What color are walleyes?

Marie-Pier Michaud holds a blue walleye that didn’t produce any yellow pigment. (Photo courtesy of TargetWalleye.com)

What color are walleyes?

The easy answer is green. More correct could be shades of green. Even more correct would be multi-colored to include greens, whites, black and yellows. But even that doesn’t nail it perfectly since walleyes that spend their life in clear lakes and mostly feed high in the water column tend to be faded to pastel shades of green, almost silver. Other walleyes that live in dark, stained waters and feed on dark bottoms and around weedy areas have dark, vibrant colors to the point their backs are nearly black, the greens are vivid and those colors seem painted on a gold backdrop.

So what’s with the color of the walleye in the accompanying photo caught by Marie-Pier Michaud?

The easy answer is it’s blue!

Actually, there once was a subspecies of walleye called the blue walleye, often called the blue pike, that were abundant in Lake Erie, occasionally found in Lake Huron and even in Lake Ontario. The science (genetics) behind the blue walleyes is complex. Some say blue walleyes and green walleyes were distinct species like horses and zebras. Some say they were more closely related, like yellow labs and black labs.

The genetics don’t matter now. Once abundant in Lake Erie, the species, subspecies, or just odd colored blue walleyes are now considered extinct in the Great Lakes. Commercial fishermen caught millions of pounds of blue pike in the 1950s and years prior. By the 1960s overfishing by commercials, diminished water quality, and increasing competition with invasive species caused a precipitous population decline and the blue pike were exterminated by the 1970s.

So what’s up with Ms. Michaud’s recently-caught blue walleye?  Have they been rediscovered in a remote lake? Have they been recreated as in Jurassic Park dinosaurs – by cloning?

Actually, the same geneticists who argue about horse hybrids dog breeds and the taxonomic differences of walleyes mostly agree the somewhat rare blue walleye found in a few lakes of the Canadian Shield are not closely related to the blue pike from the lower Great Lakes. Apparently, these blue walleyes are just odd-balls that don’t produce any yellow pigment. Like we learned in grade school with watercolor paints, mixing blue and yellow produces green.  No yellow pigment and the fish are blue.

This lady angler was lucky. Number one, she was lucky to catch such a rare specimen, but doubly lucky because one of the other traits of the Great Lakes blue walleyes was they seldom grew larger than 15 inches.  Her fish is well into the “nice fish” category!

Categories: Blog Content, Michigan – Mike Schoonveld, Walleye

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