There is nothing like pulling up on your rod and feeling that infamous weight. It’s the sluggish weight of a walleye which causes us to quickly set the hook. The drag spins slightly with the affirmation of an aggressive headshake. The fun begins as you compose yourself to pull out another Detroit River walleye. The feeling never gets old.
Walleyes may well rank as the most popular species among anglers. With spring already approaching, one of the greatest walleye runs is about to begin. In short order, fishermen will begin chasing walleye on the Detroit River. The Western Basis of Lake Erie boasts one of the largest spawning grounds for walleye. There is some outstanding structure that makes these areas some of the best fishing. With the walleye populations growing in the last few years Lake Erie is one of the best fisheries at over 33 million walleye. We are blessed to be right in the middle of several outstanding walleye fishing locations.
The concept of jigging for walleye seems simple. However, it’s not always that easy. Without some insight fishermen have struggled to understand the refined aspects of Detroit River walleye fishing. Dan Carter is a die-hard walleye nut who catches more walleye in a season than many do over the course of a lifetime. We’re here to share his six secrets to successfully fishing the Detroit River.
Walleye can be finicky fish, which is why so many fishermen tend to try to finesse fish them. However, during the spring walleye run it’s time to fish the heaviest jig you can get away with instead of a lighter jig. It’s so important to keep the jig vertical and maintain the bottom six inches. Carter indicated when taking new fishermen onto the Detroit River he starts them with a 1 ounce jig. Part of this is to teach them how to vertical jig and keep constant contact with the bottom. After about an hour of using a heavy lure they understand the importance of keeping that lure bouncing off the bottom. After learning this concept then he’ll move them onto a ¾ ounce jig.
Most often he’s fishing with a ¾ to 1 ounce jighead. Only when they move into shallow water does he lighten up to a 5/8 ounce jighead. The larger profile heads provide larger sized bait for the walleye. Carter prefers to use a swim style jighead in the Detroit River to help cut through the current. However it’s important to not get caught up in the hype. Standard round ball jigs work great and have produced walleye for decades. Stick with what works for you.
Must Have Additions
Deciding on using a stinger? Stop deciding and simply use them! There are lots of ways to use a stinger hook but make sure to hang it free. Carter indicated walleye open their mouths and suck in food. Because of this, a free hanging stinger often is the lightest portion of the rig. This is what gets sucked into the walleye’s mouth when they are finicky. This is extremely important in the March season because fish are often sluggish. New fishermen often have a hard time feeling the bit so the stinger hook skyrockets their success. He estimates that during the early portions of the season 60% of the fish are caught on the stinger.
Even when fishing in an extremely snag filled area Carter insists that everyone uses a stinger. Let them hang free even in these locations. This means you’ll lose a few more rigs but it is well worth the payout. Because he makes all his own jigs and stingers he is able to customize them. Traditionally a #8 treble hook is used for the majority of the walleye run. When fishing on areas with lots of rubbish he uses a #10 treble hook.
Keep it Vertical
The most important aspect of the Detroit River is keeping the jig vertical. If you can’t keep a vertical presentation your success rate will plummet. Get someone with some experience to drive the boat and keep it straight. It’s far more important to keep the boat straight than anything else. If you don’t stay straight you’ll lose everything from fishing gear to vertical presentation. What’s most difficult is managing both the current and wind on the river.
The best trolling motor set-up is a foot controlled trolling motor. Keep the bow of your boat pointed into the wind. Adjust the trolling motor thrust until your fishing line is perfectly vertical. Also when there is a gust of wind make sure to use a burst mode to push the boat forward to keep everything perfectly vertical during higher winds. If the front fisherman can’t stay vertical other fishermen on the boat will have a much harder time. Carter indicated that if you can’t keep the lure vertical then fish shallower water. This is easier for a fisherman to keep the lure vertical because there are fewer factors in shallow water.
Keeping a Cadence
If you ask five fishermen how to vertical jig you’d get a variety of answers. Vertical jigging in the Detroit River is a nice steady cadence while staying in contact with the bottom of the river. Some days the fish love a faster jigging motion and other days it is a slow process. Most often during the early portion of the season a slow presentation works best. Then in late April when a bunch of males move into the river systems, a very fast jigging motion is ideal. The use of a heavy jig allows you to be really slow on your presentation.
Along with a steady cadence comes the technique of changing cadence. A slight change can cause a bite. What is most important is to pay attention to when you get bites. You have to ask yourself, “What changed that caused the bite.” Remember exactly what happened or changed in your technique. Did a gust of wind force you to change the cadence, was it a smaller jigging motion, did you simply change the jigging speed? All are important factors. By understanding this you will be able to mimic those factors to increase your odds dramatically.
Connected to most boats is a timesaving device, the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system. These little devices can range in features and cost but any GPS can be used to begin to increase your odds. The secret sauce is collecting data from all of your fishing trips. Over time it will really help a fisherman be more successful by pinpointing active locations.
Carter marks all the fish he catches on his GPS. These are marked by color for AM or PM and broken down by month. This information allows him to pinpoint exactly where to catch fish any given time of the year. Carter understands that a general location is not good enough. All his waypoints help him pinpoint the exact location of fish. It’s the structure of the river floor and how fish are using the structure in relation to current and time of the year. Marking the seasonal timing also allows fishermen to find the most productive spots depending on the time of the walleye run. Even if you haven’t collected GPS locations before, starting now will allow you to be more successful on your next trip.
“Some days color makes all the difference in the world but most days it doesn’t”, says Carter. When fishing is tough everything we discussed gets modified however lure color is last on the list. There is no need to fall into a false concept that you must have a hundred different colors. Let’s make it simple. For a jighead, Cater prefers a yellow, black or silver (lead) color with a Wyandot Worm, specifically, a 4 inch brown paddle worm or natural colored Lunker City minnow. During most conditions, you can rely on brown, black, and motor oil however when the water get really muddy switch to something with some high visibility such as yellow, chartreuse, lime green, or white.
Detroit River walleye is an outstanding fishery. Carter says, “Don’t over think it. It’s the simplest form of fishing which is why the Detroit River is so popular in the spring.” If you’re new, go to a location with lots of boats. Although there is a crowd, there is a reason everyone is huddled into that location. Sometimes we fish in the crowd and many times we’re focusing away from the crowd. There are a couple important lure aspects to remember; heavy jigs, natural colors, and stinger hooks. After you’ve mastered that then get an excellent captain to keep your boat vertical, mark your catches on a GPS, and keep a steady cadence. These techniques will help you become highly successful at catching Detroit River walleye.