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Metroparks Meetup: Walleye run draws hundreds to Side Cut

Warm temps provide early start to annual event
Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 6:39 PM EST
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MAUMEE, Ohio (WTVG) - There are perhaps two times a year in northwest Ohio you’re likely to see license plates from every state: the Biggest Week in American Birding, and the walleye run.

“The walleye return from the western basin of Lake Erie, and sometimes Lake St. Clair, all the way here to the Maumee River every year to spawn,” explains Jake Willing, outdoor skills interpreter with Metroparks Toledo. “They come upstream to this section between Orleans Park and Side Cut Metropark, and that’s kind of their ancestral spawning grounds. The run is in full effect now, and the warm temperatures have definitely helped that.”

Recent highs in the 70s have kickstarted the fishing season, as fishers typically want a range of 40° to 50° in the river to maximize their catch. “Usually the run starts about early March through early May,” says Willing, “and this year the water temperature is your big indicator -- already about 46°.”

Many anglers park along River Road, where bait and tackle outfits also set up temporary shop. The “Carolina rig” is a staple here: A flashy weight and swivel before at least another foot of leader line, then comes the colorful bait, “sometimes green, orange, pink, even purple -- and that has a body with a floating head and a hook coming out of it.”

They’ll then wade over to the faster waters on the other side of Bluegrass Island -- and with a limit of 6 per day, some fishers head back to shore well before noon. “They really want to be in that swift water because that’s where the walleye are running through,” says Willing, “and it kind of funnels them into a smaller space for them to fish, and have a better chance of those higher amounts coming through.”

It’s a far cry from last year, where the Metroparks had to shut down River Road to discourage fishers just as the walleye run and pandemic were starting -- though Willing says the sport lends itself to COVID safety: “Social distancing is a huge advantage when you’re fishing,” he explains. “You have more space between you and the other anglers, more room to cast and interact with a body of water, fishing a little bit safer and easier.”

Willing says to get here early for a prime spot, and to stay current with the currents: “Water level and water temperature are huge things to keep an eye on. When that water is too high, we do close off access to Bluegrass Island -- sometimes it gets up to your chest or higher. You also want to get those hip waders on to avoid hypothermia.”

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