ESCANABA - It's time to reel 'em in! Today marks the walleye and pike season opener in the Upper Peninsula and after a long winter, anglers are ready to get back out on the bay.
George Madison, Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries manager for the western U.P., said this year spawning for almost all species of fish is about two weeks behind normal.
"What that means for the Bays de Noc and the waters in the Escanaba area is the fish will be near shore near their spawning habitats, which is gravel areas for walleye and marshy areas for pike," he said. "Typically the walleye and pike opener occurs four to six weeks after the spawning."
Madison noted local hot spots for fishing during walleye season are at the mouths of the Escanaba and Days rivers, the reefs off Kipling, the banks off the Ford River, and along the coastal areas of Big Bay de Noc. The best conditions for catching walleye are under cloudy or overcast skies since they don't like the bright sun.
With a cold and wet forecast for opening day and throughout the weekend, Madison said wind is the biggest factor on the Bays de Noc, with choppy waters making it difficult for anglers with smaller boats.
He added that although many believe the long, harsh winter experienced across the U.P. was bad for the walleye population, or any fish population for that matter, there shouldn't be much of an impact that's felt.
"Despite the rumors the winter was detrimental to fish, most lakes are deep enough and have adequate food and oxygen supply that the fish survived just fine," he said. "It's the very shallow lakes without oxygen that will experience problems."
One positive result from the winter is water levels are higher than they have been in the past.
"That's a good thing for Bay de Noc and that's been very low for the last few years, so the higher waters are going to be good for the launching," said Madison.
Naomi Johnson, owner of Bay Shore Resort Bait & Tackle in Gladstone, said anglers she has spoken with are hoping for a good opener this year.
"They're not really sure what opening day is going to be like...," she said. "But there should be big fish this year."
On the other hand, Johnson said last year at this time anglers reported catching a lot of perch, but perch success this year has been slower.
According to officials from the Delta County Chamber of Commerce and Bays de Noc Convention and Visitors Bureau, walleye season is significant to the economy of Delta County.
"The Bays de Noc waters are a potent economic force that draws anglers to the area on the opening day of walleye season year after year," said Vickie Micheau, executive director of the Delta County Chamber of Commerce. "One needs only to look at the number of national fishing tournaments that have been held here to gauge the impact. Each angler that visits the area spends money here. That money boosts the local economy."
Chamber of Commerce Associate Director Sheila Krueger noted the importance of welcoming anglers to the area, as those who have successful fishing trips locally are likely to return to the area and recommend it to friends.
Added Rick Elrod of the Delta Commerce Center: "The Bays de Noc Convention and Visitors Bureau realizes the importance of promoting Bays de Noc fishing and recently invested in the successful Pure Michigan advertising campaign focusing on one of our greatest natural resources and encouraging anglers to 'drop a line where the walleye and bass pros fish.'"
Madison reminds anglers who might not have any luck with walleye and pike, that perch fishing is another great opportunity. May 15 also marks the beginning of catch-and-immediate-release season for bass. Catch-and-keep season for bass will start May 24.
He also reminds the public of Free Fishing Weekend June 7 and 8, which is a fun time to get out with family members who may not fish on a regular basis.
For more information on the walleye season or fishing in general, call your local DNR office or visit www.michigan.gov/DNR.