Walleye Jigging Experiments
March 24, 2014
Jack Nethercutt has three passions — cars, USC football, and walleye fishing. The Chairman of the Board of Merle Norman Cosmetics often is in his Lund 1900 Pro V jigging for walleyes on Lake of the Woods. I had the pleasure of guiding Jack on the Woods from 2007 to 2011. I tried to tempt him into trolling, but I quickly learned he's had his fill of it during his 50-plus years of walleye fishing. So jigging it was, and I realized I had an incredible opportunity.
For years, I had been questioning many of the prevalent beliefs about walleye jigging, the first being the singular focus on jig color. When I'm guiding, any angler that begins catching more fish than everyone else in the boat is asked, "What color are you using?" to the exclusion of any other queries. I've always thought that color, while not irrelevant, should be explored after other aspects of presentation, like jigging cadence, depth, speed, and bait appearance.
The other belief about jigging that many walleye anglers hold is that you should always use the lightest jig you can get away with. When vertical jigging while guiding, I always use a lighter jig than the guests, based on the theory that if I can feel bottom with a lighter jig, they should be able to maintain bottom contact with a heavier one. At times, however, guests out-fish my lighter finesse approach with the cannonballs that I tied on their lines, making me question whether there are times when a heavier jig yields more fish.
As a guide, the problem with answering questions about jig color and size is that anglers are continually caught in a positive feedback loop. If the first three fish of the day are caught on a 1/4-ounce red jig, soon everyone in the boat has one tied on and, to no one's surprise, all the fish that day are caught on 1/4-ounce red jigs. Anglers are hardly to blame for this, as who wants to spend the day fishing with a color that may not be as effective just to conduct an experiment? Well, Jack agreed to do some experimental fishing with me on Lake of the Woods to test jig color and weight.
To test jig color and weight, the fishing day was split into morning and afternoon sessions, with about three hours of fishing before and after lunch. Only one variable (color or weight) was tested during a session. For example, during a morning session, if jig weight was being tested, all the jigs were the same color. Anglers had identical rods (6-foot 6-inch medium-light, fast-action spinning), with identical lines (8-pound superline with a 3-foot monofilament leader). One rod was equipped with a 1/8-ounce jig, one with a 1/4-ounce jig, and one with a 3/8-ounce jig. Rods were switched every 10 minutes and the number of walleyes and saugers caught on each jig recorded. Also recorded was the number of walleyes over 19 inches caught on each jig.
For the afternoon session on that day, the experiment switched to color, using whichever jig weight had caught the most fish in the morning session. Four colors were tested — white glow, chartreuse, orange, and black — each on the same type of rod and using the same 10-minute rotation. The next morning would be a color-test session, followed by a weight-test session in the afternoon, using whichever color had caught the most fish that morning.
The order of each jig color and weight also was rotated during each session to help remove bias inherent in the order of use. The first jig used each day, for example, may be at a disadvantage as the first several minutes of fishing often are spent trying to locate fish. Time spent attending to snags or retying after a broken line wasn't counted in color experiments (the stopwatch was paused), but not weight experiments, as it was felt that the size of the jig could affect the frequency of snags and thus the amount of time spent fishing.
I also made attempts early on to try different bait types, but felt that I had to focus on jig weight and color to answer those questions so only minnows were used. As with any experiment in a natural environment, many variables were out of my control, such as wind speed, wind direction, barometric pressure, cloud cover, air temperature, water temperature, and depth of the fish. I recorded these observations in my daily log.
During the 2009 to 2011 seasons, I collected data for 54 sessions (approximately 162 hours) for the weight experiment and 49 sessions (approximately 147 hours) for the color experiment.
Differences in catches were statistically compared by testing whether the frequency of outcomes (the number of fish caught) among the factor being tested (color or weight) is different than what would be expected if there was no effect. For instance, if jigs of two colors caught 125 and 175 walleyes, respectively, is that significantly different than what would be expected if there was no color effect (150 walleyes for each color)? I am indebted in this regard to In-Fisherman Managing Editor Dr. Rob Neumann, who did the statistical analyses and helped interpret the results.
