ESCANABA - Following a long and cold winter, what can area fishermen expect for the opening of fishing season?
One date of considerable local interest is May 15, which marks the opening of walleye season.
"We're still debating if there will be ice (on Little Bay de Noc) for the opener," said Glenn Chenier of Gladstone, a pro angler on the Master Walleye Circuit. "There's still 42 inches of ice in some spots (as of April 10), which is the most I've seen in the bay at this time of year. I would think the cold winter will have some impact on the opener, plus we don't know what the weather is going to do. Steady cold temperatures would put the fish in lockjaw mode. A warming trend would certainly help. The numbers (of walleye) are down in the area, but there's still plenty of fish to be had."
Greg Sanville, fisheries assistant for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at the Escanaba field office, believes the recent cold winter would delay spawning.
"No doubt, we've had a pretty rough winter," he said. "There has been some die-off. Spawning will probably be pushed back a little. We're hoping the weather isn't exceedingly cold because it wouldn't be good for spawning, which would affect generations. The fish don't feed as well when it's cold. It puts more stress on them."
The Escanaba area has received slightly more than 80 inches of snow, one of its higher seasonal totals in recent years, which Sanville says will help raise the water level.
"That's definitely going to help us, especially in the Rapid River area," he added. "We're expecting a pretty good opener. The ice should be out by then. There also wasn't as much angler participation this winter because of the cold weather which resulted in less stress on the fish. Although, the guys who put the most time in caught the most fish this winter. Persistence paid off. You have to adapt."
Variable weather patterns, known to happen in the Upper Peninsula, may also change the complexion of things.
"If the temperature fluctuates, it would confuse the fish," said Chenier. "It will be an interesting spring. I would suggest doing bait trolling in spawning areas, and with the lower numbers those could be quite scattered. If the water is real dirty, it's better suited for daytime fishing. Clean water is better for nighttime fishing. When the water is clear, the fish tend to get spooked and don't participate in feeding patterns, especially during the day.
"The weather is going to be a factor where the fish are going to be and where to find them. We're going to have to be more patient. The fish are tired and beat up from the winter and just want to rest."
As the air and water temperatures rise, fish tend to relocate as Sanville explains.
"Beginning in June or July, fish tend to head further south most years," he said. "I think we may have a little better fishing in the bay this year because fish may stay north a little longer. I think the season will get off to a good start. But with the struggling walleye population, we tell anglers to pay attention to the migration from the bay."
Sanville says the bay is also a terrific smallmouth bass fishery.
"We tell people they need to take advantage of our bass fishery," he added. "The population is up and they're fun to catch. They also make pretty good tablefare.
"Perch fishing has been a little sluggish, although their population is on the upswing when the walleye numbers are down."
The lake trout population in Delta County, however, appears to be way down.
"We don't see many trout being caught around here," said Sanville. "Trout are pretty susceptible to temperature, although everything else looks pretty good with more cold water runoff. I like to see the lake level come up. It makes for better access and more fish."