Handling Is A Precise Presentation…

When Fox Sports Network interviewed Erik Furseth at a Detroit River walleye tournament he explained, “If you cannot see your boat prop because water clarity is poor or stained from rain or high winds you need to pull wire to catch river walleyes. I’m referring to the Michigan developed tactic of handlining, where you troll minnow-imitation lures upriver that are attached to a heavy weight placed close to bottom by wire line. The angler holds the wire in his hand and bounces bottom with the weight, causing stickbaits to dart close to rocks, structure and current breaks that hold big walleyes.”

I’ve long watched handliners on the Detroit and St. Clair River system and the past few years they are showing on the Saginaw, Muskegon, Grand, St. Joseph, Kalamazoo and other Great Lakes connecting water ways. That’s when I decided to try this interesting tactic. The results were interesting, insightful and most importantly produced excellent catches of big ol’ toothy critters. This tactic works like dynamite for walleyes during spring and fall but the deadly presentation is also used throughout summer by savvy fishermen who work minnow-imitation lures in the deep holes and fast current of the Detroit and St. Clair River system. And with the long cold spring, high cold water and discolored water you can bet that hand lining will be going big guns on the St. Clair, Detroit and Trenton Channel well into June in 2011!

“Some fishermen think the Detroit walleye run ends in May but there are fish in the system all summer,” reports George Campbell, Owner of Wyandotte Boat Launch. “I’ve seen limit catches come from handliners who prefer cool summer nights to practice their trade.

Handling is a precise presentation that can be used in deep holes or around structure like Turkey Island or Fighting Fish Island and around shallow rock piles. At night walleyes move from deep water to shallow water to feed near current breaks, drop-offs, rock piles, stones and gravel shoals. Seasoned handliners scout walleye holding hotspots and work lures through likely locations under the cover of darkness when walleyes are active.”

At daylight the water in Trenton Channel was definitely dirty as Furseth’s Ranger 621 raced to a likely walleye holdout. Erik cut the big motor and fired up the Yamaha 8 hp. kicker and pointed the bow into the current as we unwrapped leaders, tossed stickbaits overboard and lowered lead weights until they hit bottom.

My first impression was the bottom felt hard as the wire transmitted the rock solid structure to my hand. I raised the weight by lifting my arm until the weight suspended close to bottom, then lowered it until it touched again. I hooked a rock and the lure came back covered with aquatic moss. Soon I felt a heavy weight on the line and after lifting the weight and setting it in the Ranger I was into my first handlined walleye. The fat 4 pounder quickly came to net.

Twenty minutes later a 7 pound male ripped line from my hand as I eased him to the boat. I was impressed with the fight, excited to feel a big walleye pulling with no rod or reel. The big dog slashed at the surface, turned sideways in the current and used his hefty body to pull line from my hand. For an instant I didn’t think we would get the brute but when he stopped twisting I eased him to the net.

“Nice fish!” said Furseth as he lifted the big eyed fish in the net. “Isn’t it fun to pull walleyes by hand? Most importantly, you can limit on fish day or night fishing when water conditions make jigging a tough task. It seems a wiggling lure sends out enough vibration to draw hungry walleyes and guarantee strikes.”

Furseth has a unique river strategy; we would pull wire going upriver. Then shut down the kicker, bring in handlines, grab rods rigged with jigs and minnows, turn on the bow mounted electric motor and bounce brightly colored jigs off bottom as the boat drifted downriver. Furseth would constantly watch his Lowrance HDS 10 graph and use handlining to find schools of fish. After running lures through hot locations he would use vertical jigging to pick off active walleyes. After working one location he would move to another. Wow! The two tactic strategy was not only productive but it was an interesting way to catch walleyes; never boring and we covered miles of river.


“I sit in the back of my Ranger and troll upriver facing forward so I can see my Lowrance HDS 10. The huge screen on the Lowrance is easy to see anywhere in the boat and the high-definition system allows me to identify baitfish, determine structure, water depth and locate walleyes. The broadband sonar has fantastic sensitivity, high definition and superior target marking in all conditions. Bottom contour shows up better than ever and I can follow drop offs, work lures around rocks, along the river channel and locate fish hiding spots,” explained Furseth.

“If I see boulders or bottom coming up I can lift the weight upward. If there is a hole or drop-off I can let the weight down. This keeps the lures running tight to bottom and I hook more fish. Sure, handlining requires you feel bottom in order to get lures in front of fish but my first priority is to determine depth, structure and use the fish-finding technology to show me the bottom contour and where walleyes are holding. Sometimes I’ll see fish on the graph and I lift or lower the weight to the exact depth, putting the trailing lures in their face,” says Furseth. “At times I’ll locate fish but they refuse to bite. It might take several passes for walleyes to eventually turn on and grab presentations but without the Lowrance HDS 10 I’d never know where fish are located.”

Furseth uses a split screen on his Lowrance HDS 10 that shows typical structure and fish on the right side and the left side illustrates GPS mapping which gives detailed contour. This helps him to follow a certain depth or contour that holds walleyes. His Lowrance features insight USA that has a built in GPS and detailed contour. With this option no other microchip is required to locate contour lines.


“Fish on!” Furseth announces as I lift my weight and wrap the line so it does not tangle. I can see the wire being pulled far behind the boat by a dandy walleye as Furseth slowly brings the fish to the boat and places the weight on the gunwale. He strikes a smile as he struggles with the broad-shouldered walleye and coaxes the brute toward the boat with short hand over hand pulls on the line. I see the incoming fish; mouth agape with the clown colored #7 Rapala Husky Jerk sideways. One scoop with the net and the big fish was in the boat.

