THE TRENTON CHANNEL SPRING FISHERY…
There’s a walleye honey hole in southeast Michigan teeming with fish, big ones too, and it is easy to find. Each spring thousands of spawning fish migrate to the spot and fishing is fast-paced, exciting and often downright crazy. What’s cool is the hotspot is easy to find because it is found in the shadow of a power plant highlighted by two tall red and white stacks nicknamed by locals the “Candycanes or Candysticks” because the stacks resemble two monster candy canes. Some downriver anglers say more and bigger walleyes are caught here than anywhere in Michigan. Here’s why.
Warmer Water, Spawning Gravel, Current
The Trenton Channel has long had a reputation for providing great walleye fishing. This spring the DNR estimates that Lake Erie has an estimated 15 million walleyes and many are destined to run the Detroit system. In addition, countless thousands drift downriver through the St. Clair system and contribute to the spawning masses. Most of the spring action begins at the south end near the Candycanes when prespawn fish make the short upstream run from the vast open sea of Lake Erie. The action begins close to the discharge where warmer water temperatures draw fish from the frigid big lake. Fishing action heats up in early April as schools of prespawn walleyes congregate in massive schools.
The Candycanes also draw baitfish from the vast Detroit river system and outings are often highlighted by baitfish breaking the calm river surface as marauding wolf packs drive them skyward. Your graph will often light up as mingling schools of shad, a variety of chubs, minnows and alewife try to hold their position in the river current as gnashing teeth attack from the below. Chances of witnessing a massive walleye feeding frenzy occurs here on a regular basis during spring. Perhaps the hottest fishing in the state is available at sunrise as predator fish slash into schools of baitfish.
The warmer current near the Candysticks is certainly a huge walleye magnet. In addition the bottom of the entire Trenton Channel is ideal walleye spawning habitat with abundant gravel bars, rocks, and crushed concrete and pea-size stones. Many fish spawn in the 4-8 ft. depths and many more back downstream to the boulder/rocky shores found along area Celeron, Calf, Horse and other islands.
I recommend you start early, before daylight. Launch at Elizabeth Park or Detroit Metro Park and zoom to the Candysticks. Come first light vertical jig the 4-8 ft. depths and catch early fish off-guard before boat traffic drives them off the shallow gravel. Once daylight arrives look for fish to move toward the center of the channel 10-20 ft. depths where deeper water, huge boulders and troughs in the bottom offer cover.
Candycane ‘eyes weigh from 3-7 pounds and the larger fish push the scales 8-12 pounds. If your goal is to catch a 10-pound plus walleye hanger, be at the Candysticks when water temperatures hit 40 degrees. Last spring John Kinkead from Southfield hooked a behemoth 15lb 9oz fish that came from this area on a Berkley 4-inch smelt Power Minnow. Two other 2011 Master Angler entries pushed the scales over 13-pounds. That’s huge! Some downriver anglers swear the Candysticks produce more record walleyes than anywhere in Michigan.
If you are like me and seek the solid strike and hard fight of a mature 30-inch plus hawg ‘eye, then the Candycanes should be your spring destination. Few thrills in fishing compare with the hefty pull of a trophy walleye and the sight of a big ol’ gator-faced marble eye long as your arm will get your heart pumpin’, guaranteed. Once a big dog gets thrashing at the surface and he turns and strips line from your drag, you quickly realize what walleye fishing is really all about. The thrill of fighting, landing and if you please, releasing a trophy walleye makes all the hard work worthwhile. Still, you can count on cold outings, sleepless nights, long hours bouncing in the waves and sometimes endless winds before the monster of a lifetime comes to net.
I’ve been at the Candysticks when the big fish arrive fresh from Lake Erie. Hooked countless hard body big fish and vertical jigged until the electric motor batteries puke. Some trips I cover water looking for active schools until I’m out of food and drink and still fishing. I’ve seen hundreds of big fish come from this area and once a warm spring rain brought fresh run monsters and I set a personal record by boating three 10-pound plus fish in less than a half hour.
I don’t recommend staying at the sticks all walleye season because schools of fish move upriver when water temperatures spike upward. Staying with schools depends on you eventually moving upstream too. But when the Trenton bite is hot and the mature walleyes stack up in the area chances of boating the biggest fish of the year are very good.
