Fisheries biologists will tell you that walleyes are eating machines, feeding on whatever forage is available in a given body of water.
But walleyes do show forage preferences based on their location and seasonality. And they’ll eat baits presented to them that fall outside of the predominant forage base if it’s easy to grab—or presented in a way—typically erratically—that incites an aggressive feeding response.
For the sake of the discussion, though, let’s just assume walleyes are left to their own natural patterns, no angler interruption.
In the spring, walleyes typically feed on whatever minnows are running. For example: shiners when rivers, flats, and areas of current attract them to group up and spawn.
Then, throughout summer, walleyes will eat any variety of minnows, fry and young-of-the-year gamefish, and even bigger critters. But they’ll also eat larvae burrowing up out of the bottom during big bug hatches. And from July to early August – or whenever crawfish are molting on your waters – you might find walleyes concentrating on that food course.
Of course, we rely on our electronics to help us determine what they’re eating on any given day, as well as cleaning “eater” fish to investigate stomach contents for an indication of the live bait or imitator we should be fishing.
Later in the year, the walleye diet often changes, and fish will key into other available food sources. Like tullibees on your large, deep lakes, which typically spawn in the fall on shallow, rocky reefs.
Another late-summer through fall food source that’s often overlooked? Frogs.
Yes, you heard correct. Leopard frogs.
In areas with sizeable frog populations, you’ll actually see them (typically at night with your headlights) crossing from marshy, slough-like areas into larger, neighboring waters presumably with greater depths, also a soft bottom, but more oxygen, where the frogs will burrow into the bottom and hibernate for the winter.
Yes, walleyes are smart. They know when and where these migrations happen.
In the “old days” in-the-know anglers also knew the frog migration routes and would sit on shore and fish with frogs that had been scooped up by hand and thrown into gunny sacks for nighttime walleye shore fishing bait.
How’d the old guard fish ‘em? With a large hook and a weight—basically a short Lindy Rig—and throw the rig out from shore, let it sit on the bottom, set the rod on a shore-planted stick, open the bail, and wait for a fish to kill and swallow the frog.
Yes, lots of walleyes (and some big ones) have been caught doing this over the years, although it’s not something you hear about much anymore. ‘Course, that doesn’t mean it’s still not a great way to catch fall walleyes.
Do yourself a favor and watch the video above and give it a shot yourself this autumn.