Jigging the Detroit river for walleye

In the spring, the Detroit River is one of the best walleye fisheries in the world.  Lucky anglers catch and release hog walleye that would be trophies on any other body of water.  Catching a ten pound Detroit river walleye could happen on any trip and the hogs grow bigger than that.  A thirteen pound walleye has already been caught in 2011 and I have heard of a couple twelve pounders being landed.  People travel hundreds of miles to fish the Detroit river.

29 inch Detroit river walleye

Every year, walleye spawn in the spring and the fishing action heats up.  When the water warms, the walleye's instincts kick in.  The fish start to make their way from one body of water to another to spawn. The Detroit river is where many of these fish are heading to.  This is why fishing on the Detroit river is exceptional during April and May.  During these months, an angler has a legitimate shot at limiting out on every trip.  Plus, the walleye of a lifetime could be under your boat at any time.

Walleye can be caught on the Detroit river at any time of the year.  However, the best action is during the spring run.  On the Detroit river, the magic number for spawning walleye seems to be forty two degrees.  Once this magic number is reached, the bite will be on until the silver bass enter the river a month or two later.  The silver bass crowd out the walleye not giving them a chance to bite.

If you are fishing the river before the water hits forty two degrees, try to find one of the factories along the river that discharges warm water.  The water around these areas will always be a couple degrees higher than the temps on other parts of the river.  The additional bump in water temp is usually enough to attract walleye.  This is not a well guarded secret so prepare for some group fishing.

A good game-plan for catching walleye on the Detroit river is to start in the Trenton Channel in the beginning of the run and then to follow the fish up the river until they hit Lake Saint Clair.  Once the action starts, walleye can be caught at any point in the river but the hottest action usually works from the bottom to the top.  The big females are always the first group of fish to enter the system followed by the males.

Fishing the Detroit River

While fishing the Detroit river, walleye can be caught using any traditional method of fishing but the two most common are handlining and vertical jigging.  Handlining is for more advanced river rats so a beginner to the river should stick with vertical jigging.  Vertical jigging is basically the practice of dropping a jig tipped with a live minnow or plastic minnow imitation to the bottom of the river and lifting up and down.  Once you feel resistance, set the hook and hope for the best.

The key to this technique is to keep your line vertical at all times.  The Detroit river has a snaggy bottom so if your line is not vertical at all times, you will lose a lot of jigs.  An angler will need to use his/her trolling motor or kicker motor to follow their line to make sure it is vertical.  This concept is hard at first but with practice can be mastered.  A beginning angler should use at least 5/8 ounce jigs and fireline when jigging.  This set-up will help the angler feel bottom at all times and will aid in detecting bites. 

Most anglers use an electric trolling motor to stay vertical but a small outboard can be used.  If you use an outboard, you will want to back-troll to stay vertical.  To do this, you basically point your transom into the wind and put your motor in neutral.  Once your line starts going behind the boat, throw the motor in reverse until you catch up with it.  To use a bow mounted trolling motor, you do the same thing but point your boat in the opposite direction of the wind.

The go to plastic baits for fishing the Detroit river are four inch fin-s minnows and three inch wyandotte worms.  The natural colors seem to work the best but chartreuse and purple work also.  Put one of these plastic offerings on a lead-head jig and you are ready for Detroit river walleye action.  Smart anglers utilize a stinger hook in the beginning of the run when the walleye are biting light.  This tweak can mean the difference between a limit and an empty live-well.

There are many hot-spots on the Detroit river for walleye but some are more popular than others.  One of my favorite spots on the upper river is the Roostertail restaurant.  I have had my best luck drifting in twenty feet of water in front of the restaurant in May.  Launch at the Alter road launch or St. Jeans and drift from north of St. Jeans launch past the bleachers by the Roostertail.  This is also a good spot for musky once the season opens.

If you haven't fished the Detroit river before for walleye, hopefully this article will persuade you to get out there.  You don't have to be a pro to catch Detroit river walleye.  Once you learn to stay vertical, it will be fish on in no time....just watch for the freighters. 

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