Furseth lifts the monster and shows me how the clown colored lure is sideways in the fish’s mouth. “See how the walleye grabbed the lure sideways and chomping down with its jaws and sharp teeth? Walleye seldom just nip a lure, they seem to grab with mouth snapping full force,” he explains.

I photographed Furseth’s lure boxes and asked which stickbaits were hot. “In stained water the loud lures work best, stick with chartreuse, white, yellow, purple clown patterns or fluorescent colors, metallic lures work too but in discolored water stick with baits that have a bright orange belly. In clear water use natural finished lures like metallic gold or silver with black back. I like several different sizes, like Rapala in size 5, 7 or 11. One of my favorites is a Firetiger Jr. Thunderstick because you do not break the bill because it is a solid bait. Top producers include: Rapala, Husky Jerk, Bomber, Smithwick, Rebel and more.

“I also change baits frequently when I see walleyes on the Lowrance HDS 10 and they refuse to bite. By changing lures I offer them variety in color and size which can key strikes and fill the box,” said Furseth.

“My Mom’s oldest brother used hand lines 70 years ago and the technique is still deadly today,” said Diane Grapentin, owner of A&S Reels which is highly rated statewide by savvy walleye anglers.

“You can get my reels on my EBay store grapentinspecialties or online at www.grapentin.com. There are many different lures used with our reels and custom shanks which feature a metal rod that comes out of the sinker to avoid snags. With this sinker the weight can be retrieved by pulling it out. Hand lining covers more area than jigging, keeps lures in the strike zone tight to bottom and produces more fish, that’s why some call it ‘meat fishing.’ Many different lures can be used off hand lines, some anglers prefer pencil plugs or Rapala, and others use Stinger Spoons, Night Stalkers, Mcginities and Bombers.”


Forget rods and level wind reels for this tactic. The trick is to mount a downrigger-like reel spooled with coated wire. The reel is spring loaded to take up slack wire and keep it tight between the reel and your hand. At the end of the line is a shank that has several clevises to attach leaders hooked to a 12 oz. lead weight that has a 4-inch metal leg much like a conventional bottom bouncer. The leg is used to help the hand-liner to feel bottom and it prevents the weight from snagging bottom.

“I use 1 lb. lead weight in 7-18ft depths and a 1 ½ lb. weight in deeper water. Of course this is affected by current, boat speed and angle of cable. You want the weight to be at a 45 degree angle from the boat,” explains Furseth.

“My most common leaders are 10ft. and 20ft or 15ft and 30ft using 20 pound test Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon line. I attach leaders to the shank using a Luhr Jensen Dipsy Diver rubber snubber and I attach the line to lure with a size #10 red Duolock snap. In most cases for every foot of leader the stickbait will dive one inch; which determines where I hook my leader to the shank clevis,” says Furseth.

“I love the Grapentin A&S Trolling reel, TS-R-P Trolling Shank and TSLI Trolling weights. All the Grapentin products are custom made for handlining. The reels come with 300 ft. of 60-pound nylostrand and reel clamp that fits a rod holder. Each reel is enclosed and the line never gets tangled and the shanks have clevises at the correct settings where you can almost automatically hook walleyes. Serious downriver handliners have been using Grapentin’s reel and tackle for decades. I purchase all my handlining gear at Bottom Line Bait and Tackle (734)379-9762. Ask for Bill or Bill Jr. they have a fantastic selection of river walleye gear, reels, weights, shanks, huge selection of custom painted stickbaits, jigs, Wyandotte Worms, stinger hooks, crawlers and live minnows,” explains Furseth.

“The custom made Grapentin shank is very important because it has clevises placed ideal distances on the wire so lures run at perfect depths to catch walleyes,” Furseth explains as he shows me the wire cable with a series of clevises used to attach leaders. “If lures are dragging on bottom you simply disconnect the leader and move it up the wire to the next clevise.” For handlining equipment go online at www.grapentin.com or call (810) 724-0636. Bottomline Bait and Tackle has a fine selection of handling gear, call (734) 379-9762.

“We sell our handlining gear in Utica, Port Huron and Flint Gander Mountain Stores,” reports Grapentin. “Look for our reels, shanks, weights and fishing gear at Fishing Tackle Grab Bag, Anderson’s Pro Bait, Lakeside Fishing Shop, Angler Rod & Sports, R&R Sporting Goods, KD Outdoors, and Lumber Jack in Marysville and Algonac.”

I must admit after hand lining a big walleye that the fight is very exciting; there is something powerfully addictive about a slashing fish attached to a mono line in your hand. I could feel every head shake and anticipated when the fish sprinted away and I let line strip through my fingers. I agree with Furseth, this brand of fishing is very relaxing as the boat glides across the calm river surface and the weight and wire telegraph bottom structure. But the therapeutic mood quickly shifts as you feel a solid pull on the rig and the violent head shake of a hooked walleye. Try this deadly river fishing tactic and I guarantee it will get your juices flowing, create heart-pounding excitement, put fish in the box when other tactics go dead and provide a tasty treat for the table.

Detroit River Contacts

• Bottom Line Bait And Tackle (734) 379-9762 carries a complete line of handlining equipment, excellent selection of handline and trolling lures, jigs, plastics, live crawlers and minnows.

• Trenton Lighthouse (734) 675-7080: Call Frank Chakrabarty for latest fishing report, water conditions, fresh minnows and crawlers, lures, custom jigs and gobs of fishing tackle.

• Wyandotte Boat Ramp (734) 284-6774: George Campbell can give you an accurate fishing report, fresh minnows and crawlers, jigs and easy access to one of the hottest walleye spots in Michigan.

• www.walleyekid.com has fishing reports for Detroit River and Lake Erie, book a charter, Detroit River fishing videos, guide to river hotspots DVD and much more.

• www.walleye101.com: Lance Valentine’s charter fishing, videos, DVDs, guide to river hotspots and more.