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Opening Day 'Eyes

Opening Day 'Eyes

It has arrived. Michigan's walleye opener represents the advent of yet another year of fantastic open-water fishing across our state. Here's your guide to making the most of your 2010 walleye season. (May 2010)

Opening day of walleye season in Michigan stirs as much excitement in anglers as opening day of rifle season does for deer hunters. By the time the walleye opener arrives, almost all of the snow and ice has melted away. The sun is shining and the walleyes are starting to look for an easy meal after spawning in the rivers. Opening day often brings thousands of anglers to the water in search of a large fish to hang on the wall and a few smaller fish to fill the dinner plate. According to Jim Francis, a fisheries biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the wall-hangers might be a bit difficult to come by right now. "Many of the best walleye lakes haven't had a good hatch in a few years, and it is starting to show," Francis said. "Many of the lakes that regularly get stocked have a lot of sub-legal and barely legal fish in them."

Many Michigan walleye waters are likely to hold large populations of small to mid-size walleyes this season, boding well for the future.


Photo by Tracy Breen.

According to Ernie Miller from Last Cast Charters in Muskegon, when looking for big or small walleyes on opening day, the best place to fish is a river. "One of my favorite rivers to fish is the Saginaw River on the east side of the state," Miller said. "It seems there are always many walleyes in that river system. From small, barely legal fish to large fish that weigh five pounds or more, the Saginaw River has it all."

When fishing the Saginaw River, Miller's favorite tactic is to vertical drift while using a twister tail jig with some type of live minnow bait. "Having fresh bait is very important, and there aren't many bait shops along the Saginaw River. I typically buy my bait at home and bring it with me," Miller said. "Anyone considering fishing the Saginaw River for a few days should plan to do the same."

Besides using live bait and a twister tail, Miller also uses attractants. "I don't often use scents on my lures, but I do on the Saginaw River. I think because there is so much sediment, the fish must use their sense of smell to key in on bait fish" Miller explained. "One squirt of a crawfish scent onto the lure seems to do the trick."

Another tactic that seems to work for Miller when the water is extremely dirty is trolling crankbaits. "Crankbaits cause lots of vibration and noise, which attracts the fish when the water is dirty."

Miller typically launches his boat at the Rust Avenue Boat Launch in Saginaw County. "The launch isn't far from where the Tibbawassee River meets the Saginaw River. I prefer fishing just upstream from the Tibbawassee, 75 to 100 yards," Miller noted. "There is about a 100-yard stretch on the south side of the river that the walleyes tend to frequent. One of the most popular places to fish on the river is downstream from the boat launch between Hooters restaurant and the Train Trestle. This area is fished hard in the spring, but there are many walleyes, so anglers shouldn't give up; if they see a lot of boats, they should simply join them!"

Another great spot is 200 yards downstream from the Train Trestle near the Chicken Coop restaurant. A few hundred yards past the Chicken Coop is another superb spot where the shipping channel ends and the large boats come in and out. "At the end of the shipping channel is a large drop-off where the channel has been dredged. That drop-off attracts lots of walleyes," Miller added. All of these fishing hotspots on the Saginaw River are very close to the Rust Avenue Launch.

One of Miller's favorite inland lakes to fish is Houghton Lake. Houghton Lake is a large lake that has had a huge problem with weeds. They have treated the lake to kill milfoil, which has helped somewhat. "The difficult thing about fishing Houghton Lake is dealing with the weeds when you troll. In the last few years, I have determined that walleyes actually prefer hanging out in the cabbage weed," Miller noted. "Now I target some of the weedy areas in the lake while trolling. The advantage of fishing the lake on opening day is there are some weeds but not many because the water hasn't warmed up enough. I key in on the small amount of cabbage weed growth that has started growing. I have discovered that often the walleyes stay very close to the cabbage weed." When Miller locates cabbage weed growing in the lake, he quickly marks it on his GPS and starts fishing. "When fishing over the cabbage, I slip in bobber fish so I am on top of the weed. Many anglers will troll with planer boards but when fishing near the cabbage, the walleye often grab the bait, go back to the cabbage and break off. This is how I fished until I discovered anchoring and slip bobber fishing was much more effective when fishing the cabbage," Miller explained. "I still do some trolling to find the cabbage. When I pull off my line while trolling and find cabbage on my setup, I stop trolling and begin fishing vertically." When fishing the cabbage, Miller has had the best luck using large leeches.

There are many walleyes in Houghton Lake, but don't expect to catch any large ones. "Anglers need to be patient when fishing this lake because they will catch five undersized fish for every good fish they catch. A 3-pound fish is a big walleye in this lake, but if you catch several of them throughout the day, it can be a lot of fun," Miller noted. "One advantage of fishing with leeches is often, instead of catching a walleye, I catch a bluegill the size of my hand. Houghton Lake has many large bluegills in it that are a great bonus when fishing for walleyes. A few large bluegills along with several walleyes equals a great day on the water.

