With the weather warming up, people are heading back out to Trenton’s Elizabeth Park to enjoy some fresh air. Not everyone is looking to stay on dry land, however.
Squirrels and rabbits roam the island Elizabeth Park sits upon, but the dark water of the Detroit River teems with wildlife like honking geese, cawing gulls, majestic bald eagles and swimming ducks that all call the area home. Beneath the waves, however, lies a true bounty for fishing enthusiasts.
Trenton’s stretch of the Detroit River, running to Lake Erie from Lake St. Clair to the north, has a reputation for some of the best fishing in the state and beyond.
“It’s some of the best fishing in the country, maybe even the world,” said Paul Van Hooser, manager of the Elizabeth Park Marina.
Fishing enthusiasts can head out about 100 yards into the river and find plenty of fish, especially walleye, Van Hooser added. “Once you launch your boat you don’t have to go far.”
Currently, walleye is in season, as the fish are moving into shallower water from Lake Erie to spawn.
The park just wrapped up their part of the Cabela’s Master Walleye Circuit tournament for the Detroit River, which saw Brownstown natives Greg Bliznik and Keith Greear win with 43 pounds of walleye after the first day; the second day was canceled due to inclement weather.
While on a day-to-day basis cold weather doesn’t have much effect on the river because water temperature doesn’t change much overnight, the strong winds reduced water levels and made it difficult for the boat ramps to be usable.
According to Frank Chakrabarty, owner and operator of the Trenton Lighthouse bait shop, the area features some of the best walleye fishing in the United States.
“It’s been written up all the way to the west coast,” he said.
In a few weeks, the river will see the start of bass season, with runs of silver bass, small-mouth bass and large-mouth bass. All of this will lead to bass fishing tournaments later in the year.
The Bassmaster Classic tournament, one of which was held last year from Trenton, is the largest bass fishing tournament in the world, he said, and attracts fishermen from across the globe, including places such as Japan or Australia. Chakrabarty felt that this area is probably the best in the country for bass fishing, as well as perch.
Van Hooser agreed, saying that he’s seen fishermen come in from the other side of the state and beyond.
While the Great Lakes region in general is known for its fishing industry, with sport fishing contributing $4 billion a year, according to government figures, the Detroit River’s narrow channel is a boon to fishing in general.
Van Hooser praised Trenton’s location over other local berths though, such as Wyandotte’s, due to Trenton’s closer location to Lake Erie.
The fish funnel into this area from the lake to the river from this end, he explained, so they show up earlier in Trenton.
Chakrabarty calls the area’s fishing “very good to excellent,” and had his own ideas on why Trenton’s fishing is so highly regarded, including its location. He believes it is due to the geography of the area, which features shallower, narrow waters created by the land limiting the effect of wind and storms.
“Only the north wind bothers us,” he said. “We’re lucky that way. The wider and deeper the water, the worse it can get.”
With less wind, the waters stay calmer and are less prone to getting stirred up and dirty. Dirty waters make it difficult for fish to spot bait.
Chakrabarty also noted the wide variety of fish that come through this section of the river. In addition to walleye, bass and perch, he and Van Hooser said that muskie, sturgeon, steelhead, carp, shad, pike, and catfish can all be found at different times of the year.
“Anything in Michigan can run that river,” Chakrabarty added.
Not all fishing enthusiasts agree with Van Hooser and Chakrabarty’s assessment, however. One fisherman, who wanted to remain anonymous, was heading out on the river and remarked that he didn’t really like it that much.
“I only come here because the other areas are all taken up,” he said.
His sentiments don’t seem to be too common, though. Chakrabarty said that in a few weeks, the bank fishermen will start out in force, adding that it could be wall-to-wall.
Even in the winter, the area is a popular spot for ice fishing, giving way to boats once the ice breaks up. He also said that there could be 200-300 boats on the river when the season gets into full swing, with many of those fishermen catching fish to take home and eat.
Chakrabarty said that many of those fishermen are regulars to the area and stop by his shop, located just outside of Elizabeth Park.
“I’d say about 60% are repeat customers,” he explained. “Some are from all over.”
In the 22 years that it has been in business, the Lighthouse has catered to the large fishing contingent that comes through on the way to the park, opening in the spring and operating through the fall seven days a week.
The store carries vital goods, such as breakdown equipment for emergencies, fishing lines, food and the mainstay of the fishing community: bait.
Artificial bait, such as crankbaits, rubber worms, spinners and plastic bait are available, but the live bait is more popular among the Trenton crowd.
Minnows, night crawlers, crayfish, leeches and waxworms are more frequently used by fishermen here for catching fish like walleye, Chakrabarty explained.
The fish will begin to fill the river and the waters will soon become inundated with fishermen. Chakrabarty believes that the area is of vital importance.
“We’re very lucky to have the river," he said.