Walleye fishing in the early spring in Michigan can be very productive. If you are willing to brave the cold temperatures in March and April, you will often be rewarded with large numbers of walleyes. Walleyes are often hungry just before and just after spawning, which is a great time to be on the water.
The law dictates that you must only fish walleyes on certain rivers such as the Detroit River and the Great Lakes during March and most of April, which forces anglers to avoid inland waters. However, the good news is the Great Lakes offer great early spring fishing. Three anglers who take advantage of the early spring fishery are professional angler Ernie Miller of Last Cast Charters in Fruitport; Mitch Johnson, a professional angler in Montague and owner of Johnson’s Great Outdoors (a sporting goods retailer); and Mark Martin, a professional angler based in Twin Lake. All three anglers spend considerable amounts of time on the water pursuing walleyes. According to all of them, if you find the right water you can plan to catch large numbers of walleyes.
When it comes to consistently catching large numbers of walleye, all three anglers agree that a great place to start is Lake Erie. “For some, driving over to Lake Erie is a long drive, but the trip is worth it,” explained Martin. “In the early spring, you can catch a boat full of walleyes in no time if the bite is on in Lake Erie.”
According to Ernie Miller, there are four areas anglers should plan to fish. “The Banana Dyke, Bolles Harbor, Brest Bay and Luna Ouer are great places to target walleyes,” Miller explained. “Those four areas are where pre-spawn and post-spawn walleye stages occur. If you can find them in those areas, you can catch one fish after another because there are typically lots of fish there in the middle of March through April.”
Miller says it’s not uncommon to catch several 3 1/2- to 5-pound fish. “These are good-sized fish, and it is typical that we get three or more fish on at a time, which creates lots of excitement. All the boards I am trolling often go off about the same time.”
To be successful, Miller believes, anglers need to focus on the top water column. “I typically fish between 15 and 25 feet of water and tend to fish about 7 feet down,” Miller noted. “That seems to be where the fish like to be. A crawler harness with a split shot trolling 25 feet behind the boat is a popular tactic used this time of year on Lake Erie.”
Most walleye anglers who fish Lake Erie prefer to be on the water before first light. “Walleyes don’t like much light so the best time to fish is first thing in the morning,” he said. Deep-diving crankbaits are also popular. “When using deep-diving crankbaits, the best thing to do is put it 5 to 7 feet behind the boards. When trolling with crankbaits, go about 1 mile an hour, 1.5 at the most. When trolling crawler harnesses, I recommend 7/10 miles an hour at the most.”
The water can be very shallow in many of the areas where the fish hang out, so you don’t need to fish very deep. “At the Banana Dyke, the water is only 7 feet deep. The fish like to be about halfway down in the water column, so most of the time I fish just 3 feet under the surface.”
One of the main reasons most professional walleye anglers focus so much of their attention on Lake Erie is because it offers a consistent bite that isn’t affected as much by weather as other lakes and rivers.
When fishing Lake Erie, there are several boat launches where you can access the Lake. Erie Metro Park, Sterling State Park, Bolles Harbor and Luna Pier Harbor Club offer decent launches, but plan to pay a fee at some of them to launch a boat.
It’s no secret that one of the best places to fish walleyes any time of the year is Saginaw Bay. Pro angler Mark Martin enjoys fishing Saginaw Bay during March and early April. “There are several river mouths I like to fish in front of when fishing for walleyes during the early spring. The Saginaw River, Quanicassee River and the Kawkawlin River mouths are great places to target for walleyes. There is a lot less sediment in the bay than most of the rivers, so I fish in the shallow water around the river mouths. The fish are staging to go up the rivers to spawn and there are often large schools of them. They are often in water as shallow as 4 to 5 feet.”
These rivers are long distances apart, but Martin says fish will stage up and down the coast in between the rivers so the fish are easy to find; you don’t have to fish in one certain spot. “Some walleyes will stage right at the mouth of the rivers while other fish will stage up in shallow waters between the rivers.”
Martin says there are often so many fish stacked up in the bay that you can fish in one direction for miles without getting away from fish. “There are miles between the rivers I am talking about but sometimes there are solid schools of fish from one river to the next. Sometimes you might have a mile or so where you don’t have any fish but then you will get into them for the next three miles,” Martin explained.
With the water being so shallow, the fish are often spread out over an extremely large area. When fishing between the Saginaw River and the Quanicassee River, avoid the rocks.
“There are many rocks between these two rivers and you can really get your boat and motor in trouble if you don’t pay attention because the water is so shallow. Anglers need to go slow and pay attention.”
When running back and forth between the rivers, Martin says to go out and around into deeper water and then slow down and head back into the shallow water when you are ready to troll.
According to Martin, early spring is a great time to fish between the rivers because the water is shallow so the fish stay in the area, especially when there is a lot of runoff and sediment pouring out of the rivers.
“I have noticed that the walleyes congregate in these shallow areas when the water is really dirty,” Martin said.
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