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How the Walleye Spawn Works

When Walleye Spawn

­As winter ends and the sun melts­ the ice that's accumulated on the lakes and streams, walleye leave the deep water -- where they've spent the fall and winter -- to begin their migratory journey. But it's important to know that walleye don't go by a typical calendar. A number of factors go into when they make their move, but the most important is water temperature.

When they sense the warming trend, the male walleye start on the journey first sometimes arriving at the staging site as much as a month in advance of the spawn itself [source: Shining Falls Lodge]. The females don't get there until the water has reached an ideal temperature to ensure the success of their reproductive activity. This is usually around 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7.2 degrees Celsius), give or take a few degrees [source: Pitlo].

The pace at which the sun warms the water determines the pace of the spawn. Similarly, shallow water warms faster than deep water, so spawning starts earlier and proceeds faster in streambeds than in lakes and reservoirs. Deep inland lakes can take a while to absorb sufficient sunlight to reach the trigger temperature. Offshore waters also warm more slowly.

A sudden cold snap or re-freeze can throw a wrench into the walleye plans, slowing down or postponing the spawn as the females hold on to their eggs. If the late freeze holds, they may even choose to reabsorb their eggs after depositing them on the shallow shoals [source: CPI]. In a normal year, spring warms up the aquatic environment fairly consistently and creates the ideal environment for fishing the spawn.

So now you know the basics for figuring out when to go walleye fishing. But where's the party?