We were a little late getting started, in part because we launched at the Rust Avenue access site on the Saginaw River instead of our usual departure point, Center Road, a handful of miles upstream on the Tittabawassee. Center Road, we were told, was “a zoo.” Isn’t it every opening day?
Greg Sochocki, with whom I’ve shared the opening day of walleye season more often than not in the last 25 years, suggested we troll our way up. Several years ago, we did the same and had five ‘eyes in the well before we started jigging—and that was downstream from where we’d intended because there were just so many fish. Other years, when the water lever was lower, we blanked.
So how would be this year? Between the two extremes. By the time we got to where we wanted to fish at 10:30 a.m., we’d boated a pair of walleyes on Rapala Husky Jerks.
The current was ripping, making Sochocki’s job on the trolling motor difficult, to say the least. On our first pass down the river, nobody had a bite. Although we were fishing relatively shallow water (four to eight feet), we had to go to heavier jigs just to stay in contact with the bottom. Once we got the details worked out, well, we remembered why opening day on the Tittabawassee River is special.
Over the next couple of hours—Sochocki, who is a baker, had to leave early to deliver a wedding cake—we put a dozen fish in the boat.
“You have to get it right in their face in this strong current,” said Sochocki, who, despite being mostly a bass fisherman, knows how to catch walleyes, too. “We’re moving awfully fast and you have to have it right in front of them. If you lift it up too high when you’re jigging, you go right past them.”
I noticed that too. We were just kind of bouncing the jig up a couple of inches, not really lifting and dropping. As I watched other anglers—and there are always about six million other anglers here for the opener—the guys who were jigging with an exaggerated style didn’t seem to be connecting as well as those who were using a more subtle approach.
The guys on the banks casting with jigs were doing well, too, bringing that bait back right on the bottom.
Sochocki and his buddy Cody Deatsman were fishing with jigs tipped with Gulp minnows. I was using the real deal—not so much because I thought it was necessary, but because Sochocki had brought minnows and I figured we might as well cover all the bases. I caught four, one third of the total, which corresponds directly to the amount of effort we expended.
“I don’t think it matters much,” Sochocki said.
If I did notice a difference, it was that my average fish was a little smaller than the other guys’. But the live minnows were smaller than the artificials, and what’s the old saying? Oh, ya—big baits catch big fish.
I noticed a couple of unusual things going on this year. More anglers were trolling than we usually see (and they appeared to be catching fish) and more guys were anchored and casting than usual instead of slipping downstream with the current, as the majority do. The casting anglers seemed to pretty equally split between those throwing Rapalas (or other crankbaits) and those throwing jigs with curly tails. They were all catching fish.
We never caught any large fish—I’d say our biggest was just over three pounds. That’s just as well, though, as the smaller ones not only eat better, but the big hens are the future (I did hear later that guys who were fishing the Saginaw River down by the mouth caught some big ‘uns). That tells me that the hens had done their job and were heading out to the bay.
Fact is, the bulk of what we caught were males—they were milting all over the place when we hauled them aboard—which tells me the closed season was just about perfect this year.
“A lot of the males are still up in the river,” Sochocki said. “I think it’ll be good for a week or two, maybe even longer depending on the weather. There are fish all up and down the river if you really want to work for them.”
I’d love to go back, but the truth is, the steelhead are hitting the gravel, the bass are moving up, the forsythias are blooming (which tells me the crappie are biting), the cohos are biting in southern Lake Michigan, the browns are hitting in northern Lake Michigan, and the bluegill fishermen have been doing well, too. All options are on the table.
It’s fishing season. So praise the Lord and pass the jigs, the minnows, the wax worms, the spinnerbaits, Rapala—whatever. Happy days are here again.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.
Images by Bob Gwizdz