Your gear is packed, and the boat is ready for the walleye opener. Here's a list of lakes that won't leave you disappointed. (April 2008)
The perception might be that walleye fishing on Little Bay De Noc has slowed in recent years, but biologists claim there is a huge walleye population in the bay.
Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.
If you want a little diversity in your walleye fishing, Michigan has it. The state boasts natural lakes and rivers, big and small, the Great Lakes and impoundments -- all topnotch walleye fisheries that produce great fishing at one time or another during the year. The tough part is deciding which one to try and when.
This selection of Michigan's best walleye waters should make the decision a little easier.
The stage is set on Saginaw Bay for an incredible year of walleye fishing. If you don't take advantage of it, you're really missing the boat.
"What it boils down to is the disappearance of alewives in 2002 and 2003," Southern Lake Huron Management Unit fisheries supervisor Jim Baker said. "With the predatory alewives removed from the picture, it set the stage for an explosion in the walleye and perch populations. As the alewife numbers have stayed down, reproduction has continued to boom."
Adult alewives have been found to feast on young-of-the-year perch and walleyes.
Baker said the fish from the 2003 class were fat 18- and 19-inch walleyes that should increase by a few inches before the 2008 open-water season. Bumper crops from the 2004-2005 classes are waiting (and growing) in the wings, so there should be an abundance of frying pan-sized 'eyes this year.
"I almost felt guilty taking people out on the bay last year," walleye tournament pro and guide Bill St. Peter said. "Even if we sorted a little bit, we'd still be limited out in an hour or an hour and a half! Fishing was just crazy."
St. Peter said he relies mainly on crawler harnesses when fishing the bay.
"You can catch them on other things, but day in and day out, harnesses and meat seem to work the best," he said.
St. Peter fishes the harnesses off in-line boards with snap weights or in-line sinkers. "The snap weights give the harnesses a little different action than the in-line sinker does," he said.
St. Peter said that snap weights work well in bigger seas and offer light-biting walleyes little resistance that often seals the deal. In-line sinkers are great when the bite is hot and you need to get the lines back in the water quickly. Usually, a 1-ounce sinker is about right for the 12- to 24-foot depths walleyes frequent during the spring and summer months. St. Peter favors metallic colored blades on his harnesses.
"Copper was really hot last year with red or orange beads," he said.
To learn the tricks for catching Saginaw Bay walleyes, call Bill St. Peter at (989) 239-2450. Linwood Beach Marina and Campground is a good place to launch canoes and camp. For more information, call (989) 697-4415. For bait, tackle and fishing reports, contact Frank's Great Outdoors at (989) 697-5341 or www.franksgreatoutdoors.com. (Cont'd)
Many of the walleyes found in Saginaw Bay are the result of natural reproduction.
"There was a time when 80 percent of the walleyes in the bay were the result of planting," fisheries supervisor Jim Baker said. "In recent years, that ratio has totally reversed. Now, 80 percent of the walleyes found in the bay are the result of natural reproduction."
The majority of walleyes spawn in the Tittabawassee River and tributaries of the Saginaw River. With thousands of walleyes converging on the Tittabawassee River, it's a can't-miss choice for opening day.
The hottest fishing on the Tittabawassee River occurs when winter hangs around a little late. Cold weather keeps the spawning walleyes in the river system until the season opens on the last Saturday in April. It helps if the spring is fairly dry, too, so high water doesn't flush the fish out of the system. Most years, there are plenty of post-spawn 'eyes in the river to produce great fishing.
Walleyes in the Titt can be caught using a variety of methods, but the most popular is vertical jigging. Anglers use 1/8- to 1/4-ounce leadhead jigs and slip the current to present their baits to walleyes hugging the bottom. The jigs are tipped with a twistertails, minnows or pieces of crawler. The trick is to use a trolling motor to keep the line vertical while lifting and dropping the jig in the faces of hungry walleyes. Usually, a limit of 1 1/2- to 3-pound 'eyes is easy if there is even a fraction of those walleyes still in the river. Some years, a few of the big spawners are left in the river for lucky anglers. Anglers also do well trolling slowly upstream with crankbaits or by casting and retrieving them. The hot fishing can last into mid-May most years, and savvy anglers wait until after opening weekend to hit the river.
