Tips for ice fishing:
While it's true that every Great Lake has a bay known for its quality ice fishing, there are three that stick out in my mind as my favorites: Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay, Lake Michigan's Little Bay de Noc and Lake Superior's Waiska Bay
January 01, 2010
Rumor has it that some of my favorite places to ice fish are the bays of the Great Lakes. Although rumors are just that (rumors), this one's true.
Though they may look small on a map in comparison to their connecting main-lake basins, most bays of the Great Lakes are vast, which allows anglers plenty of room to roam. In addition, the fish, including walleye, are plentiful. And even during warmer-than-normal winters, those years when the main-lakes refuse to skim over, many of the bays freeze over well enough to allow save passage by anglers.
While it's true that every Great Lake has a bay known for its quality ice fishing, there are three that stick out in my mind as my favorites: Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay, Lake Michigan's Little Bay de Noc, and Lake Superior's Waiska Bay-a 'sleeper' bay, along with connecting Buck Bay -which is just now being discovered.
This shallow bay, near the city of Bay City, has been the sight of the Ice Fishing Vacation/School (fishingvacationschool.com) put on by walleye tournament pros Roth Grothe, Mike Gofron, Mark Brumbaugh, and myself, for the past four years for a very good reason: the waterway's full of classic walleye structure - the perfect place to learn all about winter 'eyes.
Over the years, the school, held the beginning of February (February 7 through 10 in 2010), has been stationed out of Linwood Beach Marina (linwoodbeachmarina.com), in Linwood, Michigan, which is located on the bay's southwestern shoreline. From here it's at least a four-mile journey to the breaklines that walleye frequently use. Most of the fishing here is done in water in the teens to 20 feet deep.
But this bay is to be respected, especially by those who are new to ice fishing the Great lakes. Because if it's size, you'll need a quad or snowmobile to get you where you need to go, and because of is mass you'll need to take your time getting out to your spot as the ice tends to change its form on a daily basis. Mounds of ice, sometime 30 feet high, can form overnight, while gaps may form on the other end of a sheet of ice. In short, never venture out without a buddy on this bay or without a GPS and compass.
Saginaw Bay is a great place to learn to use mapping programs on a GPS. As I made mention of earlier, this bay's loaded with classic walleye structure, including numerous breaklines and a plethora of reefs and holes. With a GPS that has a mapping program running in the background, I am able to fish over these important structures without it taking much time to locate them.
On the dash of my snowmobile I've mounted a Lowrance H2O (waterproof) hand-held GPS, which a Navionics chip is inserted into the card reader, so that I can drive right to my fishing destination. Once there, I'm able to place myself right on top of a piece of structure.
One thing I've noticed about Saginaw Bay is the need to move around a lot until I find the type of structure that's holding fish. This means I use a lure with flash, heavy in weight, that's easy to use while hopping hole to hole.
Once I find an area I want to try I'll crank up the StrikeMaster power auger and drill several holes. I then fish each hole with a Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon tipped with a Gulp! Minnow Head; the 3/8-ouncer my favorite as its heavy enough to get down fast, yet has a small profile. At the same time, I have the transducer of my Lowrance X67C IceMachine in a hole right next to the one I'm fishing. If I'm at least marking fish, I'll stay in the area. If no fish are seen on the Lowrance, I'll move.
For more information about lodging and the like, contact the Bay City Convention and Visitor's Burrow at 888-BAY-TOWN, tourbaycity.org.
Little Bay de Noc
This bay of a bay, Lake Michigan's Green Bay, to be exact, has the most diverse fishery of my three picks. It has an array of fish species, all of which could be caught from one productive hole.
The northern end of Little Bay is shallow, and, like the abovementioned Saginaw Bay, is loaded with traditional walleye structure. Here, walleye, perch, and pike are the main predator species.
But if Mother Nature allows, I like to fish south of the town of Escanaba, Michigan. Here, beside the species that roam the northern portion of the bay, lake trout, splake, and whitefish are a common catch. At dawn and dusk I like to fish the steep dropoffs off shore. Again, these are not easy to get to unless you have a quad or snowmobile.
The Rapala Jigging Rap, tipped with a chunk of shiner minnow or a Gulp! Minnow Head on the bottom hook, is by far one of the most productive lures I have ever used on Little Bay de Noc. I'll jig it aggressively, in water 20 to 30 feet deep, until I spot a fish on my Lowrance X67C IceMachine; once spotted, I'll then just vibrate the lure as long as the fish stays in the area and it hits.
As afternoon wears on, I like to venture out to 40 to 50 feet of water. Here, walleye sulk on bottom in the high skies of daylight. Although you won't get a lot of fish out here in the middle of the day, the occasional fish does come.
Another mid-afternoon ploy is to target the more aggressive feeders that are suspended high in the water column, while using a tip-up and a large chub, sucker, or shiner minnow.
I like to use a small (size-8) thin-wire Daiichi Bleeding Bait (red) treble hook on a 3-foot-long 10-pound-test Berkley Fluorocarbon leader. I just barely nip the hook into the minnow under the dorsal fin, and let it swim freely with just enough Northland Hot-Spot Split Shot to keep it in the strike zone, about 15 below the ice, over this deep water.
For more information on the bite in Little Bay, as well lodging, live bait, and tackle, contact: Sall-Mar Resort, Rapid River, Michigan, 906-553-4850, sallmarresort.net.
This bay's just becoming popular amongst walleye anglers. It's one of the few Lake Superior bays in Michigan noted for its population of walleye.
Waiska Bay is located in Michigan's eastern U.P., just west of the city of Sault Ste Marie, at the headwaters of the Saint Mary's River. The Village of Brimley and the Bay Mills Casino the main population on its shores; both will be the sight of the newly-founded Anglers Insight Marketing (AIM) walleye tournament, June 3 through 5, 2010. The lower Saint Maries River, mind you, has been the sight of many past tournaments of the famed Professional Walleye Trail (PWT).
This bay has an exceptional population of walleye towards the later half of the ice-fishing season, which closes mid-March. This is a spawning area for the big lake's walleye that call eastern Lake Superior home.
Waiska Bay is a shallow bay with plenty of weed beds and rocky breaklines for forage, thus praetor fish to roam. The bay has an array of shiner minnows for forage, as well lake herring and whitefish.
Michigan law allows an angler to use three lines which is perfect for ice fishing Waiska. I like to set two tip-ups rigged with live minnows along breaklines of different depths, and then move hole to hole in my Otter portable ice shanty until I find fish. Both Northland's jigging spoons and Rapala Jigging Raps and Shads work well in this water as each emulates the different forage species well.
For information on lodging as well superior food, contact the Bay Mills Resort and Casinos at 888-422-9645, baymills.com.
There you have it, my three favorite Great Lakes bays for ice fishing. All are similar in that they have great walleye populations, yet each is different in it's own. Check them out this winter season and you'll see why I call each of them one of the bets the Great lakes has to offer.
Mark Martin is a walleye tournament pro (markmartins.net) and fishing school instructor (fishingvacationschool.com) who lives in Michigan's southwestern Lower Peninsula.