When most people hear the phrase “a river runs through it” they picture Robert Redford standing waist-deep in a pristine trout stream with fly rod bent double while battling a feisty rainbow trout. There is only the angler, all alone surrounded by a million acres of prairie meadows, high mountains, blue skies – and bears.
Not so with walleye anglers – especially those gearing up for the inaugural Head 2 Head Professional Walleye Series tournament in early April. When they hear “a river runs through it,” they think of one thing and one thing only: the Detroit River – a 28 mile stretch of fast-flowing current through a deep channel that separates Lake St. Claire from sprawling Lake Erie as well as Canada from the United States. Instead of mountains, the backdrop is skyscrapers and no bears, but there are Lions.
These anglers won’t find trout in these often roiling and turbulent waters but what they will find are massive schools of giant walleyes migrating from Lake Erie into the river for a few short weeks in Spring to spawn. But in this pursuit they won’t be alone, as like the walleyes, thousands of fishermen and women from across the country will migrate to the famous Detroit River for the walleye run over next few weeks.
Like the gold rushes of yesteryear, the hordes of anglers arrive when the gold of fins and scales with white-tipped tails are most plentiful, but soon they disperse like post-spawn fish to the big lake and other waters where there are less anglers and easier pickings. But like real gold, there are always some finny nuggets tucked into the nooks and crannies and current breaks that haven’t been found except by those die-hards who fish the river long after the crowds have moved onward.
With the early ice-out this year and warming water temperatures, it’s likely that the H2H competitors will be experiencing a mid-to-post-spawn mix of fish or possibly even a post-spawn scenario by the last day of the 5-day competition. Of course, an early Spring blizzard that would cause water temperatures to plummet could change everything by delaying spawning, but the long-range forecast says that is unlikely (at least for now).
Of the 32 H2H anglers, half of them either live on or declared a certain river as their favorite body of water. None listed the Detroit River as their favorite, however, even though a few have had top-10 finishes there and one win. Over one-third listed “jigging” as their favorite technique with vertical jigging heavy jigs and soft plastics being a popular method on the river. No one even mentioned “hand-lining” which is a local favorite presentation at Detroit in heavy current and turbid water. A pre-spawn scenario would no doubt favor these anglers, but everything changes come post-spawn when fish are more widely scattered throughout the system but more aggressive to several presentations.
During post-spawn, trolling crankbaits along current breaks, shallows and flats or leadcore and three-ways in deeper water becomes a much bigger player than during pre-spawn, as competitors can cover a lot more water and optimize time – a very important factor with only a five-hour day, thus leveling the playing field considerably.
Of course, if it is indeed a post-spawn bite, there is always the chance that someone casting jigs and plastics or shallow-cranks could score big on female fish foraging shallow or males still hanging out in spawning areas, although this could be a here today gone tomorrow situation. Tournament weights on any given day could top 100 pounds for the top angler during pre or mid-spawn. Even a post-spawn situation could top 50 pounds.
With 32 of the nation’s top walleye anglers fishing this inaugural event while vying for the coveted 8 angler head-to-head bracket rounds the final three days, pursuing Angler of the Year points and Championship qualification all while being live-streamed to the public on a body of water few have ever fished, using artificials only and with the customary tournament pressure and jitters thrown in for good measure, the H2H Professional Walleye Series tournament at Detroit from April 12-16 is poised to set competitive walleye fishing on its ear.