You may access the Tittabawassee River off Gordonville Road, downstream of Midland, behind Gamm Hardware in Freeland, at Center Street public launch in Saginaw, West Michigan Park, Wick's Park and a boat launch near Rust Street and the Saginaw River downstream of the confluence with the Tittabawassee.
Fish are scattered throughout the system and may be found in deep holes and runs and shallower flats. Match your technique to the water depth. Trolling works best on the flats. Jig in the deeper runs and holes.
For live bait, tackle and licenses, call Gamm Hardware at (989) 695-5741 or the Gander Mountain store at (989) 791-3500.
"The year 2007 was a super fantastic year on Lake Erie," Lake Erie Management Unit fisheries biologist Jeff Braunscheidel chirped. "The 2003 year-class had the best walleye reproduction year we've ever seen and we're still reaping the benefits of that great hatch."
Braunscheidel said fry survival depends on a complex mix of interrelated weather conditions, including water temperature, ice cover and wind speed.
Everything seemed to click in 2003, as ideal spawning conditions coincided with a sharp decline in the alewife population.
"Alewives prey on walleye fry, so their absence along with ideal climatic conditions insured better survival," Braunscheidel said.
ose walleyes reached legal size in 2006 and anglers enjoyed a banner year. Last year, they were even bigger, averaging 17 to 19 inches, and bag limits were the norm.
"There's still a good population of walleyes out there," Braunscheidel said. "Even though there's been some harvest and mortality and we haven't seen another really good year-class since 2003, there should still be good numbers of larger walleyes in the lake this year."
After spawning, walleyes school in the shallow Michigan waters of the lake until late June or early July and then swim to Ohio waters, so most anglers take the precaution of buying an Ohio license, too. Limits differ from state to state and year to year, so check the current fishing regulations.
Anglers will find excellent walleye action in Michigan waters at Bolles Harbor, Luna Pier, Sterling State Park and Monroe in spring and early summer. The 'eyes are caught by trollers and anglers drifting, although trolling is steadily gaining in popularity. Anglers pull crawler harnesses, crankbaits, and in recent years, spoons. Try the 12- to 18-foot depths off Stony Point, in Brest Bay and the mouth of the Raisin River at buoy No. 1. Boats may be launched at Pointe Mouillee, Erie Metro Park, Sterling State Park, Bolles Harbor and Luna Pier and Hieldenburg Park on the Raisin River.
For more information on accommodations, amenities and bait shops, contact the Monroe County Convention & Visitors Bureau online at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (800) 772-4433.
St. Mary's River
The St. Mary's River system is one of the most diverse and beautiful walleye fisheries in Michigan. The scenery along this incredible waterway is breathtaking and always changing. The walleye habitats are equally diverse.
"You'll have walleyes that hang out in the river channel, in the flats of the lakes, along weed edges and in among the rocks," walleye pro Andy Kuffer said. "You can find fish in a lot of different locations. The key is to find where they're concentrated and that usually means finding food."
That may not be as easy as it sounds considering walleyes have thousands of acres to roam.
One predictable pattern on the St. Mary's helps anglers get pointed in the right direction. The walleyes tend to migrate from the upper portion of the river downstream to shallow bays that warm first.
"Both Raber and Munuscong bays fish best early in the season when the weeds are still growing," Kuffer said. "I've done well there because the bodies of water are so big that you can get away from the crowds and fishing pressure. The bays are relatively flat, so any kind of subtle structure you find is likely to hold fish."
Because the St. Mary's lower bays are so expansive, Kuffer said trolling bottom bouncers and crawler harnesses is a good way to cover plenty of water.
As Lake Superior's waters moderate in late summer, walleyes begin moving into the river channel and continue their migration back upstream as fall progresses. Jigging can be productive when those walleye schools concentrate near structure.
Most St. Mary's walleyes average 2 to 5 pounds, but bigger specimens raise few eyebrows.
For a list of shops, lodging and amenities in the Sault Ste. Marie area, contact the Sault Convention & Visitor Bureau at (906) 632-3301 or online at www.saultstemarie.com.
Little Bay De Noc
"There's this perception that the walleye and perch fishing on Little Bay de Noc isn't as good as good as it use to be," Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries supervisor Mike Herman said. "Our data doesn't seem to substantiate that."
Herman said studies indicate there are close to 500,000 adult walleyes in Little Bay de Noc alone. That's pretty good odds!
