For all intents and purposes, Great Lakes tributaries are a study in contrasts. Despite seemingly similar big-water destinations, there are manic rippers (the Detroit and St. Clair) and mellow ramblers (Green Bay’s Fox and Minnesota’s St. Louis). In either instance, the whys and wherefores of walleye location–and, thereby, presentation–are dictated by depth and current flow, which is why predictable, established patterns that prevail in one don’t hold water for the other.
“In strong current, fish always seem to be away from the edge–30 to 40 feet away from the edge of the channel and even farther,” says In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) pro Daryl Christensen, Montello, Wisconsin. “The difference with slow current, surprisingly, is that the fish aren’t in the middle where you’d expect them to be. They’re on the channel edges.”
The differences don’t end there. Channel-dwelling walleyes in the big brawlers love plastic tails. Edge-inhabiting ‘eyes in the easy riders gravitate to bait. In spring, or in anticipation of it, on Great Lakes rivers, the jig is up with methods that match the current, depth, and water clarity.
READY TO RIP
Heavy current the likes of the Detroit and St. Clair tends not to put the river walleyes on the channel edge in any considerable concentration–possibly the current is too strong where the flow has its great smashup with the break. A better bet, then, is the channel itself, where the treacherous underwater terrain of the decidedly urban Detroit, for instance, consists of slag, rock, rebar, and whatnot.
“You need a heavy lure, jig or handline to bust through that strong surface current,” Christensen says. “But when you get down there, the current’s not as strong, because rocks and submerged cars are knocking that current down.”
Nevertheless, a heavy jig is what it takes to get to the bottom and, importantly, to drop it in pockets behind obstructions, where fish lie in slightly slack water but are impossible to reach without the quick reaction time of a big jig that plummets back to bottom. Because of jig size, sometimes up to 3/4 ounce, a baitcasting rod with a reel with a flipping switch to pay out line in a flash is entirely compatible with heavy current.
If that is one no-holds-barred approach Christensen takes, 2002 PWT Champion Keith Kavajecz seldom exceeds 3/8-ouncers in the Detroit.
“People get a little carried away with supersizing,” Kavajecz says. “There’s a point of diminishing returns. A lot of people say they can’t fish the Detroit with 3/8-ounce jigs. One of the biggest mistakes people make is going to 3/4- to 1-ounce jigs because they can’t stay perfectly vertical due to poor boat control.”
That’s why when vertical jigging in heavy current–and vertical means vertical, not off on even a slight angle–it helps to point the bow of the boat, maneuvered with a bowmount trolling motor, straight into the wind. Beyond that, Kavajecz favors a momentary setting on a trolling motor of 70 to 80 percent for quick bursts to chase after the line and stay perfectly vertical.
Pinpointing the walleyes, meanwhile, is more about the fish-holding depth du jour than anything else.
“In order to find them, you’ve got to fish,” Christensen says. “That’s the whole concept guys can’t figure out. You can’t run around marking fish. You have to fish them. But then those fish move. One day they’re in 24 feet. The next day they’re in 18 or 30.”
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