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  • Rob Barnes

Michigan Walleye Tour Detroit River


For the 2021 season I’m scaling back on tournaments to focus on starting my business and on my family. With our baby girl due in July we have our hands full this summer!




SETTING THE STAGE


Early April on the Detroit river is an exciting time to fish if you want to target bigger walleyes. Typically you will catch less numbers but bigger fish if you are specifically targeting these class of fish. These larger walleyes are pre-spawn hens which are staging to complete their spawning rituals. Tournament anglers seek to target these larger fish to maximize the total weight of their 5 fish baskets. This year the event was limited to Michigan waters of the river only. This disappointed many anglers since typically the a greater amount of the larger hens spawn on the Ontario side of the river. This can be attributed to the fact that this side of the river is often more stained in color, can receive less angling pressure, and perhaps offers more ideal spawning locations. Regardless of opinions for limiting the boundaries, the stage was set for anglers to think out of the box or revisit tried and true programs to get their 5 biggest fish.


CONDITIONS DURING PRACTICE


The Michigan side of the river simply was the most clean I’ve seen it during this time of year than I’ve seen in several seasons. To me this ruled out handlining which typically shines when the water is dirtier and stained with mud. I had the pleasure of practicing with good friends and we had developed a plan to split up working the river from (1) the lower, (2) the middle, and (3) the upper.

During my first day of practice I covered the upper river by focusing on shallow areas which may hold pre spawn fish and searching new to me areas with shallow flats and adjacent steep contours which dropped off to deeper water. The size quality of fish simply wasn’t there in the upper for me to put in additional time to work this section of the River. I used my Lowrance HDS Live side scan sonar extensively to mark pods of fish transitioning to these spawning grounds. I was able to get some pretty cool images of fish to my starboard side even when getting wave action from a boat wake.



Another useful feature I used on my Lowrance HDS Live units was the custom depth shadings through C-MAP. This allowed me to quickly locate potential flats, shoals, and areas where pre spawn fish may hold.



After two and a half days of practice we had narrowed down that the key big bites would occur before the later part of the morning. We attributed this to fish actively spawning, the water being gin clear, and increased angling pressure as the day progressed. Our team put our heads together and determined that the best bites for what we felt would be a solid bag for each day would come from the lower river. Prior to day one of the event we were able to catch heavier hens in the morning and afternoon. Angling pressure would change these conditions as the tournament commenced.


TOURNAMENT DAYS


This was the first event I’ve fished with my brand new boat and I was very impressed with how it performed. Prior to owning the Starcraft STX 2050 I owned a 17’ side counsel made by sister company Smoker Craft. I also have unlimited access to running a fiberglass Ranger 620VS. With this in mind I’m very familiar with desired performance for multi species fishing boats. The STX rips out of the hole onto plane and cuts waves. I enjoyed our flighted take off and letting the Yamaha breathe as we raced to our spot.

Jig fishing in the clear water dictated natural colored baits with white hues. The cold water temperatures also tipped me off to tip with live bait and use scents. I use Pro-Cure super gels simply because of the variety of scents that I can tailor to walleye fishing. As a bonus their scents seem to stick on baits longer before needing to be refreshed, often 30-45 minutes between applications.




Our better fish came on between 8-9:30 AM but unfortunately we were not able to get the 4lb average plus a kicker fish to get us in the low 20lb range which we had thought would put us near the top. We had simply missed the key early morning bites. We also had to throw back a great fish which was foul hooked; playing by the rules and with integrity are important core values to me.




In general, what we had found was that the fish were staging near current breaks. The hens were resting on a shallow soft flat with patchy weed growth which was sheltered from main current. In fact, we had to set our trolling motor to a constant speed and drag / slow troll our jigging presentations. At times we would slip into the current seam and drift jigs over rock to get bit when the hens shut down later in the morning. Several of the top ten finishing boats were fishing within range where I could have given them a hi five at some point during the day.


We had ended up not having the finish we would have liked but learned a ton about getting key early morning bites in gin clear water.


Congratulations to teammates Erich Carlson and Wayne Van Dyke for cashing a nice check and grinding out a tough bite for it. I would also like to thank teammates Gabe VanWarmer, Roy Miller, and Jason Schalack for the fun times and the laughs on the water.


LESSONS LEARNED


-Surround yourself with good people who share the same values


-Clear cold water presents a new set of challenges for this time of year. Key bites occur at first light through early morning depending on cloud cover and wave action.


-Treat each time on the water as a learning opportunity.


-Professionalism, integrity, and character always matters.


-The crew at the MWT has raised the bar with how well they are running their events in 2021. I really enjoyed the drive up weigh-ins. Outstanding job!


-Keep working hard.

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