From its northern end at Windmill Light Point in Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River snakes its way for 32 miles past suburban neighborhoods, gleaming downtown office towers, heavily industrialized steel mills and numerous islands, both large and small, before emptying into Lake Erie at the Detroit River Light. A natural geographic boundary between the United States and Canada, the river offers fishing opportunities for every type of angler.
Twenty years ago, the river stood in silent testimony to the effects of more than a century of abuse. Its murky waters carried high levels of mercury, PCBs and other toxins. Instead of being a recreational treasure, it was an embarrassing reminder of our failure to protect the resources that were entrusted to us.
Today, the river is enjoying a remarkable renaissance. The Clean Water Act and other legislative and regulatory changes—combined with major cleanup efforts—have vastly improved water quality. While the restoration of the river is far from complete, it has shown an astonishing ability to heal itself. Once again it is cherished by the thousands of people who enjoy the waterway from its banks and beaches as well as from their boats.
The river offers a wide range of structure; from 40-foot deep channels with sharply sloping sides to expansive flats covered by water no more than a foot or two deep. At the upper end it averages 2000’ to 3000’ in width with sharp drop offs along the edges of the deep navigation channels. The bottom in this area is mostly made up of clay, gravel and sand with some scattered rocks.
The river begins to broaden in the middle section. From the north end of Fighting Island south to Grosse Isle, it is one to two miles wide and generally shallower than the upper section. Be careful when navigating in this area. When you leave the deeper water of the channels, you can quickly find yourself over one of the shallow flats so prevalent in this section. With the low water levels we’ve experienced lately, you may find yourself looking for a "Parts and Repairs" page on this site if you’re not careful here!
From Grosse Isle to the Detroit River Light is the section commonly referred to as the "lower river." The bottom here also is made up of sand and clay, but the scattered rock found up river is replaced with boulders the size of Buicks. A great deal of excavating and dredging went into the formation of the channels in this area. The resulting debris and irregularities provide plenty of hiding places for the more than 60 species of fish that call this river home. There are also more small bays and cuts found on the islands and along the shorelines on this end of the river.
Currents on the Detroit River are notoriously swift—especially through some of the deep, narrow channels—with speeds under normal conditions that exceed two miles per hour. Given the right conditions of wind and rain, currents can become even faster, reaching three miles per hour or more.
A good nautical chart, or a chart plotter with some "up to date" map data is a real timesaver for finding the many drop-offs, holes, sunken islands and other structure the river has to offer.
During the spring when the hog walleyes are in the river to spawn, fishing boat traffic in some of the hot spots (such as the Trenton Channel on the lower river) can be unbelievably thick. Everything from shallow-draft jon boats to deep-hulled cruisers line up to take their turn at angling for a trophy. Most of this early action takes place on the lower section of the river. This area is affectionately known as "Snag Alley." (Remember those Buicks?) It’s just as often called "walleye alley" though.
For less competition and a more forgiving bottom, you might want to try fishing the "middle" or "upper" sections of the river. These areas have a generally more "jig friendly" bottom, and can be just as productive, more so at times.
Even when the spring walleye bonanza has passed, the river remains busy throughout summer and fall with fishermen, pleasure boaters and cargo ships. According to the Detroit Port Authority, there were 5000 passages of commercial vessels through the Detroit River in 2000.
If you’re looking for challenging and rewarding opportunities to chase your favorite fish, chances are the Detroit River is the right place for you. All we ask is that you take good care of her! Keep your trash in the boat until you get back to the dock, get leaky gearboxes or fuel cells fixed before you launch and just use common sense out there. Together we can keep the "remarkable renaissance" going, for our sake and the sake of our children.