For overall catch, while chartreuse caught the most walleyes and saugers (276), catches were similar to glow (271), orange (269), and black (258), and there was no statistically significant difference in catch among colors. But chartreuse caught 5 more fish than glow and 18 more than black, which may be enough to make a meaningful difference to anglers.
A stronger color effect appeared when the analysis was limited to larger walleyes. Chartreuse (16) and orange (15) caught twice as many walleyes over 19 inches long than black (8), with glow intermediate (11). Still, here, the results weren't statistically significant, but a color preference pattern seemed to emerge. Lack of a statistically significant finding could be due to several factors such as small sample size, lack of a color effect, or variability caused by other factors that can't be controlled, like weather, time of day, and amount of light.
I ran separate tests to try to remove variability introduced by several other factors: barometric pressure, weather system, time of day, and depth. Surprisingly, there wasn't any statistically significant effect of color in any of these tests, but several patterns are worth discussing. For instance, while chartreuse caught the most fish overall, it was only the case under certain conditions. Sometimes, chartreuse caught the fewest fish.
When the barometric pressure was dropping, most fish were caught on chartreuse, followed by glow, black, and orange. When the pressure was stable or increasing, however, most fish were caught on orange. Under high-pressure systems, chartreuse caught the most fish, while most were caught on orange and black under low pressure skies.
On overcast days, orange caught the most walleyes, black the fewest. Under sunny skies, orange caught the fewest. Orange caught most in the morning, but catches were almost identical among all the colors. In the afternoon, chartreuse scored highest.
Analysis by depth zone revealed the only time black caught the most fish — in depths of 20 to 29 feet. In depths of less than 20 feet, chartreuse caught most of the fish while walleyes bit mostly orange in depths of 30 feet or more.
Overall, walleye catches were significantly different among the three different jig weights, with the 1/4-ounce catching more fish (437) than the 1/8- (362) and 3/8-ounce (320). For walleyes over 19 inches, the 1/4-ounce again led the way with 24 fish, followed by the 3/8- (21) and 1/8-ounce (19).
When analyzed separately under different fishing conditions, catches among jig weights were statistically different during decreasing barometric pressure, under high-pressure skies, sunny skies, in the afternoon, in water from 20 to 29 feet deep, and in depths of 30 feet or greater. The 1/8- and 1/4-ounce jig performed better in water less than 20 feet deep. In 20 to 29 feet, the 1/4-ounce jig caught the most fish, followed by the 1/8- and 3/8-ounce. In depths of 30 feet and greater, the 1/4-ounce caught the most followed by the 3/8-ounce, while the 1/8-ounce became more ineffective. Overall, in deeper water, heavier jigs caught more walleyes.
It's impossible to conclude that each of these significant factors acts on catches separately, because several or most of the factors are correlated, or interrelated. For example, under high pressure or decreasing pressure on sunny afternoons, you might expect walleyes to be deeper. So, because the 1/4- and 3/8-ounce jig caught more walleyes on sunny days, it may not mean that fish prefer heavier jigs on sunny days, but that sunny days may bring walleyes deeper and that heavier jigs are more effective in deeper water.
Based on the results of these experiments, the 1/4-ounce appears to be an ideal weight for vertical jigging where I fish on Lake of the Woods. The 1/4-ounce jig caught the most walleyes and saugers in most comparisons, although 1/8- and 3/8-ounce jigs also became important in certain situations. For example, the 1/8-ounce performed well in water less than 20 feet, while the 3/8-ounce became more effective in deeper water.
Jigs lighter or heavier than 1/4-ounce may excel in presentations other than vertical jigging. If casting for walleyes in shallow water, for example, the 1/8-ounce jig may have had been better overall. Also, remember these results are based on conditions I fish on Lake of the Woods. In other waters, the ideal weight for vertical jigging may be lighter or heavier.
