Vertical Jigging Tips From A Local Charter Captain…

Numerous walleye hot spots make this section of the Detroit River a fantastic destination for your next fishing trip. It’s no secret that the month of April brings literally millions of walleye into the Detroit River. It also draws hordes of walleye fisherman from locals to touring tournament professionals to fish this famed waterway.

The outlook for this spring’s harvest on the river might be the best we’ve had in recent times. The enormous 2003 year class will back to spawn and this year they should average about 21 inches and weigh in at a healthy 3 to 3.5 lbs. Last year most of the fish we caught were from this year class and they were 18-19 inches, right around 2 pounds. Limits were common early in the season during the late March hot spell, and then cooled off with the weather around Easter. After that it was a bonanza. Fishing on the river was fantastic. We continued to catch this year class all season right through September in the Central Basin of Lake Erie.

When Should You Plan A Trip?

Almost any time during the month of April can be rewarding. However, if you’re after a fish for the wall you should definitely consider fishing during the first half of April. This is usually when most hens will be in the system, but to our good fortune not all walleye spawn at the same time. Traditionally, the spawn usually lasts 2-3 weeks depending on water temperature. The majority of the largest fish, typically those over six pounds, do not stay in the system very long. Luckily the bulk of the fishery is not near this size. The vast majority of the walleye this year will be from the 2003 year class and these smaller fish tend to stick around long after many anglers have left. Good fishing should last easily through the month of April and well into May.

What Should You Avoid?

Heavy spring rains can reduce water clarity into “pea soup”. Agricultural run-off from neighboring Essex county in Canada

really turns the water to mud on Lake St. Clair which drains into the Detroit River. By all means try to avoid muddy water. Little to no water clarity is the enemy. If you cannot see your jig 6 inches below the surface, simply do not waste your time fishing there. Due to the nature of the river the Canadian side is always first to get dirty and the last to clear up. A strong front with gusty winds can also hinder fishing conditions, turning the river an off color and can make for difficult fishing for the next few days. Before you leave, look at a satellite image

of the river by typing in Lake Erie Modis Imagery into the Google search engine and take a look at some recent photos of the river. If clear skies allow for a good picture you will definitely see a color line if one exists. If you happen to find yourself in the poorest of conditions when both sides of the river are dirty try fishing the main channel just north and east of Mud Island. This water will be the clearest during the worst of conditions. If you run into dingy water try a black on black combination, walleye can actually see this better in low visibility. Also, it never hurts to add more bulk to your jig to help walleye hone in on it.

How Should You Rig?

Rigging correctly is an essential element to success on the river. I prefer to use a 6′-61/2′ medium action, stiff high modulus graphite rod with a top of the line spinning reel, just be sure that the reel has a smooth drag. I prefer to jig with my reel set in the back reel position. This allows me to constantly keep in contact with an undulating bottom and more importantly get instant hook ups. When a fish hits, simply reel down and lift up slightly at the same time and you’ll be instantly hooked up. By keeping your hand on the reel handle you should be able to eliminate nearly all the slack line when a fish hits. However, this technique is really not practical if you plan on jigging 2 rods at the same time.

I believe one of the most important keys to my success on the mighty Detroit is the use of lime green Berkley Fireline. The high visibility of this line allows me to see how vertical my presentation is in relation to the water. Also, Fireline allows for very little line stretch compared to monofilament giving you much more sensitivity. I typically use 10 lb test Fireline and tie a barrel swivel to the end and add approximately 3′ of 6 lb. test fluorocarbon to the other end of the swivel, tying the opposite end to my jig. As far as baits go, one of my top producers year in and year out is a plain lead jig with a 4″ pumpkinseed Berkley Power Worm.

Other Tips That Might Help

I always tear the curly tail off the worm and add a piece of it to the hook after I put my minnow on. This greatly helps keep the minnow attached to the hook while jigging. In this section of the river I use ½, 5/8, and ¾ oz. jig heads depending on wind, waves, and depth of water. It is very critical to be tapping bottom constantly, all you really need is to lift your jig 6″ to 1′ off the bottom. If you loose track of the bottom your jig is either suspended somewhere in the water column or you are dragging along the bottom. Basically both scenarios equal little to no walleye. Feeling the bottom every time you lower your rod tip is extremely important to putting walleye in your livewell. In this section of the river most of your fishing will take place in about 15′-35′ of water.

