The first time one of the six planer boards swept back, I grabbed the rod from the holder and started reeling. A few cranks of the reel handle, a couple tugs from the walleye, and it was gone.
“What’d I do wrong?” I asked Captain Paul Doute.
“Actually, when we’re trolling this slowly, you need to let the fish have it longer,” he explained as he inspected the half-eaten worm I’d reeled in. “I think these walleyes are like a cat playing with a mouse. They seem to grab the tail of the nightcrawler, then let go and see how it reacts. Then they take it.”
Three of us fished in Lake Erie’s Michigan waters Monday morning out of the Lake Erie Metropark. Doute, of Anglers Quest Charters, was hosting myself and his pal Keith Eshbaugh, in from Pennsylvania to deliver a seminar at the Detroit-area Downriver Walleye Club that night. Eshbaugh does a brisk business painting lures as owner of Dutch Fork Custom Lures. He also designed and now sells Ghost Blades, which unlike traditional metal walleye spinner blades, are plastic. The light plastic blades are especially good for going at super slow speeds that couldn’t swing a metal blade of equal size, hence our creeping speed of 1.1 mph, achieved with Doute’s front trolling motor.
Aboard Doute’s 21-foot Crestliner boat, we first set up near the Detroit Light, about a 10-mile run from the launch, with three Offshore Planer Boards deployed to each side. The boards had Tattle Flags, which popped downward upon a fish grabbing the bait. Each line carried a plump nightcrawler on a two-hook rig, behind a different color of Ghost Blade in the deep-cupped Colorado style. Pattern names of the blades included “Wild Thing,” “Wonder Bread,” “Cedar Point,” and “Nitemare.” When we dropped them in the water about five feet behind a one-ounce inline sinker, the blades had a unique, subtle wavy action, taking a few spins clockwise, then swinging back around counterclockwise.
Walleyes found them attractive.
The area we set up for the first troll is called “the dumping grounds” and features mounds of sediment dredged from nearby rivers and channels and then dumped offshore. While the maximum depth was 20 feet, some of the mounds came to within 10 feet of the surface.
“When you see fish marks on the sonar around these humps, those are active fish,” Doute explained.
I got to reel in the first fish that lost the cat-and-mouse game. It weighed close to six pounds and would turn out to be the largest of the day. It took a worm behind a big Size 8 blade that was bright yellow along one edge, with a strip of clear reflective tape down the middle and three “berries” on the other edge. Since the blade pattern was a new paint job of Eshbaugh’s, who has two degrees in fine arts, he named it “Mullemon Berry.” Combining mulberry, lemon, and my name—quite an honor.
A 16-inch “dinner fish” soon followed, hitting a rig with a smaller Size 6 Golden Chrome Perch blade.
As the clouds moved across the sun frequently, we changed blade colors often, easy to do with the “quick-change” clevis of Eshbaugh’s design. As it turned out, all five of the fish we hooked came on a different color pattern.
The fishing areas were shallow wherever Doute took us, and almost any small boat could have duplicated our set up on a calm day such as the one that greeted us.
Doute figured that the one-ounce weight took the bait about a foot deep for every two feet of line we let out. We set them from 18 to 28 feet back, covering depths of nine to 14 feet.
Doute said the expansive area in Michigan water produces fish throughout June, and often for most of July until the water temps get high and the walleyes move west. He said the best was yet to come as post-spawn fish come back out of the Detroit River and nearby Maumee River in Ohio.
We played cat-and-mouse with perhaps a dozen walleyes in the course of the morning. We landed four of the five that got hooked, the final one broke off at the net after it took a crawler at our third spot, which was as close as Homeland Security regulations allow to the Fermi Nuclear Plant.
“There’s a lot of fish inside of those buoys,” Doute remarked.
But there were plenty of fish outside of the restricted area, too, with the promise of lots more to come.
Images by Dave Mull