Live Bait Walleye Fishing – How Its Done

Although some fishermen may consider it cheating, live bait fishing is effective for catching trophy walleye. Even so, I have yet to meet a single one that would disagree with me. Nobody wants to admit it either. Live bait walleye fishing is the name of the catching game. In an underwater world, realism is the key to strikes. It doesn’t matter how you slice it or dice it. If you present a live bait well, you will get more bites. This is why it’s banned in tournaments. This is just how it works. It does not stop lure fishermen from trying though.

I realize this may stir up some individuals and that’s okay. Tournament anglers always deserve to be a part of the conversation too. Artificial baits do a great job but real ones may do a better job especially in certain places. We will always have to remember the role that live bait plays within the world of fishing. Using the right bait at the right time is the key to getting those bigger fish to bite more often. This is going to be a tutorial of how to catch walleye by using live bait. We are also going to cover some tips and tricks too.

Understanding The Big 3 Walleye Baits

It does not matter who you talk to. When you ask local fishermen about the best live baits for walleye, there are three that keep coming up. These are also known as the “big three”. The big three consists of minnows, nightcrawlers, and leeches. This trio is the universal formula. These three are the very language spoken by anglers everywhere. They are what you need to study. They are what you need to use. You should put one of these on your hook to ensure success.

If the whole sport was centered around live bait selection and that is what you came for, we could end this post right here. Those are pretty much it and there isn’t much else you need to be aware of. We could do that but we’re not going to. Bait selection is only the beginning of something more complicated. Every bait choice has their pros and cons. They all have their place where they will perform better than the other options.


Try using them year-round and even more in the fall and winter months. Minnows are not a seasonal choice at all. They can be effective at any time of the year regardless of weather conditions or water temperatures. For winter and ice fishing, they are the best. When referring to minnows, we actually mean baitfish of all kinds. Popular options that catch walleye include emerald shiners, fathead minnows, golden shiners, redtail chubs, creek chubs, and suckers. Using live baitfish has always been a popular choice.


Use a whole nightcrawler more in the summer and spring. They are at their best when they are not freezing to death. They tend to work better in temperatures that do not dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit  (10 degrees Celsius). Try to keep them out of scorching heat that exceeds seventy degrees. Walleye tend to enjoy nightcrawlers when they are trying to fatten up for the spawn. Although they can work sometimes during freezing weather, the bait will die instantly and it will not have a whole lot of action.


Use a leech in the hottest environments. They ball up and don’t wiggle in cold water. They are also much easier to take care of in hot weather because of their slime coat. Also, they are a lot less fragile than nightcrawlers are. Leeches are the best live bait for walleye. All they require to stay alive is good water. Leeches are great to use when you can find them. Bring multiple sizes of leeches when you go out and don’t forget to try them all out. Use them towards the beginning of the season because they become unavailable later.

Walleye fish caught while live bait fishing.

Live Bait Walleye Fishing Rigs – What The Pros Use

Slip Bobber Rig

A slip bobber rig is a technique that allows you to fish with a float at any depth. You attach a bobber stop to your main line. The slip bobber floats up to the bobber stop and floats on the surface of the water. This rig is one of the most popular options to catch walleye. The ability to present the bait at any depth also gives your bait a very natural look. You also get a very good hookset because the bobber does not interfere in any way.

First, tie a stopper knot on your main line or use a thread slip tie. Pull it tight. After that, use a plastic bead and feed it onto the line. Next, run your line through the opening of the slip bobber and attach it at the bottom. Tie on your hook to the end using your favorite knot. Finally, clip a split shot weight on the line about one foot above the hook so the bobber sits properly. Use a lively bait for the best results. The more wiggle you can get out of your bait on this rig, the better.

Spinning Worm Harness

Spinning worm harnesses are a very effective rig for trolling such as when you are catching Lake Erie walleye on a boat. You can also cast them if you have the right gear. You can use whole nightcrawlers on them as well as leeches. The rig consists of three hooks, some plastic beads, a clevis, and a Colorado spinner blade. These are great for adding a ton of vibration and flash in the water to attract the fish from a long way. All sizes of walleye will bite them too.

Take a piece of leader and tie a hook to the end using a knotless knot. Put the next hook on the same way and tie another knotless knot a few inches away from the first. Add the plastic beads to the the line one after the other and make it touch the first hook. Next, run the spinner blade through the clevis and run the line through both of the openings in the clevis. All that is left to do is tie a loop knot to the end of the leader so you can attach it to your main trolling line.

Jighead Rig

Jigging is an absolutely killer method for targeting all sizes of walleye in every season. While it sounds as simple as hooking your favorite bait in the nose with the jighead (and it is), the jig rig is the simple way to do things and get bit just the same. They make specialized heads specifically for walleye fishermen and these jigs differ from other jigs on the market. Make sure to select a head that has a wide gap and a shorter shank. This will allow your bait to move more naturally.

Attach the jighead directly to the fishing line by using a good loop knot. I suggest using a triple surgeon’s loop. All you have to do is run the line through the eye of the hook and tie a basic overhand knot with three wraps. Pull it tight. It will not slip. The loop knot allows your jig to sit up perfectly in the water. Next, take a nice healthy leech or a thick and juicy nightcrawler and grab it near the head. Hook the bait one time through the body and let the hook expose itself. Start fishing it.

Conclusion – Live Bait Equals Walleye

To conclude, live bait is what you want to use if you want to catch walleye. There are not any complicated things you need to remember either. All you need is three baits and some very basic gear that can be obtained at literally any tackle store. None of the rigs are hard to fish and they will work everywhere fish swim. If you are out to get some nice eating fish for the table, using real bait is a very safe bet. Also, its just fun to catch these toothy and hard fighting fish regardless of the method used.

Did you know that walleye fishing with leeches is the most popular method for catching this species? Let’s discuss the topic in the comments!

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