ESCANABA - With the 2013 walleye fishing season opening today, there are a lot of eager fishermen in the area wondering how much of an impact the late spring will have on their overall success.
The more experienced fishers know, however, the only way to find out is to cast their lines and hope for the best.
"The fishing may be a little more tricky than usual," said Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Fisheries Supervisor Jessica Mistak. "They may not be moving as much due to the cold, so anglers will have their work cut out for them."
Today is the official opening day of the walleye fishing season and the Escanaba River was busy this morning. Above, the mouth of the Escanaba River and Little Bay de Noc are filled with boats of fishermen getting an early-morning start. (Daily Press photo by Holly Richer)
Wally Viau of Escanaba works to unload a boat at the North Shore Boat Launch before launching to fish with friend Jim Hubert of Escanaba (not shown). (Daily Press photo by Holly Richer)
Mistak added that despite the conditions, early reports have been promising.
"We anticipate a good walleye opener for Big Bay de Noc," she said. "Some of the areas at the head of the bay, as well as the area known as 'the boot.' In Nahma, there are a lot of areas that are looking good. We're hopeful about it. People have been seeing some walleye during perch fishing."
Ken Lee, co-owner of Sall-Mar Resort Charter service in Rapid River, said that as a result of the unseasonably cold water, the fish are likely to hang out in the shallower reefs for some time.
"The fish are just coming off of the spawn and they aren't going to be very active," he said. "I suggest a very slow presentation, like drifting. Floating jigheads and nightcrawlers usually work pretty well for the first few nights of the season. Going slow is the key though."
He also said that crawler harnesses are always a staple out on the bay, and he has had a lot more people coming into the shop as the season is approaching to pick them up along with other gear.
"Some guys are even heading out at midnight (Wednesday)," he said. "Personally, I think the best fishing comes at the middle of the day when the water warms up a little."
Lee and his brother were originally from Cadillac. They had taken fishing trips to the U.P., and he said they always told themselves that if they had an opportunity to move here, they would jump on it.
"My brother and I quit our jobs, we took the plunge and bought a business," he said. "Luckily, we are still here after 17 years. It's the fishing that brought us here. Little and Big Bay de Noc.. This is it."
Keith Wils, owner of Walleye's Choice Guide Service in Gladstone, has been a captain for about 17 years now. He said he has seen cold strings like this before, but never in his time as a captain.
"With the crazy weather, it's obviously a concern," he said. "A lot of places up here still have some ice. Hopefully, the warm weather over the next few days will be a positive thing. As fishermen, all we can be is hopeful."
Chris Wahl, co-owner of Bay View and Tackle, had some advice for those who might be going out fishing for the first time.
"First, go with bright colors," he said. "Something that will stand out in that dark water. If you have to go with one kind of bait, go with night crawlers. They are always a safe bet. Just throw the lure out on the bottom and let the wind push you across the water. The bay north of Gladstone is usually a safe bet."
He added that this season is like many others; it's a lot of wait and see.
"There should be a good walleye bite going all day long," Wahl said. "But until we find out where they are, it'll take a day or two to see where things are at."