Zander vs Walleye: Differences Explained

Zander, popularly known as pike-perch, or European Walleye, is a Eurasian native. It is very similar to the North American fish, its cousin, the walleye.

Both species belong to the same genus, Sander. They have plenty of similarities, but few differences help distinguish wild zander from the walleye.

What’s the Difference Between Zander and Walleye

Size

Walleye females usually grow bigger than males, but the average size is 12 – 20 inches long. The maximum recorded length of a walleye was 42 inches.

Walleye grow to be around 20 lbs, with the heaviest walleye ever caught, weighing 29 lbs. In the southern states, walleye tend to grow faster and bigger than up north. 

Walleye can live as long as 29 years, but they often only live 5 – 6 years under heavy fishing in the more pressured waters.

Compared with walleye, zander tends to grow a little bigger, usually 15.5 – 31.5 inches, with the longest recorded specimen measuring 47 inches.

The most common weight for adult zander is around 20 -24 lbs, but specimens of approximately 44 lbs were caught repeatedly.

Zander usually lives between 10 – 20 years.

Build 

Zander vs Walleye
zander

Zander has a long and muscular body, slightly laterally flattened, very similar to northern pike, hence the name pike-perch.

Zander has 55 – 77 scales along the lateral line. 

The dorsal fin is split into two separate fins which are quite apart from each other. The first one has 13 – 20 spines and the second 18 – 24 soft rays. The anal fin has 2 – 3 spines and 10 -14 soft rays. The caudal fin is long and forked. 

Zander doesn’t have a spine on the gill cover.

Zander’s powerful jaws extend beyond the rear edge of the eye and are filled with sharp teeth, with two distinguished long canines at the front of the upper and lower jaw. Females have smaller teeth than males. 

Zander has large bulbous and opaque eyes with the presence of tapetum lucidum, a reflective film, and characteristic suppositories that act as additional lenses that allow the fish to adapt to low light and turbulent waters, enhancing its vision and ease hunting. 

Similar to zander, walleye has a large mouth filled with teeth. The more prominent are 4 – 8 sharp canine teeth on the upper and lower jaw. The teeth also cover the roof of the walleye’s mouth. 

Walleye’s body is elongated and torpedo-shaped. The first dorsal fin has 12 – 16 spines, and the second 1 – 2 spines and 19-22 soft rays. Walleye has one spine in the gill cover.

Walleye, like zander, also has big opaque eyes that easily adapt to semi-darkness and murky water,

The eyes of walleye are similar to the eyes of a cat. They have a reflective layer that allows them to see well in the dark and murky waters, giving the fish an advantage over its prey. 

The reflective layer gives the walleye’s eye a whitish or glassy appearance when the fish is out of the water. The eyes tend to glow in the darkness in the shallow water. 

Color

The zander’s upper body is greenish-brown. The color extends into 8 – 12 vertical bars on the side of the body, in a very similar pattern to European perch. The lower part of its body is usually creamy-white. 

The caudal fin is dark, pectoral fins are bright yellow, and pelvic and anal fins are pale yellow. The dorsal and caudal fins have rows of black spots regularly spaced between the rays. 

Juvenile zander is silvery and gets darker while aging. 

The walleye is olive-gold. The olive color on the dorsal side is turning into golden sides and then into a white belly. On the upper part of the sides are five or more dark saddles.  

The lower lobe of the caudal fin has a white edge, and the dorsal fin can be either streaked, spotted, or plain, but there are no clear spots.

Habitat and Diet

Zander vs Walleye
walleye

The walleye is native to central North America, from the Rockies to Appalachian mountains, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama in the south, The Great Slave Lake, Mackenzie River, and Peace River in northwest Canada. 

Walleye were also introduced beyond the Appalachian mountains to the east, the Columbia River to the west, and Texas to the south. Walleye very rarely ventures into brackish waters.

Walleye prefer to live in lakes and rivers with highly murky waters. They travel long distances up and down the streams, rivers, and lakes during their lifetime, but they always come back to their original spawning grounds. 

One can usually find walleye on gravel reefs, vegetation beds in the open water with temperatures between 32 – 90F. 

The walleye never stops growing, hence the need to constantly eat, and it is not a picky eater. The young walleye feed on zooplankton and microscopic animals. When they reach several inches long, they start to swap to small fish. 

Their favorite food is trout, bass, pike, perch, sunfish, shiners, and shad, but they won’t say no to worms, insects, and crustaceans if available.

Depending on the time of the year and water temperature, one can spot walleye in different parts of the reservoir it inhabits.

Zander lives in freshwater and brackish water in western Eurasia, from continental Europe through west Siberia. 

They inhabit lakes, rivers, and streams, with a preference to calm waters, usually 6 – 90 ft deep. The preferred temperature for zander is between 39.2 – 86F. 

Zander doesn’t tolerate waters with low oxygen.

Zander was introduced into lakes in China, Turkey, the north part of Africa, the USA, western Europe, and the UK but also migrated through rivers and streams.

Young zander feeds on plankton. When it is 1 – 1.5 inches long, it begins to hunt other fish fry, and when it is 2 – 4 inches, it becomes a typical predator. 

It feeds mainly on small fish, like bleak, gudgeon, and smelt, amongst others. In addition to fish, it sometimes eats insect larvae (i.e., dragonflies, crayfish), earthworms, and frogs. 

Zander often gives a lengthy chase after its prey, following along a characteristic zigzag track, attacking it from up close, reaching the speed up to 18 MPH during the attack. A rather slim bottleneck throat limits the size of the prey.

In the US, one can only spot zander in Spiritwood lake in North Dakota, where it was introduced in 1989 and has not migrated anywhere else.

Fishing for Zander

Zander is one of the most popular game fish in Europe. They eat almost anything they can catch, like shrimp or coarse fish.

The best bait option for zander is live or dead bait, like roach, lamprey, sprats but lures and spoons are also quite effective.

The most popular artificial bait for zander is white, celadon, or yellow soft lures like ripper or twister. The most commonly used sizes vary from 1.9 to 4.7 inches. The best size jig head for zander is 1/0 or 2/0.

It’s good to remember about wire trace. Zander’s sharp teeth can easily cut through other lines.

The best fishing time of the year is in summer when they are most active. Zander has good night vision, so the best time of the day to fish for it is early morning, late evening, or at night. 

To find zander, it is best to look in well-oxygenated but murky waters. Usually, canals and rivers are favorite spots.

Fishing for Walleye

Zander vs Walleye

To fish for walleye, the best time of the day is after dark or during the early morning before sunrise and late evening after sundown. 

Alternatively, if the day is windy and cloudy, and the waters are choppy, when other fish can’t see so good with distorted light, one can chance fishing for walleye in the middle of the day.

The best bait for walleye is live or dead bait like shiners, leeches, and nightcrawlers. Also, a very popular method is to fish with crankbaits, soft plastics, and jigs.

Favored by anglers method for walleye is trolling a live bait along the bottom. The rig is very simple. It comprises a sinker the size of ¼- to ½ oz, a swivel, a leader, usually 3 – 6 ft long, and a hook No. 4 or 6. The line should preferably be a 6 lbs test.

Early in the walleye season, the fish just finished spawning and still sit over gravel bottom, in warmer waters less than 10 ft deep, closer to the shore.

When the season progresses, walleye usually move away from their spawning areas and dwell in waters deeper than 10 ft, on rocky, grassy, or sandy shallows just on the edge of a deep drop.

The best chance to score a good catch is at the end of the season, just before the winter, when walleye feeds in a frenzy to gain weight before winter.

Is Zander Good for Eating?

Anglers in Europe value zander as a food source because of its delicate flavor. Zander is an easily digestible and low-fat fish. It has a light and tender meat, white and flaky, with a minimal amount of bones. The taste can be described as buttery. 

Zander is very sensitive to changes in water quality. Whenever the ecological situation worsens, this fish immediately leaves the contaminated part of the reservoir. Thanks to this, its meat never accumulates substances like mercury. 

The best way to prepare zander is by filleting. Depending on culture, popular methods are baked, smoked, or cooked.

The offals can also be cooked in consomme, a type of clear soup made from stock.

Is Walleye a Good Fish to Eat?

Walleye is good for eating. In North America, it is considered one of the tastiest freshwater fish. The fish yields quite a lot of meat for its size. The meat is fine-flaked and white with a firm texture and subtle, sweet flavor. It has a surprisingly small amount of bones.

Walleye flesh is perfect for filleting. To get the idea of the walleye’s taste, the best option is to pan-fry the fillet with a pinch of salt and pepper.

The walleye also tastes great deep-fried in batter and served with cajun sauce for dipping. Some people prefer to bake them crispy in breadcrumbs. In Minnesota, it is often served in sandwiches.