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Limits on Walleyes and What’s Considered a Trophy

provided by John E. Phillips 

Mossy Oak Pro Johnnie Candle of Devils Lake, North Dakota, has been a tournament walleye fisherman for many years. When not tournament fishing, he guides on Devils Lake in North Dakota and several other lakes. To learn more, check out his website and his Facebook page.

walleye under water

The number of walleyes you can catch and keep not only depends on the state where you’re fishing, but also the body of water you’re fishing in a particular state. In most states where I fish, the limit of walleyes you can keep will be four to five fish per day. However, some lakes will have their own specific length limits and number of walleyes you can keep. A lake or a river may have a slot limit too. So, make sure you check the regulations in each state and each lake and river you plan to fish, since the limits can vary from state to state and lake to lake. 

I’m often asked how to know, when you’re fishing for trophy walleyes, when to keep a certain size of walleyes and when to throw them back. I guess that depends on what your goal is for the day. If I’m fishing for eating-size walleyes, I very rarely keep a walleye that’s more than 20-inches long. I’d rather have a nice limit of 16 to 18-inch walleyes for my table because that size cooks better, and they’re easier to clean. 

The walleyes are much like any type of meat you’ll eat for dinner. For instance, if you’re planning to eat a ribeye steak, you don’t want that steak to come from a bull that’s been out in the pasture for 20 years. The smaller, younger walleyes usually taste better than the older, bigger walleyes do. But if I’m down to that last fish to make my limit, and I’m fishing for a trophy of a lifetime, I know I can’t catch a 30-inch walleye if I keep a 28-inch walleye. So, you have to decide what a trophy walleye will be for you.  Honestly, an 8-pound walleye for most folks is a trophy walleye. 

If you don’t fish 100 days or more each year for walleyes, then the chances of catching a 10-pound walleye are slim. I know some folks who may tell you that they’ve caught 20-30, 10-pound-plus walleyes in their fishing careers. But then you have to wonder how many of those walleyes actually were weighed on scales. I fish for walleyes for living, and I travel all across the Walleye Belt of the country. I’ve only caught one walleye verified to weigh more than 12 pounds. I’ve caught two other walleyes over 11 pounds each. I probably can count on both hands the number of 10-pound walleyes or better I’ve caught in my lifetime after thousands of hours of fishing on the best walleye waters in the nation.

I believe a walleye that’s 28–29 inches long is a true walleye trophy. My lifetime biggest walleye weighed 12-1/4-pounds. The biggest walleye that one of my clients ever has caught weighed 11 pounds. In 2020, I guided more than 100 days on Devils Lake, and I only saw two walleyes weighing over 8 pounds come to the boat. 

Johnnie Candle’s Walleye on the Half Shell Recipe:

I use this favorite redfish recipe to cook walleyes, and they’re delicious. Fillet the walleyes but leave the skin and the scales on the fillets. Remove the rib cage. Coat fillets with thin layer of real mayonnaise. Shake on some of your favorite Cajun seasoning - Zatarain’s or Tony Chachere’s. Then top with a liberal coating of grated parmesan cheese.  Place on the grill (I prefer my Green Egg or Trager pellet grill to gas) or place in the oven at 350 degrees until fish flakes. Cooking times will vary based on the thickness of the fillets, but normally around 20 minutes. The meat will easily flake off of the skin with a fork.

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