With only a few exceptions, chartreuse and orange caught the most walleyes and saugers. This is consistent with the science that walleyes see in the red-orange-green portions of the color spectrum, being most sensitive to orange-red. I tended to notice that chartreuse was better for brighter conditions and orange for low-light conditions. Chartreuse caught more fish in every instance where higher levels of light could be found. Conversely, orange jigs caught more fish in lower light conditions. The role of color and what walleyes see is complex and affected by many factors.
Never during my three years conducting this experiment was I in the middle of a hot walleye bite and had the bite turn off because I switched color or weight of the jig. I did, however, have fish turn active once I had changed my jigging action or location on a reef. So, if you're vertical jigging using a reasonable jig weight, and the angler in the boat 50 yards away is catching many more fish, your jig box may not be the first place to turn. Other facets of your presentation are important. In this case, being at the right spot.
Also consider your jigging cadence, or working action. There are times when any movement of the jig spooks fish, and strolling — holding the bait steady a foot or so off the bottom while the boat slowly moves around the structure — is needed to tempt finicky fish. At times, an aggressive approach, like snapjigging, triggers fish. Experiment with your presentation.
I'm grateful to Jack for the opportunity to conduct these experiments and for his patience in having his peaceful days on the water disrupted by a beeping stopwatch every 10 minutes. While I don't share his love of cars, we agree there's no better way to spend a summer day than chasing walleyes on Lake of the Woods.
*Ryan Haines, Kenora, Ontario, is an astute angler and a fishery scientist who serves as a consultant on fishery projects.
All other claimants can stand down. No state has more lakes, rivers, streams, and reservoirs stuffed with walleyes than Minnesota. The Gopher State leads the nation with over 13,000 natural lakes. It should be called the Walleye State. According to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, walleyes create over 43,000 jobs in Minnesota. Those jobs include guides, biologists, outfitters, marina employees, and workers that manufacture lures. They also include retail sales, bait gathering, boat building, rod building, resort operation, boat inspecting, boat storage, and boat rigging.
The state fish in Minnesota? What else? Fling a dead cat here and it hits a walleye. Walleye madness grips the state year '˜round. During winter, small cities of fish houses pop up out on Mille Lacs, Leech Lake, Bemidji Lake, and just about everywhere walleyes swim. During fall and a special early season every April (weather providing), ramp lots overflow down the local highways on both sides of the Rainy River up on the Ontario border. On opening day in May, good luck reaching the ramps on the state'™s major venues. (The DNR reports that about 35,000 licenses are sold in the last 24 hours prior to the opening day of walleye season every year.)
Summer is an endless drift down the Mississippi, a trolling pass into the wilderness surrounding Lake of The Woods — campfires on the islands of Rainy Lake with fillets on the grill. It doesn'™t get any better anywhere else.
The state record of 17.9 pounds was taken in 1979 from the Seagull River, which makes nobody'™s list of top walleye fisheries in Minnesota. Look at it this way: No state produces more 10-pound walleyes from waters not appearing on anybody'™s list of the best venues for walleye fishing.
World-class walleye fisheries in Minnesota: Mille Lacs, Leech Lake, the Mississippi River, Lake Winnibigoshish, Cass Lake, Lake Vermillion, Whitefish Lake, Lake Bemidji, Lake of The Woods, Rainy Lake, Big Stone Lake, Gull Lake, Red Lake, Lake Pepin, and the Rainy River.
7. New York
The state record walleye from New York was taken in 2009, from Mystic Lake — one of the state'™s less publicized waters. The fish weighed an unbelievable 16 pounds, 9 ounces — bigger than any walleye ever taken on the American side of Lake Erie.
'œEastern Lake Erie has been the best spot for numbers of walleyes the last few years,' says famous guide Frank Campbell (Buffalo area, 716/523-0013). 'œWe have to go down as deep as 70 feet with 3-way rigs in summer, though so I switch to the lower Niagara River, which just might produce the next state record. We'™re consistenly seeing 12 and 13 pounders in the Niagara, running 3-way righs and jigging big bucktails.
