The spring walleye run on the Maumee River has a way of jolting anglers out of their winter funk and sending them dashing for the banks of the waterway.They usually show up well before the bulk of the fish have left the lake and started moving up the river.
Their waders might have developed a leak since last year, their fishing line likely is in need of being replaced, the river is too high, too muddy, and usually too swift, but the siren’s song of that first fish in four or five months followed by fresh walleye fillets is too tempting to ignore.
So the fishermen come. The scenario is a familiar one: The ice comes off, a little or a lot of rain recharges the river with water, and a lone, adventurous, and well-bundled soul finds a place on the shore to start casting. He catches one walleye, but when a picture of that single fish shows up on social media, the equivalent of the Biblical miracle of the loaves and the fishes takes place in the minds of eager fishermen (minus the loaves). They envision thousands of fish.
Brian Miller, the Michigan-based author of Fishing the Maumee River Walleye Run and a devoted aficionado of the annual event, says angler involvement in the run usually gets a shotgun start once that first walleye photo shows up on the web.
“With social media working the way it does in this day and age, when somebody catches a walleye, there will be a hundred guys out there before you know it,” Miller said. “And there will be very few fish caught because it is usually just too early. When all of this early rush takes place, the run is usually still a couple of weeks away.”
We watched that scenario play out on the Maumee recently. Despite the high water and tough fishing conditions, the anglers showed up shortly after the ice left the river. There were few fish caught, and the rogue walleye or two that were landed most likely were part of the river’s resident population — they live there all year — or an early rogue male charging up the river from the lake.
“There are some walleyes all over that river and they are the resident population, which is very small in number compared to what we see at the peak of the spawning run,” said Miller, a Swanton native and Anthony Wayne graduate. “But catching one walleye in late February or early March does not mean the run has started early.”
Miller said his years on the river have led him to think the start of the run varies slightly but usually occurs around March 15.
“The weather and river conditions can slide that back or forward a bit, but it doesn’t change much,” he said. “Some of the most experienced guys will target March 20 or 21 to start fishing.”
Mike Wilkerson, the fish management supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife based in the Findlay office, said that mid-March start usually is pretty reliable.
“The first time a male shows up on the spawning grounds doesn’t necessarily mean the run has started,” he said. “The start is based on significant numbers of fish moving into the river, not just a few fish.”
Wilkerson said the formula that triggers the Maumee River run is fairly complicated, and even if the weather stays unseasonably warm, he would not expect a big change in the start of the run.
“There are a number of cues involved in the spawning movement, including water temperature, water flow, and photo period (the length of daylight),” he said. “Those are all combined, but the photo period is a primary factor and a big reason the timing of the run doesn’t change drastically from year to year. My observation is the photo period is a big factor, so as the days get longer, the run gets closer to its start.”
Once things get under way, Miller said anglers should target their concentrated fishing efforts around the first couple of weeks of April. He said through the years, the peak of the run when the most fish are in the river usually falls in the period between April 1-14.
“Everyone has to budget their fishing time and make the maximum use of the time they have, so without a shadow of a doubt, I would try and hit that early part of April,” he said. “Again, weather and river conditions play with it a little, but those dates are usually pretty accurate.”
Miller, who is working on a second book on the walleye run, said anglers fishing the Maumee spawning run need to be focused, flexible, and always collecting data. He scouts the waterway at low-water in the late summer to map out holes and the composition of the river bottom in certain areas, looking for the best spawning grounds.
“My approach is always changing, as with anything, and my approach has definitely become more fine-tuned over years,” he said. “We all have to become more in-tune with how to figure this out, how to do it better, and how to utilize scouting, so when we do have the time to go, we increase our chances for success.”
Contact Blade Outdoors Editor Matt Markey at/; firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6068.
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