While its worldwide popularity may not rival that of the largemouth bass or the muskie, walleye have long been a favorite target of freshwater anglers in the U.S. and Canada.
With their distribution stretching throughout most of the interior of these two countries, walleye have developed a strong following among recreational anglers who can target these species year-round making them especially appealing to ice fishermen, in addition to those fishing in warmer climates.
Although catching an International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world record is never a sure thing, there are certainly some times of the year, and some locations, that consistently produce world class walleye. Here are the stories behind the fish, and anglers, of the world's walleye record book.
The heaviest walleye ever recorded with fly tackle was caught by angler Scott Smith on March 26, 1999. Smith, who had been guiding two friends on a steelhead trip all day, was finally able to do some fishing for himself. Not long after he picked up the fly rod, he hooked up to the massive walleye, which he first thought to be a snag.
After playing the fish for 10 minutes, Smith was able to land and weigh the 5.44-kilogram (12 pounds) fish before he released it alive. The fish earned Smith the men's 4 kilogram (8 pound) tippet class record, and was caught on an egg pattern fly.
While fishing from the Missouri shoreline of Bull Shoal Lake on the night of February 8, 1991, angler Pete Gleason caught one of the biggest walleye ever recorded by the IGFA
— a 8.98-kilogram (19 pounds, 13 ounces) beast has held the men's 4-kilogram (8 pound) line class world record ever since.
At about 10 PM, Gleason hooked the fish, which he originally thought was a striped bass, after it hit the live minnow he had on for bait. After about 15 minutes, Gleason and his friends were able to get a glimpse of the fish with their flashlights, and realized it was a huge walleye — not a striper.
Gleason backed off the drag and skillfully played the fish for another 20 minutes before he could finally slide the tired fish onto the bank. The fish was weighed 30 hours later and is estimated to have weighed more than 20 pounds at the time of capture.
Thomas B. Evans
Angler Thomas B. Evans had fished Greers Ferry Lake in Arkansas for years, successfully targeting the large walleye found throughout the body of water. But on the morning of February 10, 1989, while there was still ice on the water, Evans landed the biggest walleye of his 60 year life — a 9.35-kilogram (20 pounds, 9 ounces) fish that has stood as the men's 10-kilogram (20 pound) line class record ever since.
Evans was trolling a deep running lure in the Devil's Fork arm of Greers Ferry Lake when the big walleye hit. Despite the massive size of the fish, Evans was not impressed with the fight, which lasted only 5 minutes. The catch not only earned the angler a world record, it also earned him first place in a local tournament.
For more than thirty years, angler Mark Wallace has held the men's 2-kilogram (4 pound) line class world record for walleye with a 8.27-kilogram (18 pounds, 4 ounces) fish he caught on March 12, 1983 while fishing the North Little Red River in Arkansas — not far from the infamous Greers Ferry Lake.
Wallace, who visiting Arkansas from his home in Texas, needed 15 minutes to land the fish after it ate the bait he was fishing. As if catching such a fish on 2-kilogram (4 pound) line wasn't impressive enough, Wallace was not using a leader when he made the catch!
There has only been one heavier walleye recorded by the IGFA
than Al Nelson's massive 10.29-kilogram (22 pounds, 11 ounces) fish that he pulled from Arkansas' Greers Ferry Lake — a body of water notorious for producing world class walleye.
Nelson was trolling a Bomber lure from his aluminum on the night of March 14, 1982, when the fish hit at approximately 10 PM. The angler initially thought he had hooked a log, until the log began fighting back.
After a 20 minute fight, Nelson had the fish boated and was on the way back to his home dock of Fairfield Bay Marina. However, a heavy fog interfered with Nelson's plans and he mistakenly ended up at another marina before eventually arriving at his intended destination at approximately 2 AM in the morning, where it was officially weighed-in, earning him the men's 6-kilogram (12 pound) line class record.
Angler Howard Brierly braved snow and ice on the morning of January 12, 1982, as he set out to fish from the shores of Greers Ferry Lake, near his home in Arkansas. Brierly's resilience and determination were rewarded in the form of the men's 8-kilogram (16 pound) line class record walleye — a 8.27-kilogram (18 pounds, 4 ounces) fish that has held the record for more than 30 years.
Brierly was fishing with a live chub from the icy banks when the fish hit, putting up a quick 5 minute fight. In addition to his world record, Brierly also caught another impressive fish weighing 17 pounds, 7 ounces that same day.
The folder in the IGFA
's Record Department designated "Mabry Harper's World Record Walleye" is chock-full of articles and letters related to the controversy that has followed this catch over the past half century.
It has been more than 50 years since Harper pulled a 11.34-kilogram (25 pounds) walleye from Old Hickory Lake, near his home in Tennessee on the morning of August 2, 1960. Luckily, Harper's wife (seen in the photo) realized the significance of the catch and took it to be officially weighed-in at the Second Creek Resort, before Harper cleaned the fish for dinner (which he later did).
Harper's fish was submitted for record consideration, and was quickly approved as the new world record walleye. But as time progressed, questions began swirling about the legitimacy of this record claim — particularly the reported girth measurement of 29 inches.
In 1996, the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame decided to remove Harper's catch from the record books, due to 'persistent rumors ' they had received. However, the IGFA, who had inherited all original documentation and correspondence of the record in the 1970's, still recognizes Harper's walleye as the heaviest ever caught on a rod and reel.
It is a common misconception that the IGFA
does not permit ice fishing. That is not the case. IGFA rules do require the tip section of the rod to be at least 40 inches (which affects many ice fishermen's tackle), however, there is nothing that prohibits anglers from ice fishing.
Angler Scott Ruiter is a perfect example of that. On March 5, 2005, while ice fishing on top of the frozen Muskegun Lake, near his home in Michigan, Ruiter landed a massive 6.91-kilogram (15 pounds, 4 ounces) walleye on just 3-kilogram (6 pound) test — earning him the record for that line class.
Ruiter was using a live minnow for bait, and was targeting perch after his attempts to catch walleye earlier in the day had failed. But when Ruiter set the hook on what he thought was another perch, and felt the strength of the fish on the other end of his line, he knew he had a big walleye. Thirty minutes and a dozen attempts to get the nose of the fish through his ice hole, Ruiter was finally able to land his world record fish.
After visiting the IGFA
in Florida from his home in Canada, die-hard walleye angler Greg Amiel became inspired to pursue world record walleyes on light tackle.
A year after setting out on his quest, Amiel was rewarded on November 28, 2007, with a 4.99-kilogram (12 pounds) walleye that he caught on just 1-kilogram (2 pound) line — earning him the record on that line class.
Amiel was trolling a Rapala Taildancer in Canada's Bay of Quinte when the fish hit. After a relatively short fight of ten minutes, given the size of the tackle used, Amiel netted the fish. Miraculously, Amiel caught the fish on straight 1-kilogram (2 pound) line...without a leader! The previous record of 10 pounds, 6 ounces had stood since 1984.
Angler Joshua Boyer of Billings, Montana, bested his own male smallfry record for walleye with a 5.67-kilogram (12 pounds, 8 ounces) fish he caught on May 31, 2014, while casting a live minnow in Fort Peck Lake, Montana, USA.
Once hooked up, the young Boyer needed only a few minutes to land his trophy walleye. Boyer's 12-pound, 8-ounce fish bested the previous record by one pound, which Boyer had set the previous year. Hopefully the young angler can continue the trend!