'œChautauqua Lake has an excellent walleye fishery,' Campbell added. 'œIt'™s a great early season lake before the weeds come up, producing big stringers on leeches or jigging with Heddon Sonars. We have a lot of big fish waters in New York, but big numbers, too.'
New York has 7,500 lakes and 50,000 miles of rivers and streams within its boundaries. A large percentage of those waters have thriving populations of walleyes. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation says the Conesus Inlet Fish and Wildlife Management Area in Livingston County is one of the best places in the world to watch and photograph spawning walleyes in April of each year.
New York'™s best walleye fisheries: Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Niagara River, Mystic Lake, Delaware River, Oneida Lake, St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain, Finger Lakes, Mohawk River, Conesus Lake, Honeoye Lake.
6. North Dakota
Waters just keep rising in North Dakota. 'œIt'™s an ever-expanding fishery,' says guide Jason Feldner (701/351-1294). 'œThe lakes are very fertile here, for a northern state. As a result, biologists tell me walleyes grow 1.5 times faster here than anywhere else in the Midwest. And we'™re far enough away from any big population centers to keep the pressure down. Walleyes bite aggressively here year '˜round.'
Like it'™s neighbor to the south, North Dakota is dotted with ponds and small glacial lakes. 'œThe Missouri River is a walleye factory,' Feldner said. 'œLake Sakakawea and the river itself generate tons of walleyes every year. But the North Dakota Game and Fish Department does a lot of stocking in all those smaller lakes. There are tons of lakes between 100 and 1000 acres, so we watch the stocking reports and hit those lakes that were stocked heavily a few years back.'
North Dakota has over 350 improved boat ramps and countless primitive ramps scattered across the state. While the state fish is the northern pike, the most popular fish with anglers is the walleye, according to the Game and Fish Department.
'œDevil'™s is the best lake in the state for size and numbers right now,' Feldner said. 'œAll the bigger lakes have their moments, but Devil'™s has a lot of good to great year classes running through it right now. The wild thing about Devils is you can fish any way you want. You can pitch jigs, rig up with slip bobbers, Lindy rig, cast cranks, or troll successfully anytime between ice-out and ice-up. You can fish rocks, weeds, wood, open water — any way you want to go, you'™ll find walleyes in Devil'™s Lake.'
The state record of 15 pounds, 12 ounces came from Wood Lake in 1959.
World class walleye waters in North Dakota: Devil'™s Lake, Lake Sakakawea, Wood Lake, Lake Oahe, Missouri River, Lake Metigoshe, Red River of the North, Jamestown Reservoir.
Lake Erie is arguably the best walleye lake in the world, and no state can claim more of its area than Ohio. The Sandusky and Maumee rivers have small populations of walleyes during much of the year, but spawning runs from Lake Erie are massive, drawing shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of wading anglers that stretch for miles every spring. Ohio has fewer lakes than states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, but has lots of creeks and rivers that hold walleyes year '˜round. Many are dammed, creating great walleye reservoirs like Mosquito Creek and Berlin Lake in the northeast, and Findlay Lake and Willard Reservoir in the northwest. In addition, Ohio has a very successful saugeye program, as exampled by Indian Lake, Buckeye Lake, Seneca Lake, and the Great Miami River, which combined to produce over 300 award winning, Fish Ohio specimens in 2012. By most accounts, 2013 was a banner year for walleyes and saugeyes all across Ohio.
I caught Craig Lewis of Erie Outfitters (Cleveland area, 440/949-8934) after he sold 600 dozen emerald shiners before lunch. He probably sells more bait than anybody on Erie because Ohio'™s Western Basin is on fire. 'œNumbers and size-wise, you can'™t do what Ohio does anywhere for walleyes,' Lewis said. 'œYou can catch double-digit fish here every day. Right now a great 2003 year-class — the largest in documented history — is churning out walleyes that are all 8 pounds and up right now. Every day you can literally expect a handful of double-digit fish. We'™ve grown to expect limits when you can get out there. We recently put 18 over 8 pounds in the boat in a day. With that kind of size and numbers, this has to be the best walleye fishing in the world.'
