March 01, 2017March is a frustrating month for avid walleye anglers; especially as its days wane. While the first half usually has ice safe enough to fish upon, the latter part will see deteriorating conditions. Add to that, the closure in the fishing season throughout many of the states in the Midwest and nearby Canada, to allow procreation to take place without harassment for this most sought-after species.
But there's one place where the bite only gets better as March slowly turns into April, and that's on the Detroit River. Here, within the flow that connects Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, the season for targeting walleyes is open throughout the entire year. And did you realize the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates nearly nine million individuals of this species swim into this fast-flowing waterway to go through the rituals of spawning? That's an amazing migration no matter what type of fish you are talking about.
But neither the fishing nor catching comes easy here. The current is quick and the wind can blow hard from most any direction and push you off course. Overall, it's boat control that is what separates the anglers who land a limit from those who come back to the dock empty handed.
Luckily, the technique that takes the most fish here, vertical jigging, is a fairly easy poly to use. But even then, there are little details that make a big difference in how many fish are landed. And it's these same tips and techniques that will help you catch fish in rivers all year long, no matter where it is you're fishing.
River fishing is unique in its own right. Unlike in natural lakes, where 90 percent of the fish only hold in 10 percent of the water, fish in rivers can be spread out throughout the entire system. It all depends on the flow. Is the water rising due to runoff from rain or snow, or, has a drought got levels falling? Is it muddy or clear? Cold or warm? There so much riding on the water's environment of the moment.
Overall, in the Detroit River, waters are flowing fast and slightly elevated due to the runoff of melting ice from Lakes Huron and St. Clair, as well any precipitation than may be falling this time of year. Ultra-muddy water conditions can be the death of a good bite. Lightly stained water is more desirable. If the water's too dirty downstream, I'll motor upstream to find cleaner conditions.
In most river systems, walleyes will head right to the bank as the water rises, and I am sure fish do in the Detroit River, too. Pitching jigs to the bank, or even up onto the flooded grassy plains is a great ploy in most waterways, but the river banks on this river are industrial in nature, thus tossing a jig in the shallows means snags and lost tackle.
Overall, your best bet for finding key areas to fish here is to use what I use, and that's an SD card filled with Navionics mapping to find holes and runs very near shore. With a Navionics card in the card-reader of my Lowrance HDS-12 Gen3 sonar/chartplotter combo, I can see where every hole, hump and bump lies underwater. And that means I am able to find more places than ever to catch fish, even in waterways I thought I knew. Navionics mapping has opened up my eyes to what really lies below my boat, and has helped me discover new spots.
Ready, Aim, Drop
Once I have found a place I want to fish, I motor my Lund well above the run and, with its nose pointed upstream, deploy my bow-mounted electric trolling motor and get its prop spinning.
An electric trolling motor in the bow is the most important piece of equipment when it comes to boat control. My foot is continuously on the control pedal, endlessly turning left, right, goosing the power up or turning it down, all so I can keep the boat moving down stream at the exact same speed as the current.
The vertical-jigging techniques used in the Detroit River can be
applied in any flowing waters that walleyes roam. Author photo
And believe it or not, controlling my boat is why I also spool up
very bright Berkley FireLine,
such as Flame Green or Crystal,
on my ABU Garcia reels. Using such brightly-colored lines allows me to see the angles they are
going into the water, which in
turn indicates to me whether I
need to speed up, slow down or turn. What I am trying to achieve
is a perfect vertical presentation.
The rods I use for vertical jigging here needs to be slightly heavier in power than what I would use in a lake, and have a fast action. This allows me to feel the moment my jig taps bottom, so I can lift it up and out of a snags way, and, allows me to pull huge walleyes up and off of bottom quickly. Fenwick's 6-foot 6-inch medium-action Elite Teck Walleye spinning rod is the perfect stick.
And that FireLine I use? I prefer 8- to 10-pound test, and I tie the superline directly to the jig using a Palomar knot. Trust me on this, the fish will not care about the brightly-colored line what so ever.
I prefer jigs that are heavy, too, rather than going with my usual; which is the lightest the wind and waves will let me get away with. Northland's 3/4-ounce Sink'N Jig will do the trick, and they come in a variety of 'eye-catching colors.
Nip and Fall
It wasn't all that long ago, in the early 2000s, that live minnows were the only bait folks used in the Detroit River. (Well, most anywhere, for that matter.) But then came softbaits like Berkley PowerBait and GULP!
Now, it's not to say that a lively shiner fresh from my Frabill bait container isn't going to catch fish, but I will say that a PowerBait Pro Jig Worm or GULP! Minnow will take just as many fish and stays on the hook longer.
And jigging these baits is as easy as lowering the jig to bottom, and the moment you feel the bottom, lift the lure about one foot, then repeat. Walleye bite extremely light; hits may feel nothing more than like an ultra-light "tick," or just something different from all the other ups and downs you made with the bait.
Some things anglers might cheapen out on when buying can be some of the most important items in your boat.
Take rainwear, for example. If there's one thing reliable about the weather this time of year is its unreliability. Totally waterproof and warm jackets and bibs, like the Typhoon by STORMR, are essential for staying comfortable, which helps one concentrate on catching fish. On the other hand, the sun could pop out from the clouds and be quite intense. To ward off the first sunburn of the season, use a high-quality sunscreen, and wear first-rate sunglasses, such as the Costa Del Mar glasses I wear.
The Detroit River is a unique fishery itself, but the lessons you learn here will be priceless in any river.
By far, boat control the crucial link between landing a limit and going back to the dock empty handed. Use a bow-mounted electric trolling motor to you advantage. And use heavier jigs when you're vertical jigging, and don't overlook softbaits as well lively live bait.
Mark Martin is a touring walleye pro and instructor with the Fishing Vacation/Schools on ice and open water, who lives in Michigan's southwestern Lower Peninsula. Check out his website at markmartins.net for more information.