Fresh Bait, Plastics, Jiggin’ Tips
Savvy anglers begin the season with lively fresh minnows on a jig. There is something powerfully addictive about the wiggle and smell of live bait. Other anglers are sold on plastic minnows which have the look, feel and artificial flavoring to draw savage strikes. My top producers are Berkley Power Minnow, Rapala Trigger X Minnow, Sassy Shad and Lance Valentine’s Thumper Minnow.
When water temperatures hit 50 degrees make the shift to plastic worms. Models 4-6 inches are ideal on a jig. Worms that slither and glide in the current drive hungry walleyes bonkers. Hot colors last spring included black with metal flecks, chartreuse with red flecks, watermelon and motor oil. One combination that is difficult to beat is a black jig head with a brown plastic worm. Some fishermen use a white Wyandotte Worm at daylight and switch to more neutral colors as light penetrates the water.
There are several jigging techniques that guarantee strikes. Vertical jigging is the most popular and out produces most other fishing methods. Success hinges on boat control and how well you use an electric motor to keep your presentation vertical in the swift current. The bite comes when your line is straight up and down and you lift the jig and let it drop or crash bottom. The lead head strikes the sand and makes a puff of debris that resembles feeding baitfish. Walleyes hear and feel the jig strike bottom and when they see the moving sand they attack the offering and vent the hook into their mouth by sucking water through their gills.
The strike feels like a solid thump or telltale tap-tap of a walleye munching on the bait. Rookie fishermen make the common mistake of missing strikes because they do not detect the strike and fish are simply on the line when they lift the rod. If you feel pressure on the line, set the hook. If not, walleyes will feel you pulling and quickly spit the offering. Sometimes strikes are easy to detect as fish shark attack the presentation, other times finicky feeders will mouth and spit the offering at lightning speed.
Last spring I watched several walleye pro anglers pre-fishing for a big dollar tournament. Two beautifully colored boats moved into one of my best spots and in minutes were fighting, catching and releasing fish.
I motored close and asked “What’s the secret to catching fish?”
An angler driving the electric motor replied, “We are using the electric motor to lift and drop jigs at an upstream angle.”
Close inspection revealed the pros were actually jigging presentations into the current, pulling jigs upstream and using powerful 36 volt systems to pull boats at a snail’s pace into the current. I tried the method, caught some fish but was not good as the pros with boat control.
Catching The Main Run
The trick to limit catches and unbelievable fishing action hinges on timing. Get there too early when water temperatures are in the 30s and fishing will be slow. Hit it when temps are in the 40s and you could hit the mother lode. Wait until weather warms and temperatures have been in the 50s and the main run has moved upstream throughout the Detroit system.
Begin by calling local bait and tackle shops to get the latest fishing report. Contact the Trenton Lighthouse at (734)379-9762 or Bottom Line Bait and Tackle at (734)379-9762.
One valuable source is Lance Valentine’s fishing report online at
www.walleyekid.com. Peak run generally occurs the first week in April and lasts for about 5-10 days. As water temperatures warm and hens hit the gravel, prespawn fish make the transition to spawning mode and the big dogs get lock jaw. He who intercepts massive schools of prespawn walleyes, still in a feeding routine, will find Candysticks walleye fishing absolutely delightful.
Now is the time to get prepared for spring walleye fishing. It is time to start the boat engine, get new gas running through the carbs, check electronics, and fix trailer lights, grease trailer bearings and much more. Do you have the electric motor batteries charged? Got your landing net and jig box in the boat?
If you want to catch more and bigger fish have you made the switch to braided-type jigging lines? My choice is the Berkley Code Red Braid 10-pound, 2-pound test diameter Spiderwire Stealth, which cuts through the current like a knife and helps you feel bottom and more strikes. Try a clear fluorocarbon leader, say 8-pound test and use an itsy Blackbird barrel swivel to attach it to the braid.
Each spring as southern breezes bring bright sun and warm rain I dream of those beautiful, tall Candycanes on the Trenton Channel. Though somewhat ugly, I have come to love their unique stature. To me they are majestic markers sort of walleye pyramids that indicate where Michigan fishermen and trophy walleyes come together and do battle. I look forward to seeing them each spring after a long cold winter. When I look at them my mind drifts back to trips with Babe Winkelman, David Richey, Al Lesh, Keith Kavajeth, Gary Parsons and many more fishing friends. And always the images of huge walleyes thrashing the calm surface give me pause. WOW! Michigan offers some fantastic fishing. Don’t miss the golden opportunity to sample the Trenton Channel fishery this spring. Are you ready?