If you're eager for trophy walleye...
Don't Ignore this 32-Mile Stretch of Great Walleye Fishing Water...
Looking for a perfect spot for big walleyes? I’m talkin’ big ‘ole monster Great Lakes walleyes that slam your lure bend your rod double and push the scales over 10-pounds. Come to the Detroit River and ply this system with baited jig and you will be amazed at the results. Big fish and plenty of them await your hook. So, what you are waiting for?
“There is no question the Detroit River is one of the premier trophy walleye destinations in the Great Lakes region” reports Jim fields, DNR fisheries biologist for the Lake Erie Management Unit. “The Detroit River is 32 miles long and provides unlimited access for anglers who are looking for walleyes. One of the advantages of fishing the system is water conditions are usually not a problem. When winds are howling on Lake St. Clair or Erie and conditions too rough for fishing, you can catch big fish like crazy in the Detroit River.”
Millions of big walleyes ascend the Detroit system following warm weather, spring rain and rising water temperatures. Perhaps the most impressive fact about the spring walleye run is the phenomenal numbers of walleyes, with trophy class monsters mixed in. A true trophy came from the lower river that tipped the scales at 15 pounds 9 ounces, caught by John Kinkead from Southfield, MI on a ¾ oz. jig tipped with a Berkley Gulp minnow. Every spring monster walleyes are caught from the Detroit River system, fish that weigh over 12 pounds and measure at least 31 inches long with a girth the size of a football.
Two more huge gator-toothed fish were registered in the Michigan DNR Master Angler program that tipped the scales at 13 lb. 14 oz. and 13 lb. 4.5 oz. That’s huge!!
The sheer numbers of big fish that simply cover the entire bottom of the river is mind blowing, almost impossible to comprehend. Massive runs of huge fish ascend the river from Lake Erie which has an estimated population of somewhere around 15 million walleyes. And unknown masses drop downriver from Lake St. Clair to spawn in the Detroit.
“Most monster walleye caught during spring walleye fishery in the Detroit River originate from Lake Erie,” explains Fields. “Based on Lake Erie population estimates, walleye numbers in are expected to be similar to the past couple years. I anticipate that the high proportion of the catch will be 25-plus inches long. This is a great opportunity to catch a trophy walleye.”
I’ve been a Motown fan for over 30 years and fished every inch of the entire 32 mile Walleye Mecca. I’ve slammed hawgs with Detroit News Outdoor Writers, filmed the hot action with national TV personality Babe Winkelman, fished with walleye pro Gary Parsons and it is my opinion that the Detroit system offers the hottest fishing for monster walleyes in the Midwest.
The key to fishing success often hinges on timing.
Be on the river when those massive schools of Lake Erie new arrivals gather in area hotspots and the fishing is easy. Come too late when the main run has scattered throughout the 32 mile system and you might have to work for a limit catch.
The action usually starts in late March and shifts into high gear the first part of April. Come the second week in April you can count on easy limits of fat walleyes and the action usually runs until early May. Now, don’t get me wrong the Detroit River is a huge waterway that holds thousands of walleyes year round, but if you want to hit the main run and get in on hot walleye fishing action that will knock your socks off, you need to try vertical jigging the first part of April.
Come April a quick call to Bottomline confirmed walleyes had moved to the candy canes. I grabbed rods, hooked onto my Lund, launched at Elizabeth Park and motored downstream less than a mile to a warm water discharge: a known walleye hotspot.
At daylight I was vertical jigging with 5/8 oz. jigs tipped with lively minnows. My fishing partner, Bryan Smith from Lansing was first to hook a big fish. His rod bent double as I readied the net and scooped the nine pound fat bellied hen. Then Bryan put on a fishing clinic, catching his limit at lightning speed. I landed one fish to his five but by mid-day managed to put my limit in the boat.
The next morning a strong southerly wind and pouring rain made fishing difficult but we still caught big fish. I invited Brandon Conner from Ionia and when the rain stopped he noticed the water was slightly discolored so he switched from live minnow to a rubber worm colored chartreuse with metal flakes. POW!! He slammed into a monster fish that almost jerked the rod out of his hand. The battle lasted a few minutes before the 31 inch 11 pound fat walleye came to net. Wow! His first Detroit River walleye of the season was over 10 pounds, what a fantastic beginning to an outstanding season.
If you want to catch more and bigger walleyes
Try Motown walleyes in April.
Magnificent runs of monster fish await hook and line in early April and as the season progresses fishing is on fire throughout the system. Savvy anglers follow runs from the lower Detroit to the upper stretches, and then concentrate on deep holes and runs when fish are backing down after spawning. Best fishing lasts until early May.
