August 01, 2007
|The crankbait bite on Saginaw Bay is alive and well! Mark Romanack photo|
From the mouth of the Saginaw River to Gravely Shoals Light, Saginaw Bay is on fire. In the 20 plus years I've fished this body of water, I've never seen more walleyes being taken in more places! Literally every corner of the Bay is producing fish.
To date this summer I've enjoyed great fishing trips out of Quanicassee, the mouth of the Saginaw River, Linwood, Pinconning and AuGres. Others are catching limits of walleye at Sand Point, the Charity Islands, near Fish Point, at the end of the shipping channel and on the Callahan Reef.
I've caught fish as shallow as 10 feet and as deep as 40. I've taken fish on the bottom, suspended midway in the water column and literally right on the surface. I've caught fish on crankbaits, spoons and crawler harnesses. I know guys who are catching fish in the weeds, guys who are using jigging spoons on rock structure, guys who are trolling and guys who are drifting. In short, just about everything in the book of walleye fishing is producing right now on Saginaw Bay!
To be honest I'm a little surprised that Saginaw Bay has seemingly turned into a mega fishery almost overnight. For the past two fishing seasons, walleye have literally been suicidal and fishing success during all the seasons has never been better. I'd like to say all this success is because of the massive stocking program that reclaimed the Bay starting back in the early 80's, but the truth is many of the fish currently being caught are not stocked fish, but rather wild fish that successfully spawned either in the tributary river systems feeding the Bay or in Saginaw Bay itself.
Perhaps my most recent fishing trip says it all. I was fishing out of AuGres with three friends. Catching our four man 20 fish limit of walleye took only about two hours. Keeping six lines in the water was almost impossible! In the same period of time we caught and released at least 20 walleye under the minimum 15 inch size limit. Some of these sub-legal walleye were as small as eight inches.
Keeping in mind that Saginaw Bay hasn't seen supplemental stocking efforts in two years, the many short fish we caught could only be natural or wild reared fish. As much as I'm a proponent of stocking, I can't help but admit that what's making Saginaw Bay such a good fishery right now likely has more to do with natural reproduction than the stocking efforts this fishery was built upon.
When spawning conditions are right, walleye are capable of producing many times more young than any stocking program could ever muster. The big question remains, why are the walleye of Saginaw Bay suddenly experiencing better spawning success than ever before?
Not even the fish biologists from the DNR can conclusively answer this question. The most popular theory suggests that the increase in natural reproduction seems to correspond perfectly with the decline of the alewife in Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron.
Alewives are aggressive little fish that given the opportunity feed heavily on other fish fry. Both young walleye and yellow perch are preyed upon by alewives. Could it be that fewer alewives in this fishery has allowed both the walleye and perch fry to enjoy better survival rates?
This theory makes sense and it's a fact that alewive numbers are at an all time low in this fishery. I find it ironic that a fish like walleye that feed readily on alewives are actually benefiting from the decline of this species. Will walleye in the Saginaw Bay drainage basin continue to see these spikes of natural reproduction? No one knows for sure what will happen to the alewife population or walleye natural reproduction in the future, but for now the walleye and walleye fishermen have the upper hand.
More and more anglers are discovering that trolling spoons are a quick way to walleye limits on Saginaw Bay. Two spoons are dominating the catch including the Wolverine Jr. Streak and the Michigan Stinger Scorpion. Both are small spoons that have good action at slow, moderate and fast trolling speeds.
Two popular ways are being used to deploy these spoons to the depths suspended walleye frequent. The Luhr Jensen Jet Diver is a floating/diving style diver that comes in several sizes. The 10 and 20 sizes are ideal for trolling walleye spoons.
The Jet Diver is tied directly to the fishing line and a 48-72 inch leader added to the back of the diver. At the business end it's important to use a small ball bearing swivel that's attached to the spoon. Using a lesser quality swivel will reduce the natural action of these spoons.
The ideal leader material is fluorocarbon line in the 15-20 pound test range. Fluorocarbon has the advantage of being nearly invisible in the water and super tough.
The other popular method used to deploy spoons are the mini disk diving planers. Like the Jet Diver, the spoon is attached using a leader and ball bearing swivel. Big Jon produces two sizes of these disks that are ideal for trolling up walleye with spoons. Walker recently introduced the Deeper Diver that also comes in a small enough size to be suitable for walleye trolling.
