May is a very fickle month for a die hard river rat. By now the water temps are up in the 45 to 50 degree range and the big girls are out of the river. The males are in feeding mode now and that means easy limits. Problem is that it doesn’t seem to last very long anymore. Back in the 80’s it was a given that the walleye fishing would be fantastic until mid month. It still can be now but we have to deal with something else. That’s right; my favorite’s…….the White Bass.
For the last 5 or 6 years it seems like this run has lasted longer than the previous year and produced more and more fish each time it happens. There has always been a healthy population but now it seems like they completely take over the entire river system. Some people can’t wait for them to show up. I’m not one of them. The DNR could take away the possession limit and it wouldn’t bother me one bit. Like death and taxes though they are a constant annoyance and they have to be dealt with. Walleye can be caught though during these trying times, the tactics just have to change.
There are a couple of options I have to avoid the White Bass. Though they are not entirely fool proof they can at times drastically reduce my catch and still put walleye in the boat. The first one is to change presentations. This time of year I will jig more than any other. I use a ¾ ounce jig and a Wyandotte Worm and I will jig the channel edges north of the Grosse Isle free bridge. I will still catch White Bass but I will also catch the occasional walleye. It won’t be a lot of them but I can usually manage to put a couple in the cooler until it gets dark. Once it gets dark I put the rod away and head back downstream. Now some may ask why I don’t just stay where I am. Well the reason is that I hate catching White Bass in deep water Handlining, especially 3, 4 or 5 at a time. It’s bad enough in 10 feet of water but 30 feet down gets old in a hurry. Some nights it’s not a problem, usually dark, cloudy no moon periods. Other times though they will feed all night. I never know what they are going to do so I limit my exposure and hassles as much as possible. Besides, I really enjoy fishing that 10 to 15 feet of water in The Channel. Again, there are walleye all up and down the river, it’s just a question of fishing where someone is most comfortable.
Once it is well past sunset I will set up in my usual areas and run the same leads with one change. The Rapala’s stay in the box and out come the pencil plugs, or more specifically Nite Stalkers. A Nite Stalker is nothing more than a plastic pencil plug. For years pp’s (pencil plugs) were made by hand and out of wood. Nothing wrong with them and there are plenty of them in handliner tackle boxes. I just like the Nite Stalkers (I wonder how many more shameless plugs I can get it in?) because they are plastic, they have great color patterns and most importantly the eye on the front is forward enough that I can use the same crank bait snaps I use for other body baits and spoons. The old wooden pencil plugs have the eye set so far back in the cup of the head that I can’t get the snap on. I don’t like fighting with lures when I should be fishing so I just stick to the Nite Stalkers (4). Besides, they come in a lot of chrome patterns and I like chrome. Also, Nite Stalkers (5) are made right here locally in Michigan and I’m all for supporting the local businesses.
Now on most nights a White Bass won’t bother with a pp, they don’t have a lot of action so they won’t trigger a lot of strikes. There are those nights when it just doesn’t matter, usually during the very peak of the run. There are ways around that as well but I will discuss that later. I will still get a few but no where near the 100 or so I would catch if I was using a Rapala. That’s not an exaggeration either, a handliner could very easily catch 100 or more in an evening during the run when using Rapala’s or spoons. Over the years I have kept track and I average about 2 or 3 white bass for every walleye caught using Nite Stalkers (6) or pp’s. If I was running Rapala’s or Spoons the number would increase 10 fold. Fortunately for me I live so close that if I get one of those nights where they just won’t stop I can always go in and try another day. I feel sorry for those that have to make the long drive. They are pretty much stuck and just have to deal with it.
One more thing about Nite Stalkers (7) and I promise I will quit. They have big sharp hooks and a lot of them. I don’t lose too many walleye when I am using them. They don’t dive as much as a Rapala either so I don’t tend to get hung up as much. Also, Nite Stalkers (8) are almost half the price of a New Rapala.
Now one of my other tactic changes is that I fish a lot later at night. The run coincides with each passing day getting longer so I have to start later. Because of this most of my fishing is reserved for Friday and Saturday night since I don’t have to work the next day. Since I don’t have to worry about getting up the next morning that opens up another opportunity, fishing farther north……the St. Clair River.
The St. Clair River poses some new challenges, they aren’t too difficult but they have to be taken into consideration. The first is the drive. Depending on where I go it can be 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours. That may not seem like much but when it’s past midnight and I am driving home the extra time starts to be a grind. Another thing to consider is that the St. Clair is deeper and the current is faster than the Trenton Channel. Water depths average over 30 feet and with the current I have to use a 2 pound weight. Just think about bouncing that weight along the bottom for a few hours. It can make for a long night, especially if I’m not catching anything. There is a trade off though, the White Bass are non-existent. Now that I have typed this I’m sure they will show up but I have yet to catch one up there. I can use Nite Stalker’s (9, sorry) here as well but with no threat of White Bass I usually run my Rapala’s. Another good point about fishing up this way is that the size limit is only 13 inches and the daily possession limit is 6. Kind of makes that extra drive a little more worthwhile. Now that the DNR have changed the possession limit to 3 days I am planning a weekend trip up to Algonac. Stay at the Algonac State Park, fish Friday and Saturday night, sleep in, and have a fish fry Saturday before I head out.
The last tactic to avoid catching them is to just not even fish for them to begin with. Between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day I tend to break out the fly rod. Bluegill and Trout are always a lot of fun on a 4 or 5 weight rod. With the brutal winter we had I spent a lot of time filling up the fly box both with traditional trout flies and foam patterns. I should be all set. I’ll probably go visit a local pond this Memorial Day weekend. I could go for a fresh bluegill dinner.
So there it is my White Bass avoidance tactics or my Year in a Life strategy for May. Of course this same strategy will carry over into June and maybe even July if they don’t leave.