Walleye everywhere on the Detroit River
Written by Booth Newspapers   
Sunday, 07 May 2006 11:41

Funny how quickly things can change in the fishing business. A couple of years ago, fisheries officials were sweating bullets about the walleye fishery in southeast Michigan.

Biologists were so distressed, they pushed through a policy ending the decades-long practice of allowing year-round walleye fishing on Lake Erie, closing the fishery for two months in the spring.

Now? You can't keep the fish off your hook.
Case in point: My father and I met up with fishing guide Kevin Long in mid April for a day on the Detroit River. Less than three hours into it, we put our limit fish (15, five apiece) in the livewell and had just one short fish (and that was just a fraction of an inch short of legal -- 15 inches) for our effort. Less than two hours later, when we called it a day, we'd caught and released 16 more.

Ay carumba.

It's been that way all spring. Fishing has been fast and furious and the only downside -- if there is one -- is that the fish seem to have been popped from the same mold. The bulk of the fish we caught were between 16 and 17 inches.

"There's lots of clones out there," Long said.

Although big fish have not been totally absent, many of the traditional big-fish holes, on the Canadian side of the river, were unfishable the day we were there because a couple of days of harsh northeast winds muddied the south shore of Lake St. Clair. That sent a plume of mud downstream that hugged the Ontario shoreline.

Long's theory is that a lot of the big fish spawned during the full moon in April and went back down to Lake Erie. And many of the females that remained in the river haven't recovered enough from the spawn to go back on the bite.

But the huge number of cookie-cutter fish are ahead of schedule.
"Last year at the end of May we were catching 40 to 50 fish a day but sending people home with five to nine keepers," Long said. "There were a lot of shorts, a lot of those 13-inch fish. Cigars.

"There's been phenomenal numbers this year -- mostly males -- that are probably that same year class. I can't wait to see what happens in late May this year.

Indeed, according to Gary Towns, the Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist for the Lake Erie watershed, the 2003 year-class of walleyes is the biggest anyone's ever seen. Unfortunately, he said, there doesn't appear to be a lot of fish in the previous, nor subsequent year-classes. That explains why everything is about the same size.
The drill is the same as it's always been: Get on the river and start jigging. We caught our fish anywhere from 18 to 31 feet deep, up on the lip of a channel, on some turns in the channel, and, frankly, right down in the gut of the channel. There were walleyes everywhere.

But Long has made a couple of small changes in his routine this season and they seem to be paying off, he said.

For one thing, he's gone to a heavier (3/4th ounce) jig.

"I've always thought that you wanted to use the lightest jig you get away with because when the fish suck it in, they can move a light jig a lot easier," he said. "But I was talking to a lot of guys whose opinion I trust, and one in particular, told me that he never uses anything else but a 3/4ths. He thinks it makes more commotion on the bottom."

Another possible factor, Long said, is the heavier jigs have a faster drop rate and might inspire more reaction strikes. "That heavier jig seems to be helping lately," he said.

Long has also changed his stinger hook. He uses a small treble on a 2 1/2-inch length of wire. He attaches the trailer hook to the bend in the hook on the jig. And rather than hooking one of the points on the treble into the bait -- in our case, we were using 4-inch straight-tailed plastic worms -- he allows the stinger to swing freely.

"I used to hate stingers," he said. "I wouldn't use them, even on guide trips. It seems they were always fouling on the main line or hanging up on the bottom. They just always gave me problems.

"But once I got that length down right -- at 2 1/2 inches, it extends out to the tail of the worm -- the majority of the fish, every day so far this season, are coming on the stinger. So instead of having a 30-fish day, you might have a six- or eight-fish day without that stinger. I'd say 80 to 90 percent of the fish are coming on the stinger."

Long says he'll quit using the stringer as the water warms and the bite gets more aggressive. He'll also go to more of a minnow-style plastic body instead of the worm, he said.

"When the water warms, they'll crack that jig."

Long plans to fish for walleyes through May, then move on to muskies and bass as the season progresses.

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