Opening Day 'Eyes

Opening Day 'Eyes

Some tried-and-true walleye fisheries are really taking off this year. Here's the inside look at the hotspots for 2009. (May 2009)

Michigan's walleye fisheries are changing, according to fisheries officials of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, as year-classes come to the forefront in some waters and decline in others. Others offer up new opportunities for trophy 'eyes for wise and patient walleye hunters.

Michigan's walleye fishing in 2009 promises chances, say fisheries officials, for taking both large fish and good numbers of 'eyes as year-classes come to the forefront in some waters and decline in others.

Photo by Ted Peck.

Here's a look at a few of Michigan's best spring walleye waters and what's happening there.

BAYS DE NOC

You get few arguments when you call Big and Little Bay De Noc near Gladstone "walleye factories." Big 'eyes are taken here every year, and it's looking very good for 2009.

Capt. Keith Wils of Walleye's Choice Fishing Tackle & Charter Service in Gladstone said walleyes are abundant and the pickings are easy if you know where to look. The spring fishing is best by Breezy Point and up the Escanaba River, but the fish will be found more reliably based on conditions than on lake location.

"A good south wind keeps the water dirty, and that's where you'll want to fish. . . . The walleyes will be in the dirtier water," Wils said. And if the weather is unseasonably cold, he adds, the 'eyes will suspend in 12 to 20 feet of water on the north end of the bay. Rapala Shad Raps, Storm Lure's Thundersticks, and Wils' own I-76 spinnerbait top his lure choices. The best bait rigs, he adds, are jigs tipped with half a night crawler, and worm harnesses.

To book a charter or stock up on walleye gear, contact Walleye's Choice Fishing Tackle & Charter Service in Gladstone at (906) 428-1488, or visit the Web site at www.walleyeschoice.com.

For more information about fishing conditions at Bays De Noc, contact the MDNR at (248) 359-9040.

LAKE GOGEBIC

Adventuresome anglers take advantage of the great inland fishing on this huge lake -- 12,800 surface acres -- located northeast of Marenisco on the western Upper Peninsula.

"Gogebic is a very productive lake," said MDNR fisheries supervisor George Madison. "The typical angler will catch a lot of sub-legal fish and, on occasion, some nice ones. The catch rates are among the best catch rates in the region."

Gogebic is a big-water experience. Visiting anglers should be careful. Lake conditions can change in a hurry. Windy, cold weather will put a chop on the lake, but excellent fishing typically follows for up to three days. Look closely at what Madison says is the most productive section of the lake -- along its eastern shoreline area in the north-central portion of the Gogebic.

Float-bubbles and jigs, bottom bouncers, leeches and 'crawler harnesses all have their place here.

For more information, call the MDNR at (906) 353-6651, Gogebic Lake State Park at (906) 842-3341 or fishing guide Barry Drews at Nine Pines Resort in Marenisco at (906) 842-3361.

MANISTIQUE LAKES

Big, North and South Manistique lakes are grouped near the community of Manistique, but the individual waters are not connected. They all offer good walleye fishing. The problem lies in trying to decide which lake to fish.

"I recently saw a 10-pounder, and there are a lot of 22- to 24-inch fish taken on the lakes," said Terry Watson of Watson's Marina in Curtis.

The spawn is over by the time the opener rolls around, Watson said, so most of the big walleyes will be anywhere you find breaks and deeper water. Typical walleye baits and tactics work, and there are many legal pan-sized fish to take home.

Manistique lakes combine to cover 15,823 surface acres in Luce and Mackinac counties. Boat ramps are available on each lake, and boat rentals are available at Watson's Marina.

For more information, contact the MDNR at (906) 293-5131, or Watson's Marina in Curtis at (906) 586-9731.

LAKE LEELANAU

Traverse City has a lot more than black cherries to brag about these days.

On both the northern and southern basins of Lake Leelanau the 'eyes can be tough to find. The lake bottom in many areas is perfect walleye habitat with gravel shoals, sand and falling depths. Boaters will have to experiment or rely on electronics to pinpoint the fish.

The last MDNR fisheries survey found the walleyes to be both abundant and large. The population density of walleyes in the lake is well above the average when compared with other lakes in the area. The survey netted individual fish up to 29 inches -- as many as six of these brutes per acre. The MDNR caught nearly all of the walleyes sampled in the southern half of the lake.

Trolling is the way to go. Cover as much water as possible with stick baits, bottom bouncers or weighted crankbaits.

South Leelanau covers 5,693 surface acres, and North Leelanau covers 2,914 surface acres in Leelanau County, about 10 miles northwest of Traverse City.

For more information, contact the MDNR at (517) 641-4903, or Narrows Passage Bait and Tackle in Lake Leelanau at (231) 256-2547.

DETROIT RIVER

Thanks to the Detroit River, anglers on Michigan's Lower Peninsula don't have to miss out on the spring walleye action. But the Detroit River experience is just the opposite of the fine fishing found on Lake Gogebic, according to MDNR fisheries biologist Gary Townes. He said fisheries data reveals there hasn't been a good year-class in the river since 2003, and a lot of those fish have been removed from the system.

The fish that do remain in the riverway, however, are whopper-sized 'eyes that can stretch longer than 25 inches. They're big and mean, and it will take tackle much stouter than most walleye anglers carry to land them. Some of these monsters have been traveling through the river in pursuit of forage fish for a number of years.

Walleyes move up and down the river system at will. Fish the habitat -- not specific locations. Deep holes, outside weed edges and locations holding a lot of forage fish are the places to key in on with Rapala stick baits, worm harnesses and bottom bouncers.

Boat ac

cess is scattered the length of the river. For more information, contact the MDNR at (248) 359-9040, or fishing guide Jon Bondy of Jon's Guide Service in the Detroit area at (313) 332-9813.

LAKE ST. CLAIR

MDNR fisheries officials say Lake St. Clair's fisheries habitat has been undergoing a metamorphosis over the last 15 years. The lake used to have a low percentage of water covered with aquatic vegetation, but that's now all changed. Nearly 99 percent of the lake is now weedy, and the fishery is changing right along with it.

Townes said walleye anglers on Lake St. Clair likewise will need to change their tactics to learn how to catch walleyes in this kind of environment. Muskie and bass anglers incidentally take a lot of walleyes, and both those species, despite the effects of VHS (viral hemorrhagic septicemia) upon their populations, still present viable recreational fisheries of their own.

For additional information, contact the MDNR at (248) 359-9040.

SAGINAW BAY

Walleye fishing just can't get any better at Saginaw Bay, according to fishing guide Capt. Dan Manyen of Walleye Express Charters in Essexville. Legal-sized 'eyes are everywhere on Saginaw Bay, he said, thanks to the successful year-classes recruited into the fishery over the last several years. Fish in the 17- to 20-inch category lead the resurgence, and anglers are setting new catch-rate records every year.

Alewives once were the preferred walleye forage, but that fish is nearly extinct in the bay. Gobies, shiners and shad are now contending with the 'eyes.

Ernie Prant of Frank's Great Outdoors in Linwood gives Saginaw Bay a thumbs-up.

"During the opener, there are thousands of walleyes out there congregating within a half-mile to five miles offshore," said Prant. "The last couple of years the fishing out there has been crazy."

For more information, contact the MDNR at (989) 684-9141, Frank's Great Outdoors in Linwood at (989) 697-5341, or Walleye Express Charters in Essexville at (989) 892-1920, or online at www.fishsaginawbay. com.

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