By Kyle Wood
TRENTON, Mich. – Tough would be an easy way to describe both the fishing and conditions for the season-opener of the 2022 National Walleye Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s on the Detroit River. With freezing temperatures during practice and heavy winds forcing the cancellation of Thursday’s original start, it was certain that whoever caught them in this event was going to work for it. Besting the conditions and the rest of the field in the opening round was local pro Paul George of Trenton, Mich., weighing four fish worth 18.50.
This is George’s first NWT event and the fact that he can sleep in his own bed every night and has tons of experience on the river are certainly helping him along this week.
“How do you even compare yourself, being a local guy who’s never fished one of these, to these tried-and-true pro anglers that are that good on every body of water,” said George. “It just so happens Detroit is my home ground and when the conditions are the toughest I feel like I might be fortunate enough to do the best. But we’ll see, it’s all about patience and grinding it out. Luck was on my side today.”
One of the most unique aspects to being a local in this tournament, or at least having history on the Detroit River proper, is that the tournament waters are confined to just the river. That means Lake Erie, where many NWT held here in the past have been won, is off-limits.
Given the heavy winds yesterday that thrashed the river and caused the water to dirty up significantly, knowing areas that hold fish year in and year out can save the day.
“The water’s cold and with the weather conditions it just kept the fish negative,” he said of his day. “There’s not as many fish in the system and they’re probably just staged out at the mouth (of Lake Erie). That’s why you have to grind it out and key on those areas that hold fish. You can’t panic and run all over the river because you’re burning time.
“I only had four bites today and didn’t lose any. I didn’t find my fish until late, late morning. I hit four spots and went to my big-fish spot first and didn’t get any bites. The water is just nasty all over the place, so I went to two go-to spots for some small fish hoping I could get lucky and even though the water looked better it didn’t happen. So, my last spot I went to late morning and I liked what I saw and I knew it had fish from pre-practice. I got better bites today than I did in pre-practice, so I stayed there and ground it out.”
George focused his efforts on very precise areas where he caught his fish, noting he wasn’t making long drifts at all. With less wind in the forecast tomorrow, some more sunshine and slightly warmer weather, George is hopeful he’ll be able to get dialed sooner in the day.
“I think if the weather would just stabilize, you’d see an uptick in bites,” he said. “The water could clean up, and that’ll help. But I’ll definitely have to find and catch some fish if I want to keep my position.”
Minke in second
Riding out three quality bites that hit the scale at 15.97, Minnesota’s Dusty Minke is employing two river staples to get his bites.
“I’m just doing a bit of jigging with my new Elliott rods and pulling some crankbaits on handlines,” said Minke. “The Detroit River is known for both of those and before you get here you have to have that kind of tackle.”
While Minke has fished events out of the Detroit River throughout his career, he doesn’t have much experience fishing the actual river. However, he’s thankful he’s made a few trips here in the past that may have given him a leg up this week.
“My experience here on the Detroit River is I got to do some pre-fishing back in the day with my co-worker and walleye tournament angler, Chris Gilman,” he said. “Maybe I’ve been lucky to have been here in the past and see a few of the tactics they use, then I got here this week and refined them a bit.”
Catching just under 16 pounds in three fish may seem like Minke is on something, but when all three of those bites came off different spots, Minke knows he’s still got a lot of work ahead of him.
“I think for me, today, it was about trying to find the right water. I wasn’t getting enough bites to stay in one spot, so tomorrow I’ll let the fish tell me what to do. The nice thing about fishing this river is we can run around. The fish are congregated in really about a 10-mile stretch, so I’ll focus on some of my spots and I’d really like my first spot to pan out so I don’t have to move around much. But I won’t be too stubborn and I’ll move around if I have to.”
Another local to get off to a good start, Chris Allred caught two quality Detroit River specimens for his 11.53.
“I fish the Detroit River all the time and I can tell you this is some of the toughest fishing I’ve fished on this river that I can remember,” Allred said. “Being a local in this type of event is playing to my advantage just because you know so much more of the river. It makes you fish spots longer than you would if you’re not from here because you know what they can do.
“That’s exactly what it was today. We caught our fish in the same spot, just seven hours apart.”
Coming off a really good pre-fish for this event, Allred had high hopes, but after yesterday’s weather dirtied the water, it quickly crashed his dreams.
“It’s one of those dirties that you can handline in dirty water and catch fish just as good as you can jigging when its clean, but sometimes it’s that type of dirty water where the fish don’t do anything. That’s kind of what it was today. The fish are there. I could see the fish down there, they just did not want to do anything. You have to find those very, very few active fish on days like today and we got lucky to find two of them.”
Allred is also hoping for better conditions tomorrow – namely better water clarity – and if that’s the case he thinks we might see some of the bags the Detroit River is known for.
“If we can get some clean water, we should see some 25- to 30-pound bags. This time of year, 30 to 40 pounds is not out of the question.”
Gordon fourth, Hanson fifth
Sitting in fourth place is Josh Gordon of Augres, Mich., who caught three walleyes weighing 11.46. Behind him, Curt Hanson of Mayville, N.D., rounds out the top five landing one massive walleye hitting the scale at 11.33.
Rounding out the top 10 pros after day one on the Detroit River:
6th: John Kopcok of Maidstone, Ontario, two walleyes, 10.72
7th: Craig Sleeman of Victor, N.Y., five walleyes, 10.35
8th: Jake Lapine of Oshkosh, Wis., four walleyes, 9.87
9th: Kal Ustishen of Chesaning, Mich., two walleyes, 9.85
10th: Ed Stachowski of Canton, Mich., two walleyes, 9.25 Tomorrow’s final day will launch and weigh in (3:30pm) at Elizabeth Park Marina in Trenton, Mich.