While the Detroit River nears the end of its annual walleye-catching extravaganza, on Monday this week it still produced 10 nice keeper walleyes and kept four anglers busily setting the hook and reeling in a plethora of smallmouth bass, white bass, and sheepshead.
This writer rode from southwest Michigan with new friends Jim Pepperman and Guy Stutzman to meet our mutual pal Mike “The Barber” Eberstein for a mid-afternoon trip on this fast-moving flowage between Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.
We convened at Riverview Park, a neatly kept launch area south of the Motor City, about two-and-a-half miles away from where the river empties. Eberstein had been running trips since early April on the Detroit, and we were his second group of the day. Overall he’d had a great season, putting most of his clients on five-fish limits.
Since several of Eberstein’s best spots were on the Canadian side of the river, we all sprung for one-day Ontario licenses, available online for $22. After clearing Canadian customs via a short cell phone call (888-226-7277), we blasted upstream in Eberstein’s 20-foot Lund.
The rigging and technique was simple: spinning rods spooled with six-pound test, no-stretch white line, and black, 3 /4-ounce leadhead jigs tipped with four-inch Fin-S-Fish soft plastic minnows. First stop was on the U.S. side, at a location locally known as Semaphore, where we dropped the jigs, tapping bottom in depths of 25 to 30 feet.
The first 15 minutes set the tone for the day. Eberstein connected first with a chunky white bass hooked on the small stinger treble he puts on all his jig heads. I caught that fish’s twin, and almost immediately Stutzman tussled with a sheepshead. Then I caught a smallmouth, and Eberstein caught our first keeper walleye, about a two-pounder, which he placed in the boat’s front livewell. Pepperman was the only fishless partner, mainly because he kept grabbing the net every time one of us hooked up, poising to dip until the species was identified; only scooping if it was a walleye that appeared from the slightly cloudy green depths.Although the rods bent frequently with fish, none were keeper ’eyes, so in less than an hour we moved further upstream to Fighting Island on the Canadian side. While we’d been the only boat on the first spot, here we joined about a dozen others, most of which had Michigan registration tags.
Eberstein added a second keeper walleye, this one a fine five-pounder. Still without a walleye for the box, on a whim I switched from the black jighead to a 3 /4-ounce gold-plated Lindy Jig with a blue/chartreuse Fin-S-Fish. Within minutes it hooked our third keeper.
“So the ‘Golden Dome’ jig scored, eh?” remarked Stutzman while I was unhooking the two-pound fish. It took a moment to realize I was wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt, which Stutzman, a University of Michigan fan, had duly noted. The Golden Dome quickly took another legal ’eye for me, and when Pepperman broke off his jig on the bottom, I handed my rod to him as he’d already spent many a minute hovering with the net instead of fishing. And the Golden Dome soon caught a keeper walleye for him.
Actually, just about everything anyone used got bit—a lot. It just so happened the Golden Dome caught half of the 10 keepers before fading daylight had us pointed back downstream at wide-open-throttle to load the boat. A Notre Dame fan in the midst of Wolverines couldn’t have been more pleased.
We all enjoyed the focus needed to maintain contact with our jigs, watching the thin, white, six-pound test FireLine Crystal as it tightened when we raised our offerings, then slackened as the jigs touched down. Many strikes were detectable only if you saw the line go slightly slack before it was supposed to, showing a fish had grabbed the Fin-S-Fish on its way down. Instant hooksets and sharp hooks were the keys to success.
While the day didn’t produce the main course of a mega fish fry, it did produce constant fish-catching action. Come to think of it, we certainly would have had enough fish to feed lots of folks had we not been so snooty as to toss back all of the white bass, which many fish connoisseurs find highly delectable.
While the bad news is the annual walleye run on the Detroit is tapering off, the good news is that the white bass run is just getting going. And the coolest thing? Whatever you’re targeting, once bit, you never know what’s going to be on the other end of your line.
Images by Dave Mull