Captain Steve Jones has educated people all over the world on fishing the Great Lakes, Lake St. Clair, Detroit River and other waters. The past 40 years, Captain Steve has been featured in print media, books, television, video and radio. He has won numerous musky, salmon and walleye tournaments. He has introduced, developed and tested new lures, equipment and techniques. In April 2012, free-lance writer Danny Sawicki sat down and talked to Captain Steve about fishing in Michigan.
Q:Danny-I’m here with the legendary Captain Steve Jones and we are going to talk about issues that are affecting The Great Lakes and fishing in Michigan. Steve, let’s talk about the burning headlines in the news right now. The number one concern is the Asian Carp situation. Including Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie if and when do you think we will see Asian carp in the Great Lakes system.
A:Steve-It really is impossible to predict. Regardless of what you hear, they have been at the door for about 20 years or so, and there are all kinds of efforts being made to keep them out of our system. If they did get in our system, could they survive in our system? They are a warm water fish and our system is primarily a cold water system so we are not really sure if they could survive, but we do not want to find out! On the other hand, if they did get in would they devastate the system that many claim they can? They are plankton eaters like the zebra mussels, and we don’t need any more plankton eaters in the Great Lakes. That’s what suffocates the baitfish, then that ultimately hurts the game fish. Again Danny, we are not sure if they can flourish in our system or even survive the Great Lakes cold water system. I think they won’t be able too. Especially Lake Michigan, Huron, Superior. Lake St. Clair and Erie would be a bit more worrisome concerning the warmer water temperature, but then again, the travel time to St. Clair and Erie is longer. Could they survive all those factors? That is debatable. However, they could get into Lake Erie thru the Ohio River. Then again, there is the human factor. Anyone can make a mistake or a careless error and introduce the fish into the system accidentally because they are so close. That is the scary part. Time will tell Danny, but the scientists, engineers, DNR and the public are trying to do things to avert the Asian Carp.
Q- Steve, you brought up a good point concerning another invasive species that were introduced into the Great Lakes, the Zebra Mussels. When they came in, that was about the 80′s?
A- Yeah, that was about the early to middle 80′s Danny.
Q-Many people thought they would have devastating effect on our system. I know this is not comparing an apple to an apple, but the zebra mussels ultimately improved some of the fishery in our system, especially the bass fishing. Can you elaborate on that?
A: It depends on the lake and its habitat. The zebra mussels have not hurt Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie. It has caused some other issues, clogged drains, cleaning the boat, etc. But they have not hurt the fishing at all. In many cases, they have helped the fishing. In the long run, because of the zebra mussels, the environmental habitats have changed in the lakes they get in. As a result, some of the habits of the fish have changed. Over the years, we’ve gotten the biggest muskies than ever, and the most and biggest small-mouth bass we’ve ever seen. Lake Erie hasn’t been hurt, the walleye and steelhead are going great. However, in Lake Huron the zebra mussels did do quite a bit of damage. Lake Huron only has so much plankton and baitfish. The zebra mussels knocked a lot of that plankton out and the baitfish ultimately moved out. Due to that happening, the state is not planting salmon in Lake Huron anymore. So once again, to determine if zebra mussels will help or hurt, it depends on the lake’s habitat.
Q- Interesting. Let’s jump back to the Asian Carp and the damage they might do. If they do survive and they do get in our system, what do you think the consequences might be?
A-Again Danny, the question is IF they can survive. If they do survive, what kind of damage could they do? Due to different waters, they may be in a weakened state and not be able to devastate as people think. We just don’t know, but I will tell you one thing, we don’t want to find out the hard way. So we will do everything possible to keep them out. We must block the canals and all the other efforts we need to do to keep them out for good. I urge everybody collectively to help out. Our fantastic fishery could depend on it. But truthfully, we don’t know what is going to happen, we just must try our best to prevent it.
Q-Steve, let’s move on to the warm winter and early spring we have had. The weather has stabilized here in early May, basically normal, but how do you think the warm winter and early warm spring will affect the walleye fishing in the Detroit River this year and the overall fishing in the Great Lakes area?
A-The walleye fishing has been really good this spring, there are a lot of fish in the river, but it is not necessary related to the warm winter and or early spring weather conditions. Typically in the winter, the Detroit River is full of fish and in the spring the fish are in ample access for us to catch. Whether it be vertical jigging, hand-lining, rod and reel, the fish are there. The trick is catching them consistently. We prefer vertical jigging. As far as the warm weather conditions we had earlier, it definitely could affect fishing patterns. Because of the warm weather, many say the fish are ahead in the season. That may be true, but we must also take into effect the actual calendar period that fish relay on. We must factor in length of days, time of year. They might be a little early because of the weather, and I would like to think that they will have a successful spawn because of the warmer weather. We have really good walleye fishing right now, but when there is a difficult spring weather wise, the spawn success rate is not as good as it would be with stable conditions. We have had stable conditions so far and that should help the spawn cycles and give us fantastic walleye fishing for years to come. However, there is always adverse, different weather conditions thru-out the year that affect fish. Usually the fish adapt and revert back into their usual patterns throughout the calendar year.
