Top Live Baits for Walleye Fishing

top live baits for walleye fishing

Top Live Baits for Walleye Fishing

This article will focus on the top live baits for walleye fishing. While many walleye are caught by anglers casting and trolling artificial lures, live bait is tough to beat. There are many live baits that will produce walleye. However, there are three live baits that really stand out above the rest.

The top live baits for walleye fishing are minnows, nightcrawlers, and leeches. These three live baits are by far the most productive. Anglers can catch fish all year long and in every environment using these three live baits.

Like most thing regarding fishing, each of these live baits has advantages and disadvantages. There are different methods and techniques used by anglers to present these live baits to walleye. Also, different baits work better in different seasons and situations.

walleye fishing baits

Special thanks to expert walleye angler Bill Kish for the tips and pics. Bill primarily fishes Lake Erie.

Read Capt Jim’s comprehensive article on walleye fishing

One important note regarding fishing live baits; anglers need to check regulations when it comes to both catching and transporting live bait. Invasive species are a problem in some areas and fish and game departments are serious about enforcing these laws.

Best tackle for fishing for walleye with live bait

Anglers have a wide variety of choices when it comes to the best rod and reel for walleye fishing with live bait. There really is no one “best” outfit as the conditions vary depending on the water being fished. However, there are two basic outfits that will cover just about every situation.

walleye fishing

A medium spinning rod and reel is perfect for fishing for walleye using live bait in fairly shallow water, 20 feet or less. It should have a fairly soft action and be paired with a 3000 series reel and spooled up with 10 pound monofilament line.

Read more about walleye fishing tackle

Anglers fishing in deeper water or doing the majority of their fishing trolling will do best to opt for a light conventional outfit. Casts are not required. Daiwa offers an excelling line of rods and reels specifically designed for this style of fishing. The reels even have counters on them, which is quite handy.

Fishing for walleye with nightcrawlers

Nightcrawlers are a fantastic live bait for walleye fishing! They are easy to obtain; anglers can purchase them at just about any bait shop or retail outlet that sells fishing gear. In many areas, this includes gas stations and convenience stores. Nightcrawlers are reasonably priced and easy to keep alive and frisky. They will live a long time as long as they are kept cool, and this includes the fridge.

best live bait for freshwater fishing

Nightcrawlers are most productive for walleye in the warmer months. From late spring through early fall, nightcrawlers are the top choice of anglers fishing live baits for walleye. They are presented on or near the bottom in most cases, as this is where the majority of walleye feed.

The primary disadvantage to fishing for walleye with leeches is that all other fish love them as well. Panfish and other species can be a nuisance, especially in shallow water. However, some anglers are more than happy to catch whatever species they can, and this is absolutely fine!

live baits walleye fishing

One of the most effective techniques used to fish live nightcrawlers for walleye is on some type of “crawler harness”. These rigs include a couple of hooks spaced a few inches apart. Spinner blades are often used to add flash and color. Small floats can be used to keep the nightcrawler just above the bottom.

Rigs and lures for fishing nightcrawlers

There are many of these rigs available on the market, the Lindy rig is an excellent example. It uses a specially designed weight that “walks” over structure. Bottom bouncers are another design used to bounce on the bottom while minimizing snags. Anglers can use a sliding egg sinker as well. In all of these cases, a swivel is used to connect the leader while also stopping the weight from sliding down.

Bottom bouncers can also be used with a crawler harness. This is just another tool available to present the bait just above the bottom while minimizing snags. The combinations of sinkers, harnesses, and spinner blades an angler can use is endless, and that is part of the fun.

trolling lures for walleye

The Erie Dearie is legendary in the Great Lakes area and is an excellent tool to use to fishing live baits for walleye. It combines the hook, weight, and spinner in one tidy little package. The design results in it being relatively snag free. Anglers have many different colors to choose from.

Fishing for walleye with live minnows

Minnows are another excellent choice for anglers fishing with live bait for walleye. Walleye feed heavily on bait fish in the cooler months, making minnows the top choice from early fall through late spring. This includes anglers ice fishing for walleye as well. Minnows are most often hooked through the lips from the bottom, but can be hooked under the dorsal fin as well.

best live bait for crappie

Live minnows do require more effort to acquire and keep alive than other baits. The minnows can be caught in traps or using nets. Most anglers purchase their minnows at bait shops. The best bait fish will vary by region. Top minnows include golden and emerald shiners, fathead minnows, chubs, and suckers. 3′ to 4” minnows are best.

Once the minnows are obtained, they must be kept alive and active. The cooler the water, the easier this is. Many fishing boats have aerated livewells; this makes keeping minnows alive easy. Those fishing from shore or in boats without a livewell will do best with a bucked and a portable battery operated aerator. These are available at most tackle shops.

walleye fishing tips

Live minnows can be fished on a 3 way rig, drop shot rig, or Carolina rig when fishing in deeper water. Again depending in regulations, a “high/low” rig with two minnows presented a couple feet apart can be effective. In shallow water the live minnow can be fished under a float, either fixed or rigged to slip to the desired depth.

One easy and effective technique used to fish for walleye with live minnows is to use a jig head. The jig head supplies both the hook and casting weight. In shallow water, the rig can be cast out and bounced back in along the bottom. In deeper water, it can be vertically presented.

Walleye fishing with leeches

Leeches are the third bait on the list of best live baits for walleye fishing. They are most effective in the warmer months. Leeches are readily available at most bait shops that cater to walleye anglers. They can be kept alive for months if properly cared for, though this does require some effort. Leeches need cool, clean water and must be fed.


Leeches have tremendous action in the water! They are usually hooked right in the front, which allows them to swim and undulate in the water. The same rigs that work with minnows will be fish when fishing leeches as well.

Most anglers fishing with live bait for walleye do so by drifting. This is an efficient technique that keeps the bait in the strike zone for extended periods of time. In rivers, the boat simply drifts with the current. In lakes, wind often provides the movement. Anglers can also slowly troll. “Back trolling” was basically created by anglers wanting to very slowly troll over structure.

In shallow water, anglers will need to cast the bait out a bit. Depending on conditions, the bait can be free lined or fished under a float. A 1/8 ounce jig head can be used effectively as well. A bucktail or marabou jig can be adorned with a minnow or leech and will add some color to the presentation.

In conclusion, this article on the top live baits for walleye fishing will help anglers catch more of these terrific and tasty freshwater game fish!

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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