Mar. 22—DETROIT — As Spencer Berman looked out across the frozen and forbidding wide vein of water that separates this U.S. automotive industry capital from the Canadian city of Windsor a month ago, it was as if the Sylvania native and experienced Detroit River guide could see through that opaque platform of ice.
"I'm really expecting it will be a great run this spring," Berman said, "and it's not so much due to the fact there wasn't much fishing last year because of the pandemic, but it's just that the walleye numbers in Lake Erie are so high and a lot of those fish move in here to spawn."
The Detroit River, with its strong current and deep trough, supplies as much as 90 percent of the water for Lake Erie, serving as the conduit for the cold, clear flow from the Upper Great Lakes. While legions of walleye choose to spawn on Lake Erie's reefs and a much smaller number move up the Maumee and Sandusky rivers for this annual spring ritual, the Detroit River attracts walleye in huge numbers and considerable size.
"There are usually so many quality fish in there every spring — loads of five-to-seven pounders — and those things are a ball to catch jigging," Berman said. "It is not a stretch at all to say we are expecting big things. It's a safe bet that there will be loads of walleye caught this spring, and plenty of big fish in the mix."
Berman said the 2021 walleye spring run on the Detroit River is accompanied by an overdose of anticipation since much of last year's prime fishing days were lost due to state-mandated virus-related restrictions that some viewed as Draconian.
"I think everybody is antsy to get out there, especially since we lost about five weeks of fishing last spring," the Northview grad said. "Not only did they shut down guiding, but they also shut down all boating for a while. Never in a million years did I think I wouldn't be able to go out and fish in my boat, alone, but that's what we had to deal with here."
Berman said the biggest obstacle he expects to face this spring is the international border with Ontario remaining closed. Since the boundary demarcation is an invisible line slicing down the middle of the river, the wind and current can combine to make it very tough to avoid wandering into Canadian waters.
"That border closing is a serious issue since the fish don't pay any attention to where the line is," Berman said, adding that he customarily has his clients purchase a one-day Ontario fishing license in addition to their Michigan license so he can work multiple areas that historically have been productive.
"I guess I can understand them wanting to restrict people coming into Canada, but I'd like to see it relaxed a bit so we can at least go into their side of the river and stay in the water," he said. "You are in the outdoors and it is not the ideal environment for this virus when you factor in the chilly air, the wind, and all of that cold water."
Berman, who is a former world champion muskie fisherman and focuses exclusively on that species when he moves his guiding operation to Lake St. Clair in June, said he plans to start taking clients out on the Detroit River to pursue walleye later this week.
"It is amazing to watch, but regardless of the weather and if we have a hard winter or an easier winter, we always seem to start fishing the walleye run at about the same time — last week of March," he said. "It seems like those fish start running when nature tells them to, and it's right about the same time every spring. And this year, I think Erie will be pushing a lot of fish up that river."
Berman said many of his spring walleye fishing clients come to the Detroit River to avoid the crowded wading conditions they have encountered on the Maumee River or the fickle nature of a wind-whipped Lake Erie.
"This river provides a lot of favorable circumstances for fishermen since you are not wading and you are in a boat where you are much more protected than out on Lake Erie," he said. "And it is not trolling like a lot of guys are doing on Lake Erie — this is all rod-in-hand fishing, and a lot of people put a premium on that."
Berman, who can be contacted at 419-410-0498 or via his spencersanglingadv.com website, said that after decades on this waterway, he is convinced the Detroit River walleye run is unmatched anywhere in the country and that it dwarfs the run on the Maumee.
"Numbers-wise, I think this run is probably hundreds of times as many fish," Berman said. "When this turns on, we are just hammering the walleyes and getting limits that can average 8 pounds or more. You don't see anything like that on the Maumee. The volume of fish and the number of big fish you see in this run — it's just amazing."
Detroit River tackle: Toledo-area tackle supplier Netcraft has developed a special walleye jig designed for the Detroit River's deep water and strong current. The Proeye Walleye Jig comes in a variety of color patterns and is equipped with 3-D living eyes and a 4/0 Eagle Claw "Lil Nasty" black nickel sickle hook. The lure head is balanced so the jig fishes horizontally to keep it in the prime strike zone.