Q-Now let’s talk about the migration cycle of the walleye and how the warmer weather might have affected that cycle. Usually, the fish start on the south end of the Detroit River early then start moving north. Now weeks ago (early April), many fish were being caught in the north end of the river and not many fish were being caught on the south end. Is that unusual for those fish being this far north this time of year?
A-The migrational route of Walleye is a very complicated process and hard to predict. Sometimes you can make a prediction, but it is hard. One end of the river doesn’t necessary get better than the other. The south end will warm up a little earlier, so you might get a better bite earlier in the year. We have been fishing the upper end of the river and we have been doing as good as anybody that has been fishing south of us. To try to explain the migrational route of the walleye, you have the walleyes in the southern part of the river. Those walleyes will migrate into Lake Erie. You have fish that will spawn into the Maumee River and Lake Erie. Many of those fish will migrate back up thru the Detroit River and into Lake St. Clair and even into Lake Huron. On the Canadian side, you have spawning schools of walleye in the Thames River. They tend to run down to the Detroit River to Lake Erie. The Clinton River fish, they tend to run to Lake Huron and even to Saginaw Bay as the season progresses. So, at different times there are schools of walleye that run up and down the rivers. There is a constant run of fish, when one school runs out another runs in. That is one reason why we have such a great walleye fishery in this area.
Q-So we should have a good May for the walleye. How do you think we’ll do moving into June and the summer?
A-Danny, the fishing is good right now. It is not going gangbusters, but it still is very good. There are a lot of fish in the river. I think right now the fish are spawning and that is slowing things up just a bit. But I think it is going to bust open really soon. Of course, weather is always a factor. When you have predictable weather, you have predictable fishing, it is simple as that. As I stated earlier, the fish move up and down the system. It is hard to predict what is going to happen. One year, I believe it was 2008, we have a large school of fish we were working over in a particular class size from a good spawning year. The following year we were in the same spot looking for that school and they were not there. A different school moved in, maybe a couple years younger. It’s very complicated. Nevertheless, the good thing is that there are usually fish in those spots that we target.
Q-Steve, you brought up a good point concerning the different schools of walleye that run up and down the Detroit River system. I remember 8, 9 years ago we were fishing in the river and almost every fish was 12-14 inches, and it was uncommon that spring to get a fish over 17 inches or so. So far this year, what is the size class of fish that you have been catching?
A-The spawning fish like to go to common areas to spawn. The bigger fish are searching out the perfect smaller area to spawn successfully. So this time of year, the frequency of getting bigger fish is increased. Also, catching the numbers of big fish in the spring are better than the summer. At that time of year the fish start to dissipate, split up a bit and spread out to different areas. So now is the time to try to get the big fish, especially if the fish have eggs in them…. that could make a 3 or 4 pound difference. Of course, we usually release those big fish, take a picture, and let them spawn for the future generations.
Q-Typically, how long does the spring Walleye run last in the Detroit River?
A-Usually, it goes right through all of May. In the summer, when the weather conditions stabilize and the water clears up, the Detroit River turns more into a night fishery. The fish are still there, but the water is so clear that the walleye turn into a night bite. This is mainly due to the clarity of the water and the absence of those nasty north and east winds.
Q-We’ve covered the walleye Steve, so let’s move on to other species of fish and the forecasts for the upcoming year. What about the musky fishing on Lake St. Clair. Let’s talk about that.
A-The musky fishing season opens June 2nd. June and July are by far one of the most productive times of the year for musky on Lake St. Clair. Earlier June, some of the biggest fish of the year are caught. You have fish that still have eggs in them and again they are concentrated in a smaller area for spawning purposes in the common areas they prefer. Musky, like the walleye prefer to go back to previous spawning areas every year. They tend to migrate to and from those areas. I would think because of the weather conditions this year the muskies will be spawned out by the opener. Last year, some fish still had eggs in them and we got some really big fish early. Remember, we encourage catch and release at all times, especially muskies. Again, I believe those fish will be spawned out by June 2nd. The nice thing about early musky fishing is that the muskies are closer to shore. As we move into later June and early July, they start to move into the Dumping Grounds in Lake St. Clair. That is one of my most favorite time and place to fish musky. Fall is very good, September and October, but I think those months are over-rated. I think the best time is in later June and the first couple weeks of July. It seems at that time of year, Lake St. Clair really peaks. The water temperature is usually 71-73 degrees or so and the fishery really takes off. The walleye, the small-mouth bass and the muskies are peaking. That is a dynamite time on Lake St. Clair.
