ESCANABA - The annual exodus of anglers, heading to the water for one of Delta County's most noted annual events, is upon us. Today marks the start of walleye season and anglers across the Bays de Noc could be in for a fishing frenzy, according to local experts.
Darren Kramer, Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist in Escanaba, said knowing where to look is key.
"With the earlier spring we've had, you can probably expect walleye in more offshore, deeper water areas, in comparison to other years with a normal spring," he said. "We had fish spawning in March, which is earlier than normal and they tend to go into foraging mode, go offshore and look for bait fish. Anglers might want to target deeper waters and more offshore areas than they normally would."
Holly Richer | Daily Press
The walleye season officially opened at midnight. Above, fisherman continue to fish on the Escanaba River at the North Shore Boat Launch during a short storm.
Kramer said the overall walleye population should be comparable to recent years, thanks in part to the DNR's stocking program.
"Natural walleye reproduction consistent with the stocking program done by the DNR and Great Lakes Sports Fishermen have contributed to the fish population. We've consistently stocked the bays for quite a few years now," he said.
In Rapid River, captain Ken Lee of Sall-Mar Resort and Bay de Noc Charters, expects many anglers will enjoy a successful opening day, as long as the weather holds up. That's because the bays are warmer than usual this time of year. Walleye generally prefer water between 55 and 68 degrees.
"It looks like it's going to be a good opener. The number one thing you look for is consistent weather, and we've had fantastic weather, nice warm seas. That should get the fish active," he said.
Lee has witnessed a good number of walleye in the last week caught and released by perch fishermen, saying that should be a good indicator that it will be a good walleye season.
"We've got some real good year classes of fish out there. There was a real good hatch in 2007 and those fish are really plentiful. The walleye restoration group here has been locally planting walleye the last 2-3 years and that's really helping to add to the population," he said.
Lee runs charter fishing trips locally.
"The main thing is, the charter trips are a learning experience for a lot of people. When they fish with us, it can be a real eye opener to the different tactics we use to catch fish," Lee said. "People do charter trips and tell us they never thought to look for fish here or use this technique. We get a lot of clients that will book us the first day they're here and then do the rest on their own. We give them a head start."
Lee said overall the fishing he has done has been better than in recent years and that bodes well for fellow anglers.
"The fishing has been the best I've had in the last five-six years. With nice warm weather, it should be a fantastic opener. There's already a lot of fishermen starting to show up. It should be pretty busy," he said.