The size of the jig used depends on the hardness of the bottom and the depth your fishing. If you start losing track of the bottom simply switch to a heavier jig. In general I try to go with the lightest jig I can get away with. With a real sensitive graphite rod combined with Berkley Fireline you should easily feel every little bump as your jig hops along the river bottom. A fluorocarbon leader is great because it is virtually invisible underwater and if you snag bottom the lighter line will break at the barrel swivel or the jig. Fireline is real tough to break so make sure you use a lighter lb. test leader for the occasional snag.

When the water temperature reaches the mid 40 I usually stop tipping my jig with a minnow. Usually this happens around mid April. At this time it a great idea to have you or your partner fish with a minnow and the other one without and see what the fish prefer. You might be surprised by the outcome!

Boat control probably puts more fish in my boat than any other factor. I use a 75lb thrust Minn Kota bow mount electric to keep my line as vertical as possible. Once you arrive at your destination simply point your boat into the wind, drop your jig down to the bottom and chase your line with the electric motor making minor corrections as you drift downstream. Again keeping your line as vertical as possible is key. Proficiency comes with practice, but once learned it’s like riding a bike. The same technique can be achieved with a tiller motor back trolling into the wind to stay vertical.

Where To Fish?

Generally you want to focus on channel drop offs or other current breaks. This area offers numerous traditional walleye hotspots and here a few. One thing I will mention, while fishing the Detroit River it is very important to get a Canadian license unless you exclusively tend to hug the Michigan shoreline.

Here are some locations worth mentioning that should get you started.

• Below the discharge by the 80″ mill. I typically start my drift at the discharge and end near the entrance to the marina above Great Lakes Steel. Make passes at different depths until you locate fish in all the areas mentioned.

• Below Great Lakes Steel where the slag is dumped. I usually start out near the bright blue bldg. at the south end of the mill in about 22′ of water and end near the entrance to the channel that goes between Mud Island and the Michigan Shoreline in 15′ to 16′ of water. This section can be a real good producer for above average size walleye.

• Below the mouth of the Ecorse River to the Wyandotte boat launch. You will pass by Pier 500 on your drift. The current in this area is much slower than in the main channel and many big fish are taken from this area every year.

• Across from the Portofino Restaurant near the tip of Hennepin Pt. (North tip of Grosse Isle) I usually start my drift on the east channel edge in 28′-32′ of water. This location has given up many fast limits especially near the end of April and into early May. Not usually a big fish spot, but usually productive for eater size walleye. These spots are in Canadian waters, be sure to have a Canadian License if you plan on fishing locations.

• The mud flats at the tip of Fighting Island. This is a local hand liner hangout, but jigging here has proven to be extremely productive. Drifts along both sides of this flat near the channel drop off are worth fishing. Even jigging right over the middle of the flat can be productive especially when walleye are aggressive.

• The channel edge near the west side of Fighting Island. This spot might be one of the best locations in the whole River system. Numerous large walleye are caught here every year. Most anglers tend to fish from the permanent large port side channel marker to the red buoy between it and the water pump house. The tail end of this drift offers a more gradual drop off compared to the beginning, but is definitely worth fishing. Try fishing different contours until you find fish.

• The salt mines. This location much of the time is not fishable for jiggers due to muddy water. In fact the water here is seldom clear. When it is clear it appears to have a milky look to it. However this is a great location for large walleye especially after the spawn. Again try several drifts at different depths until you find active fish.

These locations mentioned above are vast and by no means am I really giving away any secrets here. The river is large and can handle plenty of boats. These locations though are definitely a good starting point for any angler. Your boat control and presentation will make the difference. As walleye filter in and out of the river you will notice that certain spots will produce while others seem to be void of fish. Walleye will not be dispersed evenly throughout the system. Walleye are a schooling fish and typically school by year class. Once you hit a big fish, make several more drifts because odds are she is not alone.

Lastly try to avoid fishing in packs of boats if possible. When I look back at the days when we were catching numerous fish on each drift, most of the time there were just a handful of boats in the vicinity. It is not as critical as on the big lake, but you should find yourself boating more fish if you stay on the outer edges of the fleet. And last but not least, be courteous to your fellow fisherman, give him a little space. After all we are all out here for the same reason. There is no need to rub gunnels. Be safe and have a great spring on the river. It should be a good one! For more information be sure to visit Capt. Ryan’s website