors
- Easy to use
- Easy-to-eat size triggers bites
- One piece (except for hooks)
- May twist and hook line during the cast
There’s something about a lure with lots of vibration and a fast fall that triggers walleyes to strike in autumn. The Cicada can be ripped with a quick lift of the rod tip a foot or two, then allowed to drop straight down on a taut line ’til it’s just off bottom, repeating the action back to the boat or shore. Braid is a good choice for this bait as its no-stretch properties allow you to feel the slightest hit as the bait falls, which is when most strikes occur. If fish are deep, vertical jigging straight below the boat with a quick lift and fall can do the trick. If you keep tangling on the cast, add a small soft plastic, such as a grub used for panfish, to the back hook. This will act as a rudder in the air, keeping the lure from spinning.
What to Consider When Choosing Walleye Lures
The factors that go into choosing lures for catching walleyes can seem endless. Take the following into account when filling your tackle totes, however, and you’ll up your odds of catching some.
Luckily for anglers, the best walleye lures aren’t too expensive in comparison to baits for other species. The majority are well under the $10 mark, with many half of that yet. But don’t be fooled by a walleye lure with the prettiest paint job. It’s the wiggle and waggle that sets the best apart from the rest.
Overall, the more you spend the better components, such as hooks and the like. The former should be of the highest quality, and sticky sharp right out of the package. (Hint: To test sharpness of a hook, lightly drag its point across your thumbnail. If it wants to dig in, you’re good to go; if it slips easily across it, touch it up with a stone or file.)
The tactics that can be used for targeting walleyes is truly endless. Both pitching jigs and vertical jigging are winners; casting crankbaits and swimbaits, as well. Trolling either crawler harnesses or crankbaits is a popular ploy, moreover pulled behind in-line planer boards or with lead core line. Drifting with the wind or current while using live bait or jigs takes its fair share of these prickly-toothed predators, also. And don’t forget casting any bait into shallower water, as walleyes will search out prey in skinnier water than most anglers perceive. Overall, it’s whatever technique you like to use most often that will take the majority of your fish.
Choosing the right gear for using the best walleye lures can be a little more taxing. It’ll all depend on the technique you’ve chosen. When jigging, for example, a 5 1/2- to 6 ½-foot medium-light-power fast-action spinning rod, with spinning reel filled with 6- to 8-pound-test braid is most common. On the other hand, 10-pound-test braid or fluorocarbon coupled with a medium-power moderate-action 6 ½- to 7 ½-foot rod is preferred when casting cranks. Light-power rods with a slow, soft action utilizing 6-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon are perfect for live-bait personations. Trolling with planer boards or lead core takes a little more specialized gear, requiring 7- to 9 ½-foot medium-power rods with a stiffer butt section but soft tip that can take the extra torque.
Q: Can you catch walleyes at night?
Yes. In fact, after the sun sets is when the big girls come out from their lairs to feed. This is a great time to troll or cast crankbaits. Just be very careful not to hook your buddy. Also remember to keep it simple when fishing in the dark. Tangles and the like seem 10 times worse when you can’t see what you’re doing.
Q: Will walleyes hit spoons?
They sure will. Trolling smaller size-0 or size-1 spoons, like those from Warrior Lures, are a good place to start. Pulling them behind a diving weight, such as a Church Tackle Stingray Diving Weight, will get those lightweight spoons down where they need to be – in the face of suspended walleyes. Ten-pound-test monofilament is strong enough to reel any size ‘eye, yet is light enough it won’t impede a spoon’s action.
Q: What color lures do walleyes like?
Just as with any species, the best color lure to use for walleyes will depend on the color of the waterway you’re fishing. In lakes that are clear, such as the Great Lakes and natural oligotrophic lakes of the north, baits that emulate the natural color of the baitfish in the system should be tried first. Walleye are well known for living in tannic or stained lakes and rivers, on the other hand, which is where brightly-colored baits and metallic gold or copper shine through. Don’t be afraid to think outside the coloring book, as switch to colors out of the norm.
Final Thoughts on the Best Walleye Lures
Remember the first word of this piece – fickle? If there was ever a fish that was inconsistent, capricious, unpredictable and just down right picky, it’s the walleye. Yet anglers target them with vengeance for the fish they farmed during the hookset or at the net. The best way to catch a walleye is to try out some of the best walleye lures available and get ‘em in the water. Cast, troll, jig and rig; the techniques are seemingly endless.