The Jet Divers, Big Jon Mini Disks and the Walker Deeper Diver can all be fished in combination with planer boards, making them especially deadly on open water walleye.
THE WORM BITE
It's hard to beat a night crawler harness when fishing on Saginaw Bay. No matter where a walleye might be in the water column, there is a handy system for fishing crawlers.
When walleye are found on the bottom, the classic bottom bouncer weight armed with a 40-50 inch crawler harness works well. Bottom bouncers are easy to fish and very effective. They can be slow trolled or drifted with equal success.
The key to using bottom bouncers is making sure the boat speed is set and stable before setting lines. Fishing with the wind is important. It's nearly impossible to fish bottom bouncers when running against the waves.
Boat speed dictates how much line it takes to just tick along the bottom. If a bottom bouncer is set at one speed, then the boat is slowed down or speeds up, that delicate contact with bottom is lost.
The best overall speed for fishing bottom bouncers is about 1.5 MPH. When the boat speed is stable, free spool the bottom bouncer until it hits bottom and then put the reel in gear. Troll or drift for a few seconds to allow the line to pull tight, then free spool the weight to bottom a second time. As soon as the weight hits bottom, put the reel in gear and set the rod in a rod holder. That's all there is to fishing bottom bouncers effectively.
Fishing suspended spinners is a lot like fishing spoons suspended in the water column. A weight or diving device must be used to deploy the spinner to the desired depth.
Snap weights and keel weights are the two most popular ways anglers on Saginaw Bay fish crawler harnesses suspended in the water. In the case of snap weights, the angler simply lets the harness out a desired distance from the boat, clips the snap weight onto the line and lets out a little more line.
Keel weights are fished by attaching the weight directly to the end of the fishing line. Next a 40-50 inch long crawler harness is added to the keel weight.
With both snap weights and keel weights, the depth these devices run is controlled by boat speed and the size of the weights used. The book Precision Trolling has depth running data for the most common sizes of snap weights and keel weights at all typical trolling speeds. For more information on this depth guide, log onto www.precisionangling.com.
Crawler harnesses can be trolled or drifted. The majority of Saginaw Bay anglers find that trolling with planer boards is the most effective way to fish these lures.
Some years ago, just about everyone who fished walleye on Saginaw Bay during the summer months favored the use of crankbaits. Specifically the 1/4 ounce Storm Hot n Tot and the 3/8 ounce Rattle Tot were considered the best choices. Today the crankbait bite on Saginaw Bay continues to thrive, but a few additional lures have carved out a niche for consistently catching walleye.
In addition to the high action wiggle produced by the Storm Hot n Tot, anglers will find similar success with the Dave's Lures Winning Streak and Mean Streak. Both of these lures feature a violent side-to-side wobble that triggers walleye strikes routinely. Lures that feature a red diving lip are among the most popular with local anglers.
Reef Runner produces a couple of lures that are also becoming favorites on Saginaw Bay. The 400 Series Ripshad produces the right combination of action and depth diving ability. The Deep Little Ripper is a minnow shaped diving crankbait that also produces exceptionally well on Saginaw Bay walleye.
Other excellent walleye crankbaits for Saginaw Bay include the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow, Rapala Deep Husky Jerk and Storm Deep Jr. ThunderStick.
The best overall crankbait trolling speed seems to be 2-2.5 MPH. Again, these lures function best when fished in combination with planer boards.
MIX & MATCH
Anglers can mix and match different lure types to a degree. Both spoons and crankbaits can be mixed in the same trolling pattern. The trolling speeds that produce best with spoons and crankbaits are similar. Mixing these lures in a trolling pattern on any given day helps to determine which presentation the fish may favor.
Mixing spoons with crawler harnesses usually isn't a good idea. The best crawler speed is around 1.5 MPH, which is a touch slow to produce the desired spoon action.
Crawler harnesses and crankbaits can be fished together if the trolling speed is kept on the modest side. A number of crankbaits have good actions at trolling speeds as slow as 1 MPH.
SUMMING IT UP
Saginaw Bay has been a great walleye fishery for many years, but during the past two summers this fishery has blossomed into an incredible fish factory. North, south, east or west, it seems no matter where you go Saginaw Bay is teaming with walleye success stories. My advice, go fishing and make some stories of your own.