The walleye is the most sought-after fish in Minnesota. Its thick, white fillets, handsome shape and coloring, and elusive nature make it the ultimate prize among anglers. Each year, anglers in Minnesota keep roughly 3.5 million walleyes totaling 4 million pounds. The average walleye caught and kept is about 14 inches long and weighs slightly more than 1 pound. The walleye is named for its pearlescent eye, which is caused by a reflective layer of pigment, called the tapetum lucidum, that helps it see and feed at night or in murky water.
A close cousin of the walleye is the sauger. Sauger have a more limited distribution than walleyes, and they don’t grow as large. The two species look similar, but you can tell them apart by looking at the tip of the lower part of the tail. That part of the tail is white on a walleye, but not on a sauger.
To ensure that lakes produce enough walleyes to keep up with growing angler demand, the DNR protects habitat, limits the catch through regulations, and stocks fish where natural reproduction is limited and other desirable fish species will not be harmed. In recent years, the DNR has also instituted special regulations that protect medium-sized walleyes on several lakes to increase the average size of walleyes that anglers can catch.
General description: A medium-sized fish that has big, marble-like eyes, and a white spot on the lower tip of its tail. Its color varies from olive to dark gray, with gold-flecked sides.
Length: Average length is about 15 inches.
Weight: Average about 1.2 pounds.
Walleye: 17 pounds, 8 ounces, 35.8 inches, Seagull River (Cook County). 05/13/1979.
Walleye-Sauger Hybrid: 9 pounds, 13.4 ounces, 27 inches, Mississippi River (Goodhue County). 03/20/1999.
The yellow perch is one of the most commonly caught fish in Minnesota. This smaller cousin of the walleye is good to eat and eagerly bites worms, but it often is so small that anglers throw them back into the water. Like sunfish and bluegills, perch are considered “panfish,” or fish commonly caught to be cooked in a frying pan and eaten.
General description: A small fish that is usually yellow on the sides with wide dark bands coming down the sides from its back.
Length: Average length is about 6 inches but some reach a foot or more.
Weight: Average about 1/3 pound.
Color: Yellow with dark bars.
This voracious predator is one of the easiest fish to catch because it so willingly bites lures or bait. What’s more, northerns produce chunky white fillets that many anglers say taste as good as walleyes. Most northerns caught by fishing run 2 to 3 pounds, though trophies over 20 pounds are caught each year. A close cousin to the muskellunge, the northern pike lives in nearly all of Minnesota’s lakes and streams.
The quickest way to tell a northern pike from a muskie is to note that the northern has light markings on a dark body background, while muskies generally have dark markings on a light background. A foolproof method is to count the pores on the underside of the jaw: the northern has five or fewer; the muskie has six or more. Northerns also have rounded tail fins, compared to the pointy tail fins of a muskie.
General description: A long and toothy fish that has a head shaped like a large duck bill and is often mistaken for a muskellunge.
Length: On average, about 26 inches long.
Weight: The average is about five pounds.
Color: Mostly light yellow and silver markings on a dark olive background.
45 pounds, 12 ounces, length not available, Basswood Lake (Lake County), 05/16/1929.
The lake sturgeon is Minnesota’s biggest fish. It can weigh more than an adult human.
General description: The torpedo-shaped lake sturgeon lacks scales. It is covered instead with plates, called scutes. Its nose is flattened and slightly upturned, with four barbels underneath. Its mouth, which it can extend like a tube, is set back from the end of the snout. The top of its tail is longer than the bottom.
Size: Lake sturgeon generally range from 5 to 40 pounds and 20 to 55 inches long. But sturgeon may grow to more than 300 pounds and 8 feet long. The Minnesota record lake sturgeon, caught in the Kettle River, weighed 94 pounds, 4 ounces.
Color: Sturgeon are green-yellow to blue-gray to black. The young are reddish-brown. Like most fish, their color changes as they get older and larger.
(information from the MN Department of Natural Resources)