Q-Sticking with the muskies Steve, give the audience three “hot-spots” for musky on Lake St Clair.
A-Let’s start when the season opens in early June. A hot-spot is Anchor Bay on the American side. That’s a great place to be with lots of big fish concentrated in that area. Last year, on the opener we went 12 for 18 with three fish over 50 inches and another at 48 inches. Another good spot is in front of the Clinton River. The Salt River is good and so is Selfridge. As the season progresses, we move into the dumping grounds in Lake St. Clair. Right in the mouth of the Detroit River, that’s another good spot. Another good area in early June is The Scott’s Middle Grounds in the Detroit River. That is another major spawning area for the musky. In mid-June, after spawning, those fish start to move into Lake St. Clair.
Q-How do you fish those muskies at the Scott’s Middle Grounds, isn’t that a very shallow, weedy area?
A-It is shallow and weedy. We will fish with buck-tails in and out of the edges. We fish about 20-30 feet back in 3-5 ft. of water, and the buck-tail is just below surface. We just crisscross in and out of the middle grounds. Another good sleeper spot is the Belle Isle Beach. You fish outside the swim buoys and on a good day you can get a dozen muskies or so.
Q- Steve, let’s move on to bass fishing. I know we have one of the best bass fisheries in the world right now. We have all kinds of national tournaments that visit Lake St. Clair as part of their tours. Tell us about the status of bass fishing on the lake right now.
A-The Small-mouth Bass is just incredible out there right now. The season opens the third Saturday in June. However, on May 1rst, you can legally catch and release small-mouth bass. On charters, we like to use live bait for bass. Large minnows, Golden Shiners, Spot-Tail Minnows seem to work the best. However, earlier in the year, the artificials work as well as live bait. The tube lures work great. We just drag the tube across the bottom. You don’t have to jig it or anything, just drag it across with a 4 inch tube. The small plastic worms work well also. Surface lures are dynamite in mid-May and early June on a nice calm evening. We fish in tight in 3-6 feet of water. It must be calm for the surface lures to work effectively. It’s a lot of fun. In the long run, live bait produces the best for bass.
Q-Give us a couple hot-spots for the bass.
A-The mile roads in St. Clair Shores are good. Ten, eleven twelve mile roads are good. We do really well in there. Another good spot is Huron point right off Metro Beach. Huron Point is good for bass, muskies and walleyes at different times of the year. It is a fish magnet here on the American side. The South channel is really good as is seven, eight and nine mile roads for small-mouth bass.
Q-Ok Steve, let’s move to the perch for us perch guys. How do you think the perch fishing is going to be this year?
A-Last year, the perch fishing was just tremendous. In October, we limited out almost every perch trip we took. When you are talking four or five guys that’s a couple hundred perch each time. We were getting big perch. In late October, we were getting more perch and bigger perch. Also, while perch fishing, we get the bonus smallie, and that is a riot when you are using 2lb test and ultra-light equipment. Now in the fall we fish in the middle of the lake for perch. Look for the weed beds and fish the edges. As for the spring perch, they do good in certain spots on the Detroit River. Danny, you fish that area and the guys off shore can get a dozen or so nice ones working them over. Sometimes, you can get them really good, it just depends on the conditions. Some good spots early on are Belle Isle, Alter Road Park and some of the different canals off the river. As for the boats, 11, 12 mile road is good. Start by drifting and look for weed beds. When you hit a couple perch, anchor down, work them over and you shouldn’t have a problem getting a mess of perch.
Q-In February, we had a major perch run in the Spillway this year. In your opinion, why was it so good in there this year?
A-Typically, that time of year, the guys are ice fishing on the Spillway and in the mouth. This year, the fish were concentrated between Huron Point and the Spillway and in the Spillway, which is a branch of the Clinton River. A good marking point for that area is the DNR launch by Jefferson and the bridge. They were getting most of the fish in 3-4 feet of water, with nice catches of big fish in February and March. It really wasn’t any different than other years concerning fish location. The fish were generally in the same spots, but there was no ice and that is the big difference. Instead of being on the ice, guys were out in boats and fishing off shore which was very unusual at that time of year. Some years the fish are in there good, some years they are not. Wind conditions are a factor, moving and dissipating the plankton. The bait fish follow the plankton and the perch follow the bait fish. The migrational routes are a little different every year, but it is not uncommon for there to be a lot of nice perch in that system at that time of year.