The Detroit River is another one of Miller's favorite locations to fish for walleyes on opening day. "The Detroit River doesn't close to walleye fishing like inland lakes. Many anglers fish it during late March and early April, but opening day is a great time to fish the Detroit River even though it isn't actually opening day on the river," Miller said. "I like fishing the river during late spring because when opening day arrives, all the snow has melted off and the river isn't as full of mud and sediment as it is earlier in the year, which makes fishing a little easier. By late spring, many large, mature fish have already left the river but Miller says the fishing is still very good. There are still a lot of males in the river. As the water begins to warm up, they become active and hungry.

"As the water warms up, the fish will feed heavily on almost any bait presentation. Early in the year, anglers have to use minnows to get a bite. In the late spring, I can get away with vertically jigging a soft plastic," Miller explained. "I like using a 4-inch split-tail black and grey shad. I prefer a 3/8-ounce jig head to ensure I stay vertical w

hile jigging.

Miller often launches his boat at the Municipal Launch in Wyandotte and fishes upstream from the launch and a little ways downstream from the launch. "The launch is centrally located and anglers won't have to motor far to find good fishing," Miller said. "Many anglers fish near the mouth of the Detroit River but get more snags in that area of the river. There are more clean holes upstream and downstream of the launch."

A ways upstream from Wyandotte, Miller fishes near the Joe Louis Arena along the wall of the arena. "The walleyes enjoy congregating by the wall along the river by the arena; anglers can expect to find walleyes there most of the time," he explained.

One of the most popular locations to fish the Detroit River is by the warm-water discharge by the Detroit Edison Power Plant. "There is a lot of structure and current breaks by the power plant, not to mention an increased amount of water flow in the areas because of the water discharge," Miller said. When fishing near the power plant, Miller advised to plan on seeing lots of boat traffic. "Usually when people fish, they tend to shy away from fishing near other boats. When fishing here, anglers should plan to fish next to everyone else. It's not uncommon for every boat to have fish on it about the same time because there are so many walleyes in this area. As quickly as they turn on and bite like crazy, they will turn off when no one is catching fish and it is time to move on. Beginners should stay with the crowd for now, as that is the best way to catch fish."

Elizebeth Park is the best place to launch because the plant is only a stone's throw away. "Elizebeth Park is a great facility for launching a boat. The launch is great and there is overflow parking, so when the fish are biting and the place is packed, anglers can still find a place to park." Elizebeth Park opens on April 1."

Intermediate Lake is part of the chain of lakes that dumps into Torch Lake in Antrim County, another lake Miller frequently fishes for walleyes.

"There is a lot of seasonal traffic on Intermediate Lake from people who have cottages and summer homes in the area," Miller said. "However, the lake is under-fished. There are large numbers of walleyes in Intermediate Lake and some of the other lakes in the chain of lakes. None of them get fished very hard. Intermediate Lake is a damned up river system. The lake is much like a river -- long and narrow. Given the fact that Intermediate Lake is in Northern Michigan, in late April there isn't much weed growth and the water is crystal clear. Anglers can easily see bottom in 15 feet of water. The water is so clean that I can look down in the water as the sun comes up and tell whether a fish on bottom is a walleye or smallmouth bass." The clear water presents a challenge for catching walleyes.

Miller often trolls crankbaits but only in the early morning, late evening or when there are a few waves on the water. "Given the fact that the water is so clear, trolling can be difficult in the middle of the day when the sun is out. Typically I don't bother fishing when the sun is high in the sky unless there are waves on the water," Miller said. "If the water is dead calm, the fish are very spooky because they can see so well in the clean water."

"I like trolling 100 feet back behind the boat with planer boards and a Hot-n-Tot or Shad Rap," Miller said. "These two baits seem to work the best when trolling the lake. I typically troll first thing in the morning, and if there is a little chop on the water at midday, I continue to fish because the fish won't be able to see the boat. I think the best time to be on the water is between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. if there are waves on the water. If not, I fish first thing in the morning and at last light."

When Miller fishes Intermediate Lake, he launches his boat at the City Park in the town of Central Lake on the north end of the lake. "After I launch, I typically troll the north end of the lake or the south end near the grassy islands. The north and south ends of the lake are probably the two best places to fish the lake."

According to Jim Francis, a fisheries biologist for the Michigan DNR, anglers should consider fishing Belleville Lake in Wayne County. Belleville Lake is an impoundment lake that is part of the Huron River System. "Belleville Lake is close to many metropolitan areas, so it isn't a far drive from home for many people," Francis said. "The lake was stocked with walleyes in 2006. In 2009, there were good numbers of walleyes in the lake. In a few years, the 2009 year-class should come on fairly strong.

Belleville Lake is part of a chain of lakes that is connected to Ford Lake, which has a large population of walleyes that will help anglers who are fishing Belleville Lake. There are a fair number of walleyes in Ford Lake and some natural reproduction there, so walleyes from Ford Lake frequently end up in Belleville Lake. Belleville is stocked with walleye and gets fish from Ford Lake.

There is a public boat launch on the west end of the lake that offers plenty of parking.

If you don't live within a short driving distance of any of the lakes listed above, one way to find out what lakes in your area offer the best walleye fishing is to contact a local fisheries biologist. They can tell you what year walleyes were last stocked in lakes in your area, which gives you a good starting point.

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