Vertical jigging using powerful bow mounted electric motors is the deadliest tactic, although old time Motown anglers still take plenty of fish using wire hand lines, heavy weights and an upstream troll while pulling minnow imitation lures. The challenge is to get the bait in front of waiting fish. Vertical jigging requires you keep the boat facing into the current and bounce the jig off bottom, imitating feeding baitfish. Some pros like to pull jigs slightly upstream into the current and drop them into the jaws of walleyes following the offering.
Minnows are the most popular bait
More walleyes are caught from the Detroit on live minnows than any other presentation. There is something about the action and smell of a fresh blue minnow that drives walleyes into smashing the hook. However, there is a growing army of anglers who use plastics, especially when water temperatures hit the 50 degree mark. Some prefer Berkley gulp minnows or rubber worms colored natural, black or white. Area tackle shops carry locally made 4” Wyandotte worms that are deadly on a jig. Michigan walleye educator Lance Valentine offers a 5” Thump em up! Worm that is custom made for the Detroit River colored chartreuse, brown, pumpkin black and more. Valentine also has a fantastic plastic minnow with a tail that wiggles. Big Bite minnows come in 3-4 inch models colored perch, pearl and more. Don’t overlook his Michigan made torpedo-shaped jig that works like dynamite to catch walleyes in the fast Detroit current. Check out all his custom fishing supplies at www.walleye101.com
The size jig you use can vary with water and wind conditions. The Detroit is a big river: 1/3 to 4 miles wide, current speed of 1-3 ft. per second and depth up to 50 feet deep. When spawners congregate in the 4-8 ft. depths try 3/8-1/2 oz. jigs, ¾ for the 20 ft. depths and 1 oz. lead heads are best in 30-40ft. deeper water. If wind is howling and you are having trouble contacting bottom use 1 oz. jigs. Some local fishermen insist that anglers should use nothing but 1 oz. jigs in the fast current until they learn the bottom and boat a few fish. Only after using the heavier jig should they switch to a lighter weight. The trick is to keep the hook tight to bottom because most strikes come 1-8-inches off bottom. Lance Valentine has perfected Detroit River jigging and designed a custom Thump jig that rides with the hook up, available in hot colors like: brown goby, chartreuse, Firetiger and more.
Spring walleye fishing on the Detroit requires warm clothing, stocking hats, gloves, heavy insulated boots and standard apparel. The Detroit connects Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair and wind simply funnels down the waterway. In order to stay comfortable you need cold weather gear. Don’t forget sunglasses, rain-gear and bring plenty of snacks and water.
The Detroit has 21 islands but unlike most walleye fishing you should concentrate more on current breaks, runs and areas that funnel deep river current rather than fishy-looking shallow structures. The hot action begins on the lower Detroit. Actually the best fishing starts on the Trenton Channel which is a side branch off the Detroit. Walleyes from Lake Erie are attracted to the Trenton because water temperature is slightly warmer than the Detroit. The Trenton flows directly into Lake Erie and fish tend to congregate in the lower channel and eventually migrate upriver when warming temperatures summon them for spawning chores.
Area anglers refer to fishing hot spots...
...in relationship to shore structures like buildings, color or content of the sea wall or buoys found in the region. The Detroit Edison stacks are the biggest draw for early walleyes on the lower Detroit. Look for limit catches from the stacks downstream below the island. Trenton Channel is loaded with bottom debris ranging from trees, concrete and rocks to pea gravel that attracts spawning fish. The entire bottom downstream from the stacks is snag filled, uneven, and covered with concrete and rocks that offers pockets and hard bottom to hold walleyes.
More trophy fish come from here than any other single location on the entire river.
Thousands of boats congregate in this relatively small area and savvy fishermen often start at the stacks come dawn and move to less congested areas as daylight arrives.
Slide outside the boat pack and move to the east side of Trenton Channel bordered by West River Rd. The bottom here is very uneven and a sharp inside curve sends strong current and migrating walleyes into the 10 ft. depths. Drift from the large white boat lift to the head of Calf Island. Try the inside bends in 10-15 ft. depths and move out to the 20 ft. main channel on sunny days. Don’t forget the swift current along Calf Island that is covered with large boulders that hold fish in 10-17 ft. depths.
Humbug Marina is located close to the main channel and the deep water slot glides past their docks. The current will push your boat toward the marina in 10-15 ft. depths. Fish migrating from Erie pass through this relatively narrow slot. Make short drifts and only cover 100 yards of water until you pinpoint fish. Walleyes tend to stack from Humbug to the next point, so drift close to the docks for limit catches.
