Posters help educate anglers, residents about the fishery
By Jim Bloch
Can spreading a little knowledge help residents appreciate the aquatic inhabitants of the St. Clair River and help anglers catch fish?
Those are the goals of Brendan Anthony Harter.
This past summer, Harter built two weather-resistant kiosks to display informative posters featuring pictures of the migratory fishes of Great Lakes, information about the St. Clair River’s fishery, a map of the river, and a close-up look at one of the river’s most popular fishing targets, the walleye.
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One on the kiosks stands next to the fish cleaning station near the boat ramp at the Charles F. Moore Boat Harbor in St. Clair, the other next to the fishing pier on the Pine River.
Harter constructed the kiosks as part of his Eagle Scout project.
The city council hoped to present Harter with a certificate of accomplishment back in August. But work obligations kept him away from the Aug. 5 meeting.
“We sent him the certificate and acknowledged him at the meeting,” said Trice Hawkins, director of St. Clair recreation.
The poster notes that the St. Clair River runs 40 miles from its origins at the south end of Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair — a very good, if not Great Lake. Among many of its functions, the river serves to separate the U.S. from Canada.
On the U.S. side, the St. Clair River is fed by three major tributaries, the Black River in Port Huron, the Pine River in St. Clair and the Belle River in Marine City.
“Research has shown that some fish migrate from Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron all the way to Lake Erie through the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River,” the poster says.
The main reasons fish travel up and down the river is to reach their spawning grounds and to search for food. Fish spawn in the spring, triggered by the warming water.
“Spring is a great time to fish here,” the poster says.
More than 65 species are known to travel up and down the St. Clair River.
The most commonly caught fish in the river are walleye, white or silver bass, salmon, steelhead, freshwater drum or sheepshead, channel catfish and sturgeon.
“Other species not as common in the river but still caught occasionally are northern pike, muskellunge, whitefish, brown trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rocker bass, blue gill, sunfish, yellow perch and crappie,” according to the poster.
The “true fishing call to fame” for the river, however, is walleye.
“Anglers come from all over the country to fish walleye in the St. Clair River,” the poster says.
It has a separate breakout section that shows photos of walleyes, details their key characteristics and discusses how to catch them.
“Walleye are typically found in 15-30 feet of water,” the poster says. “They like to bed down on sandy bottoms and on top of rocks.”
Walleye do not like sunlight and will hide out in weed-beds to avoid it. They prefer choppy water that reflects the sun off the river’s surface. They hang out in the deep, cooler water of the shipping channel during the daytime and move into shallower waters to dine on baitfish in the evenings.
“Walleye are very sensitive to the sun, so they’re most active just before sundown, at night, and just after sun up,” the poster says.
Underwater, they prefer areas that are calmer, where there is an interruption in the fast current of the river.
They spawn in late April or early May when the water temperature reaches 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Unique way of fishing on the St. Clair River
Fishing from a boat gives the angler the ability to move where the walleye are, especially during the day when they are likely to be in the shipping channels.
“Typically, anglers will vertical jig or drift with a crawler harness throughout the day,” according to the poster. “In the spring, vertical jigging is more productive and as summer arrives, crawler harnesses become more fruitful.
“Toward evening as the walleye move to shallower waters, many anglers will anchor their boats close to shore, typically in water 22 feet deep or less, and use a method of fishing unique to the St. Clair River known as ‘whipping’ (also known as jerk fishing or chucking). Whipping is a technique utilizing a short, stiff rod (typically four feet or less), controlling a line rigged to one or two leaders hooked to baits like Rapalas or pencil plugs and a two or three ounce sinker about three feet below the leader lines. This method utilizes the current of the river to provide action to the body baits. The angler will pull the whipping rod back, lifting the sinker off the bottom and moving the body baits. He then lets the whipping rod back down and allows the sinker to find the bottom of the river again. As he does this repeatedly, he lets out the line a little at a time allowing his baits to work downstream. This is a very productive method of fishing the St. Clair River…”
Catching tagged fish
If an angler catches a fish with a jaw tag or disk tag on its gill, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources asks that it be reported at michigandnr.com/tagged fish. The DNR requests that the angler to note the location of the catch, the length of the fish, its weight and tag ID number. The fish may be harvested or released. In return, anglers will receive a letter from the DNR detailing the history of the fish. If the tag has a PO Box number on it, take a photo of it and send it to the DNR. You’ll be eligible for a reward.
Jim Bloch is an award-winning freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. He writes about the environment, local politics, art, music, history and culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.