Danny-That was very unusual to be fishing off shore in February when it was 70 and 80 degrees.
Q-Let’s move on to Salmon fishing, as of April 10th you are ready to shove off to St. Joe in Lake Michigan?
A-I’ve been talking to Phil from Benton Harbor Bait Shop and he is reporting a few Coho’s are being taken.….
Q- As of middle April, is it to early for the Coho’s to run?
A-No, concerning spawning, the Coho’s leave the walleye in the dust. (Ha, ha). They school up and they go! They forage as they migrate, chasing baitfish. One day they are here, and the next they are not. Now it’s different on Lake Huron. We get the occasional one while jigging for walleye. Those fish were planted in Lake Michigan and then migrated around. As a rule though, one day the Coho is here and the next it is gone. That is how fast it is. The Coho’s have not really moved in yet. Now, the King Salmon has been really good so far this spring. They are getting a lot of King’s in 60-120 feet of water. Lots of nice size kings are coming in, lots of Steelhead, Brown Trout. The brown trout are hanging right in front of the St Joe River in 20- 40 feet of water or so, they are doing really good. The Steelhead has been spotty there, one day you will get two or three with your salmon and the next day you will not get any. As always in fishing, it could depend if you turn the boat left or right. You might go over the fish you might not, that’s fishing! The Coho’s can move in strong at any time and when they do you can get 20 or so at a time, but right now the Kings are going better.
Q-So is it a correct assumption that the Coho’s usually start off in tight this time of year?
A-Last year, there were a few Coho’s around in early April. As a rule, in early season, they will be in shallow water. The warmer water earlier probably had them fish a little higher due to the metabolism of the fish. Normally, they are higher in the winter, but I expect them to be even higher this year due to the weather conditions. Last year, we averaged 13-15 fish, mostly king salmon, with a steelhead or a Lake trout mixed in. We had some nice kings in the 15-17 lb. class, so there were some really nice fish in there. The year before we averaged 25 fish or so per trip, and I attribute that to the Coho’s being in so strong at the time and they stayed in. Some years the Coho move in and stay, sometimes they don’t. Regardless, the king salmon is what we are really after. The size, the fight, really makes it a fun fish to catch.
Q-As we wrap this up Steve, at press time the spring Detroit Walleye run will be in full force. Can you give us some tips and techniques on how to be successful vertical jigging for walleye this year?
A-Danny, vertical jigging is what it says, trying to keep you line vertical from top to bottom. The main criteria to catching walleye in the river, is trying to keep that jig vertical. Here is the difficulty in achieving that. You are in a 1 and a half to 2 and a half mile current depending on the day…your boat is drifting fast, and then you have the wind factor. The wind is pushing you one way and the current is pushing you the other way and it is difficult to maintain boat control. You need an electric trolling motor to get that control. In all conditions, the trolling motor will help you get control. You use your motor against the current or against the wind so that you will be able to, in effect, chase your line with the motor. It’s called “slipping the current”. That is the key to successful vertical jigging for walleye. The whole idea is matching your motor speed with line angle, so you can keep your line in a straight up and down presentation. You are constantly making motor adjustments to keep that line vertical. We use 5lb Power-Brite line, a half ounce or 5/8 oz. jig head or a ¾ oz. jig if it is windy. We must constantly touch bottom. Staying in constant contact with bottom with the jig. Up and down, up and down. Learning to use you electric trolling motor is very important in keeping your line vertical. In 25 to 35 feet of water, using a rod and reel, vertical jigging is a lot of fun! As far as I am concerned, it is the funnest way to catch walleyes. When you’re getting nice size fish and your fishing in that depth and current, it is a challenge. I will tell you one thing, fishing in those conditions, you will have a new respect for the fighting ability of the walleye.
Q-Captain Steve, we’ve covered a lot in this interview, how can the audience get a hold of you for a charter?
A-586-463-3474 (fish) e-mail-www.fishpredator.com
Q-So will you be running walleye and salmon together?
A-Yes Danny, we have two boats running. We have one boat running in the Detroit River vertical jigging for walleye and we have one running for the spring salmon out of St. Joe. Danny, I’m in a tough spot, this is my favorite time of the year to fish both salmon and walleye. We use light tackle and it’s a lot of fun. I’m running back and forth, enjoying both fisheries.
Q-Thank you Steve, for the great information. Fishermen, if you want a fishing report or more information, give Captain Steve Jones a call.
A-Thank you, Danny.
Every Friday, Danny Sawicki and Captain Steve Jones will be submitting a weekend fishing report exclusively to TPEpost. The report will cover the Great Lakes, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River.