Saginaw Bay serves up walleyes and whitefish
Sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference between putting fish on the ice or stopping at a store to buy chicken on the way home.
I recently spent a day on the ice of Saginaw Bay fishing for walleyes with Gary Burch, of Waterford. A drywaller by trade, Gary’s also is a pro staffer for Mark Martin’s Ice Fishing Vacation Schools, a pro staffer for Fish Bones Custom Lures, and an administrator for Michigan Slayers All Season. He says he fishes every chance he gets – after work, on the weekends, and during any vacation time he can scrape together – during all seasons of the year. In a nut shell, he’s a pretty knowledgeable fisherman.
We were fishing out of the town of Linwood, the self-proclaimed walleye capitol of Michigan. Located on the west shore, in about the middle of Saginaw Bay, the lofty acclaim is warranted. There’s fantastic fishing right off the shore of the Linwood Beach Marina. If the bite moves, Linwood is in such a location that relocating to the hot spot is relatively easy, either by boat, automobile, or quad or snowmobile on the ice.
We headed out on Gary’s snowmobile and set up to fish in 20 feet of water.
Gary is a stickler for details. On his jigging rod, there’s an in-line barrel swivel attaching a leader to his main line.
“To keep the line from twisting due to the motion it takes,” to pound the bottom with our jigs, he explained. And on the business end of the leader, he tips a jigging spoons with a minnow head, “on the outside barb on the treble.” He showed me how to lay the treble against the spoon. Two barbs lie against the lure and the third barb sticks out in line with the lure. That’s the one to tip with bait.
“That way the barb with the bait is in line with the lure so when you set the hook, the barb with the meat on it hooks the fish on the top of the mouth,” Burch said.
“The idea is to pound the lure on bottom to stir up the weeds and mud,” Burch explained. “The fish will come in to investigate,” perhaps thinking it’s a crayfish or minnows. “It also creates noise and vibration, which will attract fish.”
We watched the action on a Vexilar. If a fish came in to investigate, we’d slowly raise the jig making the walleye think it was swimming away. If the fish lost interest or we missed a hook-set, we’d quickly drop the lure right back down to the bottom again.
The details didn’t end there. Gary punched a hole a couple feet away from the jigging hole and set a “deadstick” in the water – an ice rod set in a rod holder. He pinned a live minnow to a small treble hook and dropped it down near the bottom under a slip-bobber. The bail was open on the ice reel so when a fish took the bait it would be able to run a bit without feeling the weight of the rod and reel. That way, if a fish came in to investigate the jig, but decided not to eat it, the minnow would be nearby for easy picking.
The next step was to set a tip-up several yards away. Since it’s legal for one angler to have three lines in the water why not take full advantage of that option?
Gary sets his tip-ups with a barrel swivel and a long monofilament leader, and tips a tiny treble with a live minnow. But instead of using a lead depth finder to locate bottom, he uses his Vexilar so he knows exactly where his bait is swimming in the water column.
We caught fish on a day in which many anglers fishing nearby struggled. We put two nice walleyes and a dandy whitefish on the ice – a good day of fishing in anyone’s book. We caught one walleye on a jig and one on a tip-up. The whitefish hit the deadstick – a trifecta!
With balmy temperatures in the forecast the ice-fishing season has all but ended on the bay, but there is still a lot of fishing opportunity to the north.
These techniques will work on any lake so be sure to give ‘em a try the next time you walk on water.