A prime opening-day spot to start the season is off the river mouths in the northern portion of the bay. Walleyes collect near the Rapid, Days, Whitefish and Tacoosh rivers, and the rocky habitat and structure holds them for several weeks.
Walleyes may be caught all summer long off Stonington, near Portage Point and off the ore docks at the mouth of the Escanaba River. Trolling, jigging or live-bait rigging are productive methods for taking walleyes on Little Bay de Noc. Most walleyes average 2 or 3 pounds, but fish topping 9 pounds are common.
For information, contact Sall-Mar Hotel & Resort at (906) 474-6918 or online at www.sallmarresort.com.
Many of the walleyes that spawn in Little Bay de Noc and its tributaries spend the summer in the wide-open expanses of Green Bay. The bay is loaded with alewives and other baitfish and the walleyes grow fat on an unlimited food supply. Walleyes from the Menominee River and points beyond add to the population.
Fisheries biologist Mike Herman said he has no doubts that schools of midsummer walleyes may be found around the reefs near Cedar River.
"If you fished for them, I think you could find them," Herman said. "The trouble -- or opportunity if you will -- is that no one does. Green Bay is basically an untapped fishery from the Ford River all the way to Menominee."
Obviously, Green Bay is a huge body of water, but the same tactics that produce on Saginaw Bay and Lake Erie should work on Green Bay's walleyes. There is great structure to concentrate walleyes off Menominee and Cedar River. Roaming schools of walleyes shadowing pelagic baitfish might be more difficult to locate, but applying big-lake trolling tactics should cut the learning curve and expose an untapped summer walleye fishery.
Anglers find great public access at Cedar River, at the mouth of the Ford River and at several locations in Menominee. For more information on boat launches, bait shops and accommodations, contact the River Cities Chamber of Commerce at (906) 863-2679, or www.rivercities.net.
Grand Traverse County's 2,860-acre Long Lake is a classic northern Michigan walleye lake. It's clear, full of structure and rocky islands, ringed with cottages and full of walleyes that at times can be difficult to catch.
"Because Long Lake is so clear, walleyes are really deep during the day," offered fishing guide Dave Rose. "You'll usually find them in 25 to 35 feet of water or more in the daytime, then they move to shallow water under the cover of darkness." The walleyes can be caught during the day by using slip-bobbers suspending minnows or leeches.
Rose said it's better to cruise around during the daytime and locate the weed edges that attract foraging walleyes after the sun goes down. The weeds harbor baitfish that the walleyes are after. Familiarizing yourself with the nuances of the lake during daylight hou
rs will pay big dividends once the lights go out. Anchor and cast parallel to the weeds using suspending stick baits like Rattlin' Rogues, Rapalas and Husky Jerks along the edges. You can also add suspend dots to floating versions to get them down. Vary your retrieves until you hit on the right combination.
Super lines help detect the often-subtle bite of a nighttime walleye.
Most of these walleyes will be nice 16- to 18-inch eaters, but Rose said that 6 or 7-pounders are not all that uncommon.
To try your hand at Long Lake's night bite walleyes, contact Dave Rose at (231) 276-9874.
Ludington? For walleyes? Yup! But don't tell anyone.
A small cadre of anglers have been keeping this developing walleye fishery hush, hush. You're not going to catch huge numbers of fish, but if it's a trophy for the wall you want, this might be the place. Last spring, my son, Matt, came home in the middle of the night with a very nice 7- or 8-pound walleye.
"Man, that's a nice walleye," I told him.
"Naw," he said. "This was the smallest of the 10 we caught. Kevin caught two that were 32 and 33 inches." Those are giant walleyes.
The walleyes are only around for a short time in the spring when the smelt are close to shore in April. Most anglers cast No. 11 Countdown Rapalas from the breakwalls. Key is an ultra slow retrieve. The action isn't fast and furious, but if you work at it, you can land a dandy or two if your arm doesn't wear out first. Some anglers have found that the walleyes can also be caught by trolling at night. A similar fishery takes place at Pentwater, Muskegon and Whitehall and at Portage Lake.
For more information, contact Pere Marquette Sports Center at (231) 843-8676.
* * *
Michigan walleye waters come in all shapes and sizes. There's bound to be one that fits you just right.
Find more about Michigan fishing and hunting at: MichiganSportsmanMag.com