Catching a walleye over 10 pounds can attract a multitude of Michigan fishermen. Several over 11 pounds brings legions. Monster supertanker walleyes by the hundreds draw fisherman from far and wide to the Wolverine State’s largest flowing river. Giant walleyes draw giant crowds and the Detroit River system is where Michigan fisherman can expect to catch a whopper over 11 pounds, and boatloads of 5-8 pound walleyes. This was certainly the case last spring on my first Detroit River outing.
It was April 12, following warm rain and bright sun filled days, walleyes from Lake Erie stormed into the Detroit River system. It helps to have a little intel on where to fish and the status of the run. A quick call to Bottomline Bait and Tackle at (734)379-9762 confirmed large schools had arrived and large pre-spawn hens were biting.
I joined two Michigan walleye pros in a Ranger 621 boat the following morning. We drifted along the current break near one of the many factories that border the Detroit River in the Wyandotte area. We boated several nice fish, a couple in the 8 pound range by dancing 5/8 oz. jigs tipped with live minnows or plastics on the 17-20 foot shelf that borders the 40 foot main channel.
Walleye pro Erik Furseth was captain and an expert at running the powerful cable drive Minn Kota Maxxum 36 volt 101 pound thrust bow mounted electric motor to keep lines vertical and presentations at a slight upstream angle to entice strikes. POW! Erik would sound “Fish on!” I’d drop camera gear and grab the net, boat the fish and put a live minnow on his TJ’s Tackle (www.tjstackle.com) custom walleye jig. Then, his partner, Joe Rossell from Washington, would announce he hooked fish and I would repeat the process. Soon the live well was bulging with beautiful, large walleyes when Joe set the hook on a monster.
The big fish stripped line off his spinning reel and Rossell smiled as he coaxed the brute to the boat and I slipped the net under the monster. Other fishermen in the area yelled to congratulate Rossell as I lifted the huge walleye from the emerald green water and grabbed camera gear. I snapped photos of the large female with sides bulging with roe as Jossell removed the hook tipped with plastic minnow, held the prize for a few seconds then released the trophy fish unharmed.
That’s when Furseth decided to make a move and we ran far away from the congested boats to a wooded location where the water was calm. Soon I caught a 4 pound male and Joe landed a similar size fish. But the icing on the cake was when Furseth stood up to get a solid hook set on a walleye that was charging the boat. I rushed to the bow of the boat and cleared lines as he did battle with the large walleye. The sun was high and I could see deep into the greenish clear water with my Polaroid sunglasses.
There in the depths of the mighty Detroit was the faint outline of a large fish. I could make out its enormous length and when the fish frantically shook its head to spit the stinging hook I could see its huge head and gaping maw large enough to put a man’s fist between the jaws. The behemoth flipped on its side and sprinted toward bottom but Furseth kept pressure on the line and soon the huge walleye came up. The closer it came the larger it looked and the more excited I became and when the giant fish was inches from the river surface I extended my arm and scooped the trophy into the net.
Furseth’s fish was absolutely freakishly huge, over 32 inches long with a super extended belly full of roe. Its large gaping maw was lined with super sharp teeth and the jig was lodged deep in its throat. Furseth carefully removed the lure with long needle nosed pliers, held the trophy for photos and released the ludicrously huge walleye unharmed.
I sat back in the gently rocking boat, reviewed photos and felt overjoyed at the chance to record on film not one but two trophy walleyes landed in a matter of minutes. Far in the distance I could hear men cheering and caught a glimpse of a big fish wiggling in a net. They too had hit walleye pay dirt, finned gold in the form of a 30 inch plus record size walleye.
This unique trophy fishery is fueled by the abundant walleye population found in Lake Erie. Each spring when water temperatures rise thousands of monster fish ascend the Maumee in Ohio and the Detroit River system to complete spawning chores. Good news is with an abundant 2003 year class, Michigan fishermen can expect plenty of 10 pound plus monsters this spring.
Several years ago when Michigan’s salmon and steelhead fishery began a downward spiral I made the switch to walleye fishing. Like many fishermen I made every effort to locate and catch large trophy sized fish. At one time planted walleyes were plentiful and huge on the Betsie River near Frankfort but the DNR stopped planting fish. I’ve chased walleyes throughout this great state and landed some beautiful fish at Muskegon, Manistee, Saginaw Bay, Bays de Noc, Lake St. Clair and more. But the one monster fish river that keeps pumping out record catches is the Detroit.
