Walleye run could start earlier than normal; now is time to prepare

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Toledo (13abc) It’s an annual rite of spring, one that thousands of people in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan look forward to every year; the walleye run. Millions of the fish will make their way up Lake Erie tributaries to spawn. The run attracts anglers from all over to the shores of the Maumee and Sandusky Rivers, though practically every river running into Lake Erie gets a run of fish.

“It could come as soon as three weeks from now,” said Maumee Bait and Tackle owner Mario Campos. “The warm winter and no ice could mean the temperature will be right for it to start a little early.”

Ordinarily, the walleye run begins when water temperatures in the rivers hit about 42 degrees Fahrenheit. The runs get stronger as water temperatures rise into the low 50’s. That usually happens in early March, but it can happen earlier or later depending on weather conditions.
Some walleye spawn on the Lake Erie reefs, but others that spawn in the rivers are already starting to stage near the river mouths. Once the water temperature is right, they’ll start to move into the streams.

Campos say now is the time to prepare for the run, so you’re ready once the fish are in the rivers.

“Take inventory of the tackle box, your rods, everything. Make sure you have enough trolling sinkers, floating jig heads, and twister tails.”

Those are vital to fishing the run. They’re used in what’s called a Carolina Rig. That’s a main line, usually 10 to 20 pound test monofilament line connected to one end of a trolling sinker. Then, a six to eight pound fluorocarbon leader is attached to the other end of the sinker, and a floating jig head is tied to the end of the leader. The jig head is tipped with a twister tail.

The rig is cast into the river, and is slowly retrieved at or near the bottom as the lure swings into the current. Walleye are not voracious feeders while spawning, but they do still actively feed, so they’ll hit jig thinking it’s a minnow or some other forage. Sometimes they’ll also just bite out of aggression.

Remember, it’s illegal to keep a snagged fish. Natural resources officers in Ohio and Michigan will monitor rivers, and if snagged fish are kept, anglers can be ticketed. It’s also illegal to use more than one hook on a lure, or to fish after dark or before sunrise on Ohio streams during the walleye run.

Lead head jigs, while considered “old school” are also still popular with some anglers. Some fishermen also tip their jigs with minnows, but it’s not necessary.

“Don’t wait until the night before you go fishing,” says Campos, who urges anglers to check the condition of their rods, too. “The Maumee can be rough on equipment, especially rods. You’re tips and eyelets can get pretty beat up. And check your line, too. If it’s old it can become brittle.”

As for the rod, Campos suggests a six to seven and a half foot medium-light to medium action rod, and a reel that can hold at least 150 yards of line. Once a fish gets into the current, it can strip line off the reel very quickly, and you’ll need a rod with backbone to turn the fish and land it.

Thousands of fishermen will converge on the Maumee, but the Sandusky River, especially at Fremont will also get a heavy run of walleye. Fishing in both streams can be shoulder-to-shoulder once the run is on. Another river that will get a good run of walleye is the Huron River from below the dam at Flat Rock, Michigan down to the mouth at Lake Erie. Remember, walleye fishing is closed in Michigan streams from March 15 to May 15, so if the fish run late, you may miss them there.

On the Maumee River, some of the most popular places to fish the walleye run are Sidecut Metropark, Blue Grass Island, and Buttownwood Park. While you can fish from shore, most anglers wear waders, and wade into the stream. Look for rocky areas with current to hold fish.

If weather conditions remain on the warm side, river temperatures could climb into the “magic” 42 degree range sooner rather than later, and that could trigger the first run of fish. So, now is the time to prepare for the run, so you’ll be ready once the fish get here.