Reel Detroit | Fishing in Metro Detroit

Modified: January 04, 2019 | Story by Bill Bowen and Mark Romanack | Photos by Bill Bowen

The last time I went fishing was on a rocky, tree-sheltered creek in the Upper Peninsula. I was maybe 9 or 10 years old at the time, and I was as clueless about fishing then as I was when I decided to take on this “special” writing and photo assignment.

The little I did know about the sport: I needed bait, hooks, fishing line, a pole and a license. But to really get things started, I called my buddy, Chris Temple, general manager of Bert’s Custom Tackle. I knew he could save me on this one. “Chris,” I told him, “I need to rent a charter or some kind of boat to get real-world experience. Help!”

Two days later, we were on an amazing 37-foot yacht, Hold On (which isn’t available for charters, I should note), complete with tackle and snacks, and marvelous views of the Detroit skyline and the distant horizon. To boot, the weather gods were feeling very generous, blessing us with a 70-degree, cloud-free day smack in the middle of October – perfect.

As the newbie fisherman, I was informed that it was muskie season. “Sweet! Let’s go snag some muskie,” I said, not really knowing what a muskie was.


So My Day Went Something Like This

7 a.m. It’s gray, chilly and I didn’t have my espresso. We got to the marina in Grosse Pointe and boarded the Hold On.

9 a.m. We left the dock. Captain Tim and his first mate, Matt (both asked that their last names be omitted), were in charge. Chris, Johnny O., a friend who I had called in last minute to join us, and I were along for the ride.

10 a.m. The captain and his mate got the gear ready. The sun came out. The fleece came off.

11 a.m. Everything was set – riggings, bait, lines, rods and reels. My camera and pen were ready. Game on.

11:15 a.m. We were trolling the lake when Matt snagged a muskie – pretty big.

11:30 a.m. Johnny O. caught the next one – not too bad.

Noon Chris got another – fairly sizeable.

12:30 p.m. The captain dragged in the next – so far, the biggest of the day.


The Monster

In the meantime, I was leaning over the edge of the boat, running around and sometimes hanging on by a rope, snapping pictures, capturing all the action. There were the obligatory woo-hoos and high-fives with each fish, as they got bigger with every catch. I watched and considered my lack of fishing skills and knowledge. “No way am I doing that,” I thought. “It can’t go well.”

As if reading my mind, Captain Tim said to Johnny O. and me, “Do you have any clue how lucky you are to see all this happening?” And then, turning to Chris, “They have no idea.” He was right. The captain explained in more detail.

“Not only is this the most beautiful waterway in the world and – look, the sky’s amazingly clear – but it takes at least – at least – 80 hours of trolling to snag muskie like these. So guess what? It’s your turn. Stop taking pictures and get over here.” I did.

1 p.m. We trolled some more.

1:15 p.m. I was ready to head back to shore, what, with the snacks running out and my stomach on empty. Plus, I had all the details and photos I needed to hopefully complete this story.

1:30 p.m. “Fish onnnnn,” Chris unexpectedly yelled. He handed me the rod and reel.

“What the (insert profanity here) am I supposed to do with this?” “Reel it in, Billy.” “What?” “Reel it in, Billy.” “How?” Stressed and laughing so loudly with excitement, I froze for what seemed like 30 minutes (but for what was probably more like three seconds). “Okay Bill,” I thought, “pull it together.”

Chris was netting a muskie. The captain and first mate were dancing around while I was holding the rod, frozen with the biggest smile on my face. “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God,” was all I could utter. Finally, I got it together and heard everyone – except for Johnny O., the other novice fisherman on the boat – telling me to lower the rod and crank the reel at the same time. “But whatever you do,” they all agreed, “don’t let go!”

“Yeah, right. Easy for you to say,” I thought, as I maniacally pulled and reeled as hard as I could. With aching arms, I fought on, thinking, “This has got to be a whale.” The fish slowly grew closer. Chris was ready at the side of the boat with the net, telling me, “It’s a big one.” I was simply trying to survive and breathe between my insane laughter and manly fisherman grunts, which weren’t actually all that manly.

Chris netted that big one and there were the traditional high-fives all the way around. My arms were like rubber and I was still buzzing with energy. It was the biggest catch of the day and measured about 42 inches, which, when held upright, was the same height as my 9-year-old son. Somehow, I had managed to reel in the biggest fish of my life on my first muskie outing – and my first fishing trip since my childhood.

And that’s no fish tale.

If you want to experience the same rush I had, make sure to grab your friends and hook up with the right charter crew to find my monster muskie, which we released back into the lake so somebody else could have a chance at reeling him in. Bill Bowen, one of the creative directors and principals of Octane Design, might be a legend in his own mind. We’re not sure.


An Expert’s Take

Booking a charter-fishing trip is the fast track to zeroing in on the best fishing in most bodies of water. Licensed captains are not only knowledgeable about the waters they fish, but also typically provide all the needed gear, lures and bait.

Depending on the type of fishing, a charter trip can last a few hours or be an all-day adventure.

It never hurts to ask what’s included in a charter fishing trip. Generally, captains provide the boat, fuel, fishing equipment, terminal tackle (the end-of-the-line equipment such as hooks, weights and bobbers), bait and fish-cleaning services upon trip end. Food, drinks and snacks are normally the responsibility of the charter guests.