I asked Lewis where else he would go in Ohio to target walleyes. 'œWestbranch Reservoir to the south is a phenomenal inland fishery,' he replied. 'œThe state stocks it heavily and you expect to catch limits every day. Down in that region the state has great tailrace fisheries below reservoirs like Pleasant Lake and Berlin Lake, and you can expect limits there every day, too.'
The state record walleye from Ohio, a 16-pound, 3-ounce beast, was very recently pulled from Lake Erie (1999). Meaning anglers still have an awesome shot at a 15 from the best walleye fishery in the world.
Ohio'™s best walleye fisheries: Lake Erie, Westbranch Reservoir, Maumee River, Sandusky River, Ohio River (saugeye), Pymatuning Lake, Clear Fork, Indian lake, Buckeye Lake, Berlin Lake, Wells Creek, Mosquito Creek.
5. South Dakota
The South Dakota state record walleye weighed 16 pounds, 2 ounces, and was taken in Lake Francis Case in 2002 — a record recent enough to imply more fish over 16 pounds probably await some lucky anglers in the near future. It also offers testimony to the health of the Missouri River system, one of North America'™s greatest walleye engines.
Why is South Dakota one of the most awesome destinations possible for traveling walleye anglers? 'œEasy angling, tons of opportunities, and unpressured fish that can be caught any way at your comfort level,' says guide Chad Schilling (605/280-0881). 'œWhatever your strong-point is, you can catch walleyes here with that tactic. Our fish are stupid. You don'™t need an 8-foot fluorocarbon leader, you don'™t need finesse — the populations are so high that fish are aggressive 24/7 all year long. We just go fishing and catch '˜em.
'œPeople often overlook all the smaller lakes in the eastern part of the state,' Schilling added. 'œAll kinds of opportunities in dozens of small bodies of water over there. To the West, all the lakes around the Black Hills have great populations of walleyes. Great family vacation spot. Go for the camping and sight seeing and if you see a ramp, dump the boat in, start fishing, and you'™ll have walleyes in the net in no time.'
Walleye fishing is open to the public year '˜round. South Dakota Game, Fish And Parks notes that several strong year classes are available in practically every fishery in the state, and predicts great walleye fishing statewide for 2014.
World-class walleye waters in Lake Oahe, Lake Sharpe, the Missouri River, Lake Francis Case, Lake Angostura, Lewis and Clarke Reservoir, Lake Thompson, Oakwood Lakes.
The current world record walleye of 25 pounds came from Old Hickory in 1960, but walleye tournaments, guides, fun, and excitement have largely avoided the Volunteer State ever since.
Until now. greenevillesun.com
recently posted an article proclaiming Walleye Fishing Could Be The Next Big Thing in Tennessee. And why not? Tennessee has overlooked, underfished populations of native walleyes thriving in creeks, rivers, tailraces, and reservoirs throughout the state. Bobby Wilson, chief of fisheries for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) said walleyes may not be the top priority in a state known for world-class bass and crappie fisheries, but walleye stocking and management continues to be a priority here.
Dale Hollow has a massive population of walleyes. So many, in fact, that it provides enough fry to stock the entire state. Fishing legend Billy Westmorland, who caught more 10-pound smallmouths than anyone in history, once told me when he wasn'™t chasing smallies he loved to play with Dale Hollow'™s big walleyes.
Walleyes in Center Hill are averaging around 19 inches or so these days, according to guides, while 5 and 6 pounders have become increasingly common. Some larger fish are turning up on South Holston, generally considered the best walleye lake in the state next to Dale Hollow.
