Upper Detroit River Tactics

By Mark Pieniozek

The Detroit River will always have a special place in my heart for the huge numbers of fish and the diverse fishing opportunities that exist along its 26 miles. I’ve been jigging or handlining the river for over 15 years and it’s always an enjoyable trip, day or night.

I spend most of my time in the Upper River, from the mouth of Lake St. Clair downstream to the Ambassador Bridge, but will head further south if necessary, to catch fish. The Upper River is loaded with shallow flats, deep drop offs, rock beds, and deep current areas.

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Rigging up for Detroit River walleye is simple. I like a stiff rod and spool up with 8lb Hi-Vis braided line. I tie direct to a 1oz Thump jig. Favorite jig colors are green, orange, black and antifreeze. I keep my plastics choices simple, and most days a black or brown worm does the trick. I also carry 1.5oz jigs for very windy days or for customers that struggle getting the feel of jigging. Remember, feeling the jig and staying vertical are critical, so use whatever is needed to accomplish those goals.

Some years, like 2021, horizontal presentations will outshine vertical jigging. I keep a few trolling rods rigged up with bottom bouncers and crawler harnesses for the days this happens. I use 5oz bouncers off the front of the boat and 3oz bouncers off the back. For river fishing, look for bouncers with a long “stem” under the weight, preferably at least 12”. Smaller #4 Colorado blades in gold, orange and anti-freeze are favorites for me. Pull the bouncers downstream faster than the current so the blade is spinning and cover water. Be sure the bouncer is just “ticking” bottom occasionally and NOT dragging! Slow “S” turns will often trigger fish.

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Location is obviously very important and here are a few of my favorite jigging areas. If there is a little color to the water the cormorant tower at the north end of the river can be amazing. Fish from the tower down to the St. Jeans launch in 25-30 fow then head back up and do it again. The UAW building down to Chene Park is one of my favorite stretches. I fish It about 50-75’ off the wall and then out a little further in 30-40 fow. At the Post Office, get in as close to the wall as possible without bothering the casters standing on shore. You can fish this all the way past the Ambassador Bridge. This is a great morning spot.

For pulling crawlers, I spend a lot of time fishing down the middle of the river in 30-50 fow. From the Ambassador Bridge down to the Steel Mill was productive last year.

Fish tend to be in small pods, so if you catch a few then the bite stops, go right back to where the pod is located.

Hopefully 2022 will be back to normal and vertical jigging will be the best presentation. But if not, be sure you are prepared to adjust to what the fish want!

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