Kind of interesting how huge walleyes persist on running the Detroit and this splendid fishery has gone untouched by Michigan’s DNR who seems to screw up fisheries state wide. No walleyes are planted in the Detroit system and even with the Canadian gill netters slaughtering the resource splendid numbers return each spring to spawn.
I once had a Michigan DNR Fisheries Biologist tell me that most fishermen are not interested in landing trophy fish. I don’t think so! Fact is, Michigan fishermen travel from around the state to Detroit just to get close to big fish. Michigan walleye anglers flock to the Detroit for one important reason–to do battle with a giant. Monster walleyes have a way of enticing savvy fishermen and anglers from around this great state to the flowing Detroit each spring in search of giant walleyes.
The Detroit system is the finest big walleye destination in the state. It is well known for huge walleyes and abundant fisheries for pike, perch, world class white bass fishing and tons of hard fighting smallmouth bass. The Detroit is my top pick for trophy walleyes. If you are looking for a monster walleye destinations don’t overlook this fantastic fishery.
I’ve fished the Detroit for decades with some well-known anglers like Captain Al Lesh, David Richey, Babe Winkelman, Mike Zielinski and several walleye tournament pros like Keith Kavajeck and Gary Parsons. Over the years I’ve seen unbelievable fishing and tough days too, but on an average if you hit the main walleye run in early April you will get hooks into a wall hanger. The Detroit is the only body of water in Michigan where I have landed five fish over 10 pounds in a single morning. If you catch the mother lode of pre-spawn monster hens when they are snapping you will experience monster walleye fishing like no other. This is the home of giant walleyes but timing is critical and you must hit the water when the main run of huge walleyes arrives. If you are late and water temperatures rise above 40 degrees the big hens move to the gravel and begin spawning chores. I’ve seen the supertankers go from bite mode to spawning activity overnight. Once a big female begins laying her zillions of eggs she will get lock jaw, her appetite and feeding become secondary and she will not take the best presentation. The trick is to intercept the main run while pre-spawn hens are still in massive schools, holding in deep resting spots, waiting for water temperatures to rise to 40 degrees and mating begins.
Last year the hot fishing was in early April, say the 4 – 10. If we have a cold spring expect the same this spring but if we suddenly have warm weather and rain the fish might show up earlier. Over the years I have seen prime fishing from April 3-12. Last spring the warm water discharge at the Candy Sticks or Trenton generating station was shut down for repair and early runs of walleyes did not stop to feed in the current. Most slipped up river and the hottest fishing was found from the Wyandotte boat launch (734 284-6774) upriver to the Ren Cen or Ambassador Bridge.
Some ask why Detroit River fish are so large. They are simply old fish that have survived in the ideal habitat of Lake Erie. But Lake Erie is fast growing sour with a deadly algae caused from too much human pollution in the Detroit and the Maumee Rivers. The explosion of nitrates and phosphates coming from human waste and farming catapulted the growth of algae on a monumental scale to the point where it is toxic and beaches on Lake Erie were closed to swimmers last summer. The same blue-green algae bloom that plagued Erie in the 60s is back. The massive nurti-sewage dumped into Erie has ruined summer walleye fisheries and caused trash fish numbers to balloon. The catapulted ecosystem fertility has helped walleyes to grow huge and 14 pound fish are not uncommon. Several walleyes over 14 pounds were harvested this past winter by ice fishermen in the central/western basin. Some biologists predict that 17 pound walleyes could soon be harvested from Erie or the Detroit River.
“Lake Erie is the best place I know to catch a record walleye”, reports Erik Furseth, Michigan Walleye Pro. “I’ve had excellent luck the past two winters because the ice is solid around the Bass Islands and West Sister. There are a lot of 14 pound walleyes in Erie right now, more than I have ever seen. Guys caught plenty of them this winter. Some were throwing back 12 pounders and catching fish that pushed the scales at 14 pounds. The ice fishing was off the hook fantastic. It took 30 minutes to catch your limit. Some fishermen brought in limits with no fish less than 10 pounds. This spring the Detroit River will have a run of giant walleyes.”
Motown is one of the few locations in Michigan where you can boat a 10 pound plus fish. One remaining fishery where a Michigan angler can reasonably expect to catch a trophy walleye, maybe 14 pounds. Lake Erie run fish are absolutely huge this year and perhaps this spring will be the year a Michigan angler lands a giant over 17 pounds.