A young boy in cold weather clothing holding a French River Walleye.

Cold Water Walleye Fishing: Everything You Need to Know

Imagine hooking a fish that can weigh up to 20 pounds, fight like a bull, and tastes like a delicacy. For many, this is the allure of cold water Walleye fishing, Ontario’s most coveted freshwater fish. However, catching Walleye in cold water is not as easy as it sounds. These fish are masters of adaptation and survival, and they change their behavior and preferences according to the water temperatures and conditions. I will share some of the secrets and strategies for finding and catching French River Walleye in cold water, as well as some of the joys and challenges of this type of fall fishing.

A young boy in cold weather clothing holding a French River Walleye.
Cole with an 11.5lbs Cold Water Walleye fishing in the late Fall on the French River. Photo Credit: Gilles Bernard, Master Guide | French River

Cold Water Walleye Feeding and Schooling Habits

One of the key factors that affects the feeding and schooling habits of Walleye in cold water is their body temperature. Walleye are ectotherms or “cold-blooded”, which means they depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature. As the water temperature decreases, so too does their metabolism. Their preferred water temperatures ranging from 16°C (62°F) to 19°C (67°F) but will tolerate water as cool as 1.7°C (35°F) for feeding. Below this temperature, Walleye become less energetic and more conservative with their calories.

For cold water Walleye, when water temperatures fall below 10°C (50°F) they tend to feed less often and more selectively, preferring smaller and easier prey that do not require much chasing or fighting. They also tend to school more tightly in areas that offer them some warmth and protection like:

  • Shallow Shorelines
  • Backwater Bays
  • Rock Piles
  • Bluffs and Shoals

Despite the cold water, these areas tend to have higher concentrations of oxygen and food sources, that is essential for Walleye before winter. As they still need to feed occasionally to maintain their body functions and prepare for the spring spawn. Therefore, they may exhibit short bursts of feeding activity during certain times of the day or night. This all depends on various factors like light intensity, moon phase, barometric pressure, or fishing pressure.

Image depicts a cloudy sky with fall coloured leaves in the French River forest, rocky shoreline and water. Image was taken in the French River Provincial Park in Northeastern Ontario Canada.
Typical October cold weather day on the French River. Photo Credit: Joe Barefoot, M.B.

Most years in the French River, late fall season from late September into October tends to have less anglers. Meaning less pressure on the fish. They also feed more regularly within the first hour or two of sunrise and again within the last 3 to 4 hours of sunlight. By mid to late October, Walleye feed intermittently throughout the day as there is less sunlight from cloud cover.

Best Baits, Lures and Techniques for Cold Water Walleye Fishing

Another key factor that affects the success for catching cold water Walleye are the choices of baits and lures. Since the fish is less aggressive and more selective, we have to choose baits that are smaller and more realistic lures of their fall prey. Your best options are live bait like minnows, leeches, or worms. Yet, artificial lures like jigs, spoons, jerkbaits, crankbaits and soft plastics that resemble shad or minnows are solid choices for the cold weather.

When choosing baits and lures for cold water fishing for Walleye, you should consider the following factors:


Smaller presentations are more effective in cold water, matching the size of the prey that Walleye desire in cold weather. For them, it requires less effort to be consumed when their metabolism is slow.


The colour of baits and lures can make a difference in cold water, depending on the water clarity and light conditions. For the French River, bright colours such as orange, yellow, pink, or chartreuse are good choices for stained or murky water, as they stand out and attract attention.

Yet, natural colours such as silver, gold, white, black, or brown are good choices for areas with clearer water. Since, the baits blend in with the surroundings and look more realistic.

Contrasting fluorescent colours like green or blue are good choices for low-light conditions. This includes dawn, dusk, or overcast days, since they glow and create contrast for Walleye to see.


The action of baits and lures is a very important factor in cold water Walleye fishing. Sluggish Walleye in cold water rarely chase fast-moving or erratic baits and lures. You should use slow and steady movements that do not scare and scatter the fish. Vertical Jigging is the most effective technique for fall fishing. Anglers can target specific depths and structures where Walleye tend to hide. Other techniques such as trolling with worm harnesses or casting crankbaits can also work well if done with a slow retrieve.

What Walleye Rod & Reel Combo to use for Cold Water Fishing?

Fortunately, you can use the same types of rods and reels as you would in the spring and summer as long as you adjust your retrieve for the cold water conditions. I have gone into greater detail in a previous article, “Walleye Rods, Reels & Lines”, for your gear combination.

Yet, here are five general tips and recommendations from the article with cold weather in mind:

  1. For cold water fishing, you may want to use a longer rod that can cast farther and cover more water. A longer rod also helps with setting the hook and fighting the fish in deeper water. A rod length of 6.5 to 8 feet is ideal for most situations.
  2. You may also want to use a medium or medium-heavy power rod that can handle larger baits and heavier line. A medium or medium-heavy power rod also provides more backbone and sensitivity for detecting subtle bites in cold water.
  3. The action of the rod depends on the type of lure or bait you are using. A fast action rod is good for jigging, ripping, and casting minnows, blade baits, or swimbaits. A moderate action rod is good for trolling, drifting, or casting crankbaits, spinnerbaits, or live bait rigs.
  4. For the reel, you may want to use a spinning or baitcasting reel that can handle the line size and weight of your lure or bait. A spinning reel is easier to use and more versatile, while a baitcasting reel offers more control and accuracy. A reel size of 2500 to 3500 for spinning reels or 200 to 350 for baitcasting reels is suitable for most walleye fishing.
  5. For the fishing line, ideally you want to use a braided or fluorocarbon line that can withstand the abrasion and low visibility of cold water. A braided line offers more strength and sensitivity, while a fluorocarbon line offers more stealth and stretch. A line size of 10 to 20 pounds for braided line or 8 to 15 pounds for fluorocarbon line is adequate for most walleye fishing.


In conclusion, cold water fishing for fall Walleye is a rewarding but challenging activity that requires anglers to adapt to the changing behavior and preferences of these fish. They become less active and more selective in the cooler temperatures. Their schools tend to feed in areas that offers them warmth and protection.

To improve your odds of catching cold water Walleye, you need to understand how water temperature affects their physiology and feeding patterns. Finding the best locations, times to and choosing the right baits and lures that entice them takes experience, but also a fun way to enjoy nature’s beauty.

For the French River, many over the years have enjoyed the challenge fishing for trophy Walleye in the cold as it tests their skills and knowledge. For myself, I feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when I land a big one.

Article by Joe Barefoot, M.B., Outdoor Writer of Canada and Nationally Published Author & Photographer

For more articles about Walleye fishing in the French River: