Walleye (Sander vitreus) are an ecologically important species managed for recreational, tribal, and commercial harvest. Walleye prefer cool water and low light conditions, and therefore changing water temperature and clarity potentially impacts walleye habitat and populations across the landscape. Using survey data collected from 1993 to 2018 from 312 lakes in Minnesota, we evaluated the relationship between thermal-optical habitat and the relative abundance of small (0–300 mm), medium (300–450 mm), and large (450 + mm) walleye. Thermal-optical habitat was positively correlated with the relative abundance of small and medium walleye but not large walleye. Walleye were more abundant in larger, naturally reproducing lakes opposed to smaller, stocked lakes. Thermal-optical habitat changed in 59% of lakes since 1980 (26% increasing and 33% decreasing) and appears to be driven primarily by changes in water clarity and thus optical habitat area. Our study provides important insights into local and regional drivers that influence walleye populations that can be used to assist fisheries managers in setting population goals and managing harvest.