Walleye are the biggest member of the perch family, with a olive/gold colored body and glowing marble eyes that enable it to be a fierce night time predator is one of the most sought after species in North America. The walleye fishery on Lake St. Clair and connecting waterways is world class. Come ice out (around March) walleye migrate from the western basin of Lake Erie heading into the Detroit River system to spawn. Nearly simultaneously this process also occurs in the St. Clair River system with walleye coming into spawn from Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair.
Depending on the weather each year ice out usually occurs sometime in March and with the dispersal of ice comes the beginning of the spring walleye run. In the early spring from March-May walleye heavily concentrate in the Detroit River and both the St. Clair River as they prepare to spawn as the water temperature gets into the 42-48 degree range. In the early parts of the spring season trips often see less numbers and more size as the big pre spawn females move into the shallow areas along the different structurally significant areas in the rivers to nest and spawn. Common tactics of approach during this window include jigging and at times trolling river basin mouths can prove effective.
As any given season moves into the end of April/beginning of May with the increase in water temperature the numbers of walleye caught per trip increase significantly but the amount of big pre spawn fish decrease. The walleye being a cold-water fish move from the shallow edges of the river systems out into the deeper and colder water. From May to June hot and heavy action is seen throughout the Detroit and St. Clair River systems. During this frame of time jigging leads the way in primary tactic of approach and as the June approaches running crawler harnesses proves effective.
Walleye can be targeted in open water areas of Lake St. Clair throughout the summer and fall. Numbers of walleye can be caught trolling body baits on drop offs, deep reefs, and in deeper/cooler water. Since musky season coincides with this time period Wolfpack Charters will be in full swing targeting musky but upon request walleye trips can be arranged during this time.
Walleye Fishing Tactics
From early spring to ice up on Lake St. Clair one of the best methods for targeting concentrated schools of walleye in river mouths or searching the near shore and offshore basins for scattered schools is through trolling. Depending on the number of anglers on any guided trip and whether fishing United States or Canadian waters on Lake St. Clair, the average trolling spread can range from 4 to 12 rods being fished. In Canadian waters two rods are allowed to be fished for every angler where in United States waters three rods are allowed per angler. Depending on the time of year presentations vary when trolling planner boards pulling such things as crawler harnesses/bottom bouncers, stick baits, and diving crank-baits seems to give the most yield. When trolling for walleye speeds in the .9-2MPH range are optimal as slower moving presentations have more appeal to this species.
During the spring walleye run on both the Detroit and St. Clair River systems one of the most effective tactics of targeting walleye is jigging. A typical setup for jigging walleye in these river systems include a 1000-2500 series spin casting reel spool with 8-12LB test braid, some anglers preferring high visibility colored braid run to a barrel swivel with a 1-3FT section of 8-12LB fluorocarbon leader. Rod preference varies across anglers, but popular opinion follow the guidelines of a 5’9”-6’3” medium to medium heavy power, fast action, one piece rod. Typical jig heads used weigh anywhere from 5/8th-1.5 ounces depending on the river conditions being fished and the comfort in staying vertical and feeling bottom with any one individual. Jig heads are rigged with a 4” soft plastic artificial minnow or worm, a stinger hook for added insurance for finicky fish, and often times tipped with a live emerald shiner for extra flash and natural appearance. The walleye vertical jigging bite is extremely fun and often times yields high numbers of fish and even higher numbers of smiles! With the river systems booming with life jigging often times results in walleye trips seeing more species than just walleye caught. It is very common for vertical jigging trips to see musky, pike, small mouth, white bass, catfish, and even sturgeon to be caught.
With millions of walleyes living and moving in/out of Lake St. Clair and its connecting water ways clients that seek to catch and keep fish to take home to eat are more than welcome to do so. Walleye are very sought after fish and make for excellent eating so keeping fish within the established limits of size and numbers provided by the DNR is allowed. On Wolfpack Fishing Charters we do however support and encourage the release of bigger female fish as these females are essential to maintaining healthy population numbers and passing on good genes to future generations of fish. With numbers of fish caught per trip being high letting these females go is good practice and rest assured there will still usually be plenty of eater sized fish to take home. Catching the big ones, taking some good photos, and releasing it provides anglers with memories not soon to be forgotten and helps maintain our fishery for many more seasons of memories to be had.