Four years out of the past five, I’ve spent the last Saturday in April on the Tittabawassee River with my buddy Greg Sochocki. This April was to be the fifth year.
As Michiganders may recall, opening day of walleye season this year coincided with the Great Deluge Part II. Not only the launch ramps but the roads leading to them were underwater. So we waited a week, for the first Saturday in May, when the water had receded enough to make it fishable. And we were joined by Doug Demming, who runs Fish Point Lodge on Saginaw Bay.
On opening day, it’s usually an hour’s wait to launch. A week later, we drove right up to the ramp. And though there were plenty of fishermen on the river, there were well fewer than half of what you see on the opener.
Which is a good thing as by mid-morning of opening day, every walleye in the county has a headache from the outboards running over their heads. When we started fishing, around 8:30 AM, it was a lot easier to maneuver into position as the long lines of boats drifting downstream were significantly shorter than on a typical opener.
Our first quarter-mile drift, we went fishless. On the next, I nailed a 17-incher that took my orange curly tail jig. The next drift, I scored again, this time a not-quite 15-incher.
And so it went. We caught a fish–and I mean a–on most drifts, but we never got on ’em the way you do when they’re stacked in there on opening day. One suspects that the closed season–March 16 until the last Saturday in April–is timed perfectly to protect that spawning run.
Sochocki, who was fishing a nightcrawler on his jig, boated a 20-incher. Then he caught another on the next drift. Then Demming scored. And, on the next drift, he scored again. At 11:30 we had five in the livewell–not setting the world on fire, but not so bad especially considering what a glorious day it was–warm, not windy, the kind of weather that we get about a week of each spring.
About that time, the crowd started thinning dramatically as anglers had had enough. Whether it was the relatively slow action or guys had just planned to fish the morning, who really knows? But the fish shut off and it wasn’t until almost two o’clock before Sochocki hit another keeper.
It was a simple drill: drift downstream staying on the trolling motor just enough to keep your presentation vertical. I went without a bite for a number of drifts, switched over to throwing a Rapala and then a crankbait (uneventfully), then switched to a nightcrawler. I caught a walleye right away.
The fish were coming from the deeper holes, eight to 12 feet. Meanwhile, we started picking up other river denizens. Demming caught a smallmouth bass. I caught a channel catfish, then another (actually, we saw a fair number of catfish being caught–it’s an under-appreciated opportunity).
I caught a white bass. Usually, when you start catching whites, it’s a sign that the walleye run is about over. And, truthfully, we could see by our own fishing success that there weren’t anywhere near the number of ‘eyes in the river as there had been a couple of weeks earlier. The water had warmed enough over the last few days that they should have been biting better than they were. When you get those high-water events, like we had this spring, the walleyes just ride that current right back down the river after they’ve finish their procreating business. We had some discussion about whether we should load the boat on the trailer and head toward the mouth of the Saginaw–where there were doubtlessly more fish–but the fishing we had was good enough and the setting was incomparable.
We went one more drift without an ‘eye, caught more whites and a couple of freshwater drum (sheepshead) and decided to make one more drift.
I caught a walleye. So we’d make one more. Demming caught a walleye. So we made another.
After that drift, Sochocki asked of we’d had enough. We had nine walleyes in the livewell. It was respectable. I figured if we stayed with it, we could likely scratch out a limit, but what was the point? We called it a day.
Truth is, there will be fishable numbers of walleyes here for a while yet and I suspect there’s a resident population of fish–far, far smaller than the spawning run, of course–that would provide a worthwhile fishing opportunity right into summer. Besides, your by-catch will pick up significantly as the water warms so if you’re actually targeting ‘eyes (or smallmouths for that matter), you’d be better off heading to the Bay.
That’s where Demming will be (he runs a charter boat on the big water throughout the summer and fall until duck season arrives) and Sochocki is a bass angler by inclination, anyway. Still one of these days I’m going to have to check this out, just to know, you know?
The take-away? Well, we missed the opener, but when we finally got there, the fishing was fine. There are many ways to spend a beautiful May day in Michigan. But there aren’t too many of them that are any better than fishing for walleyes on the Tittabawassee River. Book it.
Images by Bob Gwizdz