There is a bridge connecting Horse Island to the main land and in front of the cement bridge are two poles that mark a great walleye fishing spot. Start north of the poles in 20 ft. of water and drift to the deepest water between the poles. Downstream from the hole the bottom turns to sand and then gravel that attracts walleyes to the 12 ft. depths. You will catch fish all the way to the large white house with white sea wall. The Horse Island hole is the closest walleye hotspot to the Metro park launch.
One of my favorite spots is found near Wyandotte. I launch at the Wyandotte boat ramp, motor downstream past the marina and begin fishing 30-50 ft. off the wall in front of the BASF plant. Try the 20-24 ft. depths which is snag free. This area holds huge sturgeon and a species of black lamprey spawn. Tip a jig with a black worm and twitch the offering near bottom for savage strikes. This is a great place to avoid boat traffic and get away from crowds. Fish of a variety of sizes are found here and don’t overlook the great fishing found across the river near Buoy #16 in the slot between Grassy Island and Pt. Hennepin in 10-18 ft. depths.
Modern electronics are a must for this style of fishing. High resolution fish finders will help you to see bottom structure, depth, and baitfish and locate schools of walleyes. If you mark plenty of fish and they are unwilling to strike, try changing presentation colors or give them a rest and try them a couple hours later. Smart anglers cover a lot of water and try several locations to find schools of active fish. Make certain to save a waypoint when you find fish. Another top producer is the Wyandotte golf course area from the Gazebo to the course’s white maintenance shed. Stay in 12-16 ft. water, sometimes very close to the wall or move out deeper if you don’t find fish. The trick is to make a couple downstream drifts, locate fish, motor above them and drift jigs into their strike zone.
Third week in April
Follow schools upstream to Wyandotte and concentrate on the channels around Mud Island, Pier 500 and ply the 21-23 ft. depths near the slag piles or Great Lakes Steel. Drift tight to the wall, I’m talking a boat length from the structure and if the fish don’t respond move out into the deeper 40 ft. depths. Some fishermen concentrate on the warm water discharge or “Bubbler” as locals refer to the Great Lakes Steel outflow, others seek the Fort Wayne Street water discharge or the structure found at the Corps of Engineers Bldg. The Detroit water works, Boblo Island and Port of Detroit crane dock have the brand of structure to hold good catches of fish ranging from 3-5 pounds.
Boat upstream under the Ambassador bridge and the Detroit skyline becomes impressive--a magnificent brand of architectural beauty unmatched by any other river in North America. More importantly there is excellent fishing in front of the Joe Louis Arena, COBO Hall, Ford and all the way upriver to the entrance of Lake St. Clair.
Perhaps the best way to describe the Motown fishery would be to quote Lance Valentine, noted walleye fishing educator,
“Millions of walleyes come from Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie to spawn in the mighty Detroit. There is no better place to intercept them”.
Detroit River Boat Launch Sites
The Detroit River is a huge waterway with many boat launch sites. The following list outlines the sites found in the lower river to the upper boat launch facility.
- Erie Metropark has 10 launch lanes, bathrooms, Bottomline Bait and Tackle across the street, DNR daily or annual fee.
- Elizabeth Park opens April first and has 10 ramps, 5 for unloading 5 for loading with one way boat traffic and no wake under Grosse Isle Bridge. City daily fee.
- Rotary Park off Harrison Ave. has 2 launch lanes. Pay fee across street at fire or police station.
- Wyandotte Boat Ramp has plenty of parking and the boys use an electric golf cart to shuttle fishermen. Bathrooms, fish cleaning station, live bait and tackle.
- Ecorse launch has 2 lanes and daily use fee.
NOTE: Looking for detailed fishing maps of the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair or Lake Erie?
Check Out: Michigan Fishing Maps
Michigan resident Lance Valentine has been giving instructional fishing charters, fishing seminars and creating instructional videos for years. No one has better researched the Detroit River and big river walleye fishing techniques like Lance. Valentine conducts seminars, walleye educational weekends, Lowrance GPS schools and educational charters. Today he offers sonar and GPS workshops, has DVD’s on upper and lower Detroit River walleyes and offers custom fishing tackle. WALLEYE 101
“Our Thump jigs give anglers better feel in current, the jig hits bottom with the hook up to avoid snags. These are the best jigs available for vertical jigging in heavy current, available in 1 oz. and ¾ oz.”
If you are looking for a DVD that outlines exactly where to fish spring walleyes on the huge Detroit system take a peek at Lance’s DVD’s with downloadable waypoint file included. His DVD gives each spot never before shown detail, including landmark photos, map locations and GPS screen shots. Go on-line at www.walleye101.com