Guide Steve Headrick (931/644-4165) who works Dale Hollow, Center Hill, and other fisheries says April is the time to come and they mostly fish at night. 'œWe light up the banks with special boat lights I sell,' he said. 'œIt allows you to see the banks where walleyes are feeding on shad at night and you can see where to pitch a jig or a swimbait. We'™re catching fish from 2 to 10 pounds. The average size is somewhere between, and we'™re catching limits every night. Walleyes are coming back big time all across the state. The TWRA is stocking them everywhere and walleye fishing has just exploded. We now have a number of fisheries where you can expect to boat a 10 pounder if you put your time in.'
World-class fisheries from Tennessee: Tennessee River, Norris Lake, Dale Hollow, Center Hill, Lake Wautaga, Lake Normandy, South Holston.
I found Eric Haataja on his way West. Despite living and guiding in one of the best walleye states in the union — Wisconsin — he was heading to North Dakota to fish for walleyes in yet another state on this list.
'œI would say the two obvious factors making Wisconsin one of the best walleye states in the country are the Great Lakes, which produce some of the biggest walleyes in the nation, and the Mississippi River,' Haataja said. 'œAnd those two factors are on opposite ends of the state with great fishing in reservoirs, flowages, rivers, and lakes all the way across Wisconsin. The Mississippi has tremendous numbers of walleyes in all sizes. When it comes to lakes, Minnesota is the best walleye state. When you'™re talking about river and flowage fisheries, Wisconsin is number one, hands down.'
The state record walleye in Wisconsin is a whopping 18 pounds, which is good. But it was taken in 1933, from High Lake. Which is bad. Old records tell us two things: Modern checks and balances on record keeping were not yet in place, and a similar fish hasn'™t been taken in 80 years — casting a shadow on the original record. That being said, try to drive more than 20 miles in Wisconsin without encountering a decent walleye hole. And try fishing the Fox River, Green Bay, or the Menominee River for a couple days during prime time (October-November) without catching a 10. Not as easy as it sounds.
World-class walleye fisheries in Wisconsin: Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay, Lake Winnebago, the Flambeau River, Lake Mendota, the Mississippi River, the Wisconsin River, the Menominee River, the Fox River, and Lake Pepin.
According to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, walleyes 'œcurrently occur throughout Pennsylvania.' Walleyes are indigenous to the state, thriving for at least ten thousand years in the Lake Erie and Ohio River drainages.
'œRiver walleye fishing is exceptional here,' says outdoor journalist and In-Fisherman contributor Darl Black. 'œFrench Creek has an awesome walleye population by small creek standards. The Delaware River along the border with New Jersey has a good walleye fishery, though it may have declined a bit recently. Some really nice stringers were reported there recently. We had an exceptional year on Lake Erie in 2013. Most of those fish wander through here from the Ohio portion of Erie, but we do have a native population out there.'
The state record of 17 pounds, 9 ounces came out of the Allegheny Reservoir (also called the Kinzua Reservoir) in 1980, but Pennsylvania apparently has the potential to produce even bigger fish — all-tackle world records, in fact. 'œPennsylvania recently produced a 24-pound walleye, taken by an angler that refused to turn it in or publicize it in any way,' Black said. 'œI have a picture of that fish on my bulletin board here and it'™s mammoth. That'™s the mystery fish from PA.'
Like neighboring Ohio, Pennsylvania has small reservoirs, rivers, and streams dotted thoughout the state that produce walleyes. 'œLake Pymatuning isn'™t a real trophy fishery, but it puts out limits of 15 to 18 inchers very consistently,' Black said. 'œNumbers and size have both increased, so that fishery is on the rise. It'™s a spring and fall fishery, like so much of Pennsylvania. I don'™t bother chasing walleyes in summer here, unless I feel like trolling on Lake Erie — which isn'™t that often.
'œLake Arthur is pretty well known for walleyes, too,' Black added. 'œIt doesn'™t have the population that Pymatuning does, but it has some big fish. Lake Wallenpaupack, a power-generation lake in the northeast of Pennsylvania, has some huge walleyes in it. Pennyslvania has some dozens of small walleye lakes and reservoirs that are stocked, so the pressure is pretty well spread out.'
