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A North American relative of the European pikeperch, the walleye or yellow pike (Sander vitreus, formerly Stizostedion vitreum) is a freshwater perciform fish native to most of Canada and the northern United States; it is believed to be an introduced species in the mid-Atlantic states. A genetical unique strain is known to inhabit the Mobile River Basin. The common name walleye comes from the fact their eyes, not unlike cats, reflect light in a unique fashion. This is the result of a light gathering layer to their eyes called the tapetum lucidum. Their eyes allow them to see very well in low-light conditions. In fact, many fisherman look for walleyes at night since this is when most major feeding patterns occur. Their eyes also allow them to see well in turbid water (rough, breaking water on mid-lake reefs) which gives them an advantage over their prey. Thus walleye fishermen will commonly look for days and locations where there is a good "Walleye Chop" (i.e. rough water).
Walleye may grow to about 30 inches maximum in length, and weigh up to about 15 pounds. The growth rate will depend partly on where in their range they occurr with southern populations often growing faster and larger. The dorsal side of a walleye is olive in colour, and is broken up by five dark saddles that extend to the upper sides. The olive color shades to white on the belly. The mouth of a walleye is large, armed with many sharp teeth. Both the first dorsal and anal fin are spinous. What distinguishes walleye from its close cousin the sauger is the white on the lower tip of the tail.
The walleye requires relatively pristine waters and is most often found in deep water in large, clear, cool lakes and rivers. It is considered a "cool water" species. It migrates to tributary streams in winter and spring to lay eggs in sand or gravel bars, although there are also rock reef or open water shoal spawning strains as well. A large female can lay up to 495,000 eggs and no care is given by the parents to the eggs and fry. The young walleyes eat invertebrates while the adults eat fishes smaller prey fish species, moving onto bars and shoals at night to feed. A walleye may live for 12 years or more.
The walleye is often considered to have the best tasting flesh of any freshwater fish, and as such is fished recreationally and commercially. Because of its nocturnal feeding habits it is most easily caught at night using live minnows, or lures that mimic small fishes. Most commercial fisheries for walleye occur in Canadian waters of the Great Lakes but there are other locations as well. One of the best lakes for catching walleyes is Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota
The walleye is the state fish of Minnesota. Its popularity with residents means that the state consumes more of the fish than any other region. In 2004, it was revealed that some restaurants in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region had been serving less expensive imported zander instead. Zander is a closely-related species and almost impossible to tell apart by taste, so the television station that did the exposé had to send in samples of food for DNA testing. Several samples were found to be zander, though restaurants were still labeling it as "Walleye" on menus, which is considered an illegal practice by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Because walleye are popular amongst sport anglers, they are often managed by natural resource agencies. Management may include the use of bag and length limits to ensure the population is not over exploited. Walleye stocking (usually fry or fingerlings) is another common practice.
- Boyd Huppert (December 7, 2004). Walleye or Zander? What Are You Really Eating?. KARE.
- FishBase information on Walleye
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