April Gold: Tips on Jigging the Erie Reefs

Lake Erie continues to be the best walleye fishery in the world. Jig-fishing the Western Basin reefs in early spring is one of the best ways to fill your cooler with gold-flecked slabs.

One of my good friends is Capt. Denny Hoover who runs Breakaway Fishing Charters out of Port Clinton. He’s an outstanding charter captain who’s always on the fish.

Hoover has many tips to help you put fish in your boat.

“Early in the spring you want to be in the Western Basin on the rock reefs and mud flats,” he said. “Look for any warmer water, and sometimes even a one-degree change can make a big difference.”

I asked him about water color and clarity.

“Looked for stained water—it’s generally better than either clear water or muddy, dirty water. If you find a mudline, the cleaner side of it can be hot.”

Hoover will explore all the depths around a reef, from the top to the bottom.

“I usually start on the top of the reef first thing in the morning. As the sun rises and the day moves on, I’ll work down the sides all the way to the base of the reef, down to the bottom of the drop-off.”

When it comes to lures and baits, Denny knows what works best. After all, he’s had 26 years of experience.

“I like hair jigs early when the water is still cold. Work them slowly using a 4- to 6-inch lift-and-fall technique. As the water warms, jigs and plastics can be the ticket, but any day can be different from the previous one.”

For jiggin, Denny likes 6- to 7-foot rods with fast action. He spools his reels with 10-pound-test Power Pro and adds a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader.

I wondered what his strategy is when he has a full charter of six fishermen.

“It can be helpful to start out with six different presentations to see what works best for that day—different jigs, different colors and some tipped with a shiner. We can then fine-tune things as the fish tell us what they like.”

In the early spring when the water is still cold, Hoover knows that stinger hooks can really improve your catch rate.      “Normally, but not always, cold water means slower action so slow down your retrieve and use a stinger hook.”

I asked him what some beginners do wrong too.

“Many times, I’ll see guys blast their boats right on top of the reef they plan to fish. When the water depth is only 10 feet there it spooks fish. It’s best to quietly motor around the reef so you drift on top, reducing the chance to scare walleyes away. Yes, some guys show a lack of courtesy to other boats and sure it gets crowded when the bite is on, but when you pull up, avoid stopping right in the front of somebody else’s drift pattern—it’s a big lake with a lot of reefs.”

Since April water is followed with even warmer water, what does he do differently?

“Based in part on the interest of the customer, we’ll drift or troll. Drift fishing is usually better when Erie has a 1 to 3-foot chop.

“I try to work the entire water column. I’ll have some fishermen dragging bottom-bouncers and others at halfway down. To fish the top of the water column, some guys will cast weapon rigs. If customers like to troll, we’ll pull crankbaits like Bandits on 30-pound braid. We’ll still be near the reefs and mud flats, but in deeper water.”

He added that the baitfish begin to migrate north and east, and the walleyes follow them.

“Generally, you should stay in 25 to 30 feet of water.”

As the water warms he trolls spoons from Gale Force Tackle.

“In general, I really don’t have a favorite spoon or crankbait; I do my best to let the fish tell me what’s going on.”

Denny is a full-service captain and can arrange your lodging and fish cleaning. Live bait is provided on his boat, which is roomy and comfortable. His rig is docked at Wild Wings, a marina a little west of Port Clinton.

As the fall later this year morphs into winter, Hoover forsakes the rugged Erie weather and heads to Florida until late March. There, he guides for snook, redfish, tarpon, sea trout, snapper and flounder on the Gulf of Mexico side near St. James City, so guiding all 12 months of the year.

Mike Bergstrom of Lake Geneva, Wis. has been a client of Hoover’s for a long time.

“I’ve been charter fishing with Capt. Hoover for 10 years. I’ve been on many other charters throughout North America during the same time, and the thing that distinguishes Denny from other captains is his respect for his clients. He understands we get upset and are disappointed when we can’t get out because the waves may be 7 feet high or the water is so muddy nobody is catching fish.”

He added that he also has rods and reels and other equipment for clients. And if you’re not catching fish, he’ll guide you.

“Denny always give us the straight scoop and that’s the best thing one can ask for. In addition to being an excellent captain and a fun guy, he is down to earth and very humble.”


For more, contact Capt. Dennis Hoover at Breakaway Fishing Charters at 810-300-0529 or email him at breakawayfishing@gmail.com.