Top walleye waters in Pennsylvania: Lake Erie, Allegheny Reservoir, Allegheny River, French Creek, Lake Wallenpaupack, Susquehanna River, Lake Pymatuning, Lake Arthur, Monogahela River, Youghiogheny River, Delaware River.
The 'œother' world record came from Arkansas — the 22 pound, 11-ounce behemoth pulled from Greer'™s Ferry in 1982. The potential remains to produce gargantuan walleyes in Arkansas because the 'œgrowing season' is a long one. An 8-pound walleye doesn'™t raise eyebrows any higher in Arkansas than in Ohio or Minnesota.
'œBull Shoals and Lake Norfork are great walleye lakes,' says Darrel Binks of Binks Guide Service (870/499-7384), who has been guiding for walleyes for 23 years. 'œBull Shoals is probably the better of the two right now. In this area, the stripers, the bass then walleyes are the most sought-after fish. I get more customers for walleyes than bass on these lakes. It starts in April and goes strong right through September. We vertically jig with spoons or troll bottom bouncers with night crawlers throughout summer with great success.'
River and stream fishing for walleyes is relatively unpublicized and underutilized in Arkansas, but almost every tailrace and small river has good numbers, including the Ouachita River, the Upper Fork and Middle Fork, the White River and the Norfork River.
Best walleye fisheries in Arkansas: Bull Shoals, Lake Norfork, Greer'™s Ferry, Lake Ouachita, White River, Eleven Point River, Greeson Lake, Hamilton Lake, Spring Lake, Black Lake, Beaver Lake Little Missouri River, Devil'™s Fork.
Moonlight on the Bluewater Bridge. The inland sea is inky black. A vast expanse of water stretches to the horizon. On its surface bobs a city of lights constructed with boats being pulled toward the St. Clair river by the inexorable drainage of the Great Lakes. The pace perfect for pulling crawler harnesses past Port Huron, where a limit of walleyes is a virtual guarantee almost any night of the year.
Growing up in Michigan half a century ago, the most popular fish among the state'™s anglers was always a trout of some kind. Michigan anglers were particularly fond of browns and brookies back then. But, sometime in the 1980s, surveys revealed that walleyes became the most popular and sought-after fish in the state.
Every walleye stocked in Michigan comes from the native populations of Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake. Those populations run up the Muskegon River to spawn, where the Michigan Department of Natural Resources gathers eggs and sperm via electroshocking. One of those boats approached me while wading the Muskegon for steelhead one day in 1986. I sat and signaled them on. They were polite enough to insist I finish fishing the hole, but I was relatively satisfied with my effort — one steelhead in about an hour on the spot. I don'™t know which entity was more shocked — the giant 10- to 14-pound walleyes that bobbed to the surface right in front of me or myself.
From the mouth of the AuSable with Captain (John) Hook to the shorelines of Gogebic from a canoe, I'™ve been lucky enough to catch walleyes in every fishery listed below and many others in Michigan. The Wolverine State truly is a walleye wonderland, encompassing the final frontier — those blue-water walleyes of the Great Lakes that continue to defy conventional wisdom and strategies.
Michigan'™s state record walleye of 17.19 pounds was taken back in 1951 from the Pine River, a tributary of the Big Manistee. The fish was probably a spawning-run specimen from Lake Michigan. A dam has since been erected on the Big Manistee, preventing walleyes from reaching the Pine River, but specimens in the 13-pound class have been taken in many of the other waters listed here.
World-class walleye fisheries in Michigan: Saginaw Bay, the Saginaw River, Lake Michigan, the Tittabawassee River, Lake Huron, the AuSable River, the Detroit River, Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, the Muskegon River, Big Bay de Noc, Little Bay de Noc, the Grand River, Portage Lake, the St. Mary'™s River, the Menominee River, Lake Gogebic, Mullet Lake.