The Great Lakes connecting waters – which include the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River – are home to countless fish species and angling opportunities. The many varieties found in these waters vary by the season.

In the spring, the most abundant and sought-after species include walleye, yellow perch, northern pike and steelhead. As spring eases into summer and, later, fall, the fishing focus changes to include a mix of warm-water kinds such as smallmouth and largemouth bass, white bass and the region’s famed mega-sized muskies.

Walleye are best teased with medium-action spinning tackle, armed with 8- to 10-pound test braided fishing line and lead head jigs, or lures, ranging in weight from 3/8 to 3/4 ounce. Putting a live shiner minnow on the jig is customary, but many anglers prefer to use soft plastic minnow imitations. Smallmouth bass are also targeted with spinning tackle.

A suitable rod and reel combination for bass fishing includes a medium to medium-heavy action rod from six to seven feet in length matched to a spinning reel capable of holding 150 yards of 10- to 15-pound test super braid line.

Bass anglers will find that a mixture of jigs tipped with soft plastic grubs or jigs and tube baits work wonders. Spinnerbaits are also important bass lures when fishing in or around weed cover. Diving crankbaits rank high on the list of bass lures when fishing sea walls, docks and rocky shorelines.


O Captain! My Captain

  • Captain Gerry Gostenik of Gerry Gostenik’s Great Lakes Bass Fishing Guide Service is the leader of the pack in terms of charters that specialize in catching smallmouth and largemouth bass on Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River and the Detroit River. He also runs spring walleye trips on the Detroit River.
  • Captain Lance Valentine of Walleye 101 specializes in Detroit River walleye charters, with an emphasis on teaching clients the finer points of walleye jig fishing.
  • Captain Doug Samsal, a Bass Pro Shop “Preferred Guide,” is a multi-species charter captain who targets walleye on the St. Clair River, bass on Lake St. Clair, and muskie on Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit and St. Clair rivers.
  • Captain Don Miller of Miller’s Sportfishing Charters specializes in trolling for trophy-class muskie using specialized tactics he helped pioneer on Lake St. Clair.
  • Captains Mike Pittiglio and Kris Foksinski of Muskie Mania Sportfishing Charters and Walleye Mania Sportfishing tackle vertical jigging for walleye on the Detroit River in the spring, and troll for muskie on Lake St. Clair in the summer and fall.


Order and Eat

If you’re a catch-and-release type person, here are some favorite Detroit-area spots where you can get a taste of fresh- and seawater fare after a day of angling.

  • Andiamo Detroit Riverfront: Italian may not seem like a typical after-fishing meal, but this Andiamo location is located right on the banks of the Detroit River. And not to worry, they offer excellent seafood options.
  • Portofino Italian Restaurant: Located downriver in Wyandotte, Portofino has plenty to offer aside from great ambience. Fish dishes include whitefish (from the Great Lakes) and lake perch (which the restaurant dubs “A Downriver Classic”). And if you’re not yet tired of boating, you can even hop on Portofino’s Friendship cruiser for yet another river romp.
  • River Crab Restaurant at the Blue Water Inn: Located on the banks of the St. Clair River, this restaurant offers plenty of food, drinks and good times. And its front porch, which is a popular dining spot during the warmer seasons, is almost within arm’s reach of the water.
  • Sindbad’s Restaurant & Marina: Located just a mile east of Belle Isle, Sindbad’s is a great, laid-back place to hold out your hands and exclaim over a fine surf or turf meal, “It was this big!” Oh, and it has up-close views of the Detroit River.


Shout Outs

Special thanks to Chris Temple of Bert’s Custom Tackle for making all this happen. And thanks to Captain Tim and First Mate Matt for helping me land my monster, as well as allowing us to use Captain Tim’s beautiful privately owned, non-charter 37-foot Tiara yacht, Hold On, which is docked at the Michigan Harbor Marina within the Nautical Mile on Lake St. Clair.


See more Detroit things to do.

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Mentioned Attractions And Venues

  1. 1
    Andiamo Detroit Riverfront
    400 GM Renaissance Center, Detroit, MI 48243
  2. 2
    Manistee River Charter
    Michigan Harbor, 24600 Jefferson Ave, St Clair Shores, Macomb County, MI 48080, United States
  3. 3
    Muskie Mania Sportfishing Charters
    Jefferson Beach Marina, 24400 Jefferson Ave., St. Clair Shores, MI 48080
  4. 4
    Gregory Marina, 9666 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit, MI 48214
  5. 5
    Portofino Italian Restaurant
    3455 Biddle Ave., Wyandotte, MI 48192
  6. 6
    River Crab Restaurant at the Blue Water Inn
    1337 River Road, St Clair, MI 48079, United States
  7. 7
    Michigan Harbor Marina
    24600 Jefferson Ave, St Clair Shores, MI 48080, United States
  8. 8
    Bert's Custom Tackle
    1250 Ladd Road, Walled Lake, MI 48390, United States
    800-367-3726, ext. 236
  9. 9
    Michigan Harbor Marina
    24600 Jefferson Ave, St Clair Shores, MI 48080, United States