Walleyes In The Summer…
Want to learn to troll Great Lakes walleye? Or, perhaps, you’d like to better the walleye trolling techniques you already use? There’s no better place in Michigan to do so than Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. Hook 30 fish a day here and you know you’re onto something; zero and you’re in need of fine tuning your program.
There is, however, more to catching a limit of walleye here in mid to late summer than meets the eye-much more than just an aimless troll across the bay with any old lure or bait. You need to pay attention to the environment of the water and make speed and lure adjustments as your fishing day progresses. Read on, you’ll see what I mean.
Why Saginaw Bay
The reason this bay is such a great place to improve your trolling techniques, as well just having a great day on the water while catching a limit of fish for the dinner table, is that this waterway’s teaming with walleye. Since the alewife population crashed in the early 2000s, the walleye have been reproducing well-some years in record numbers-since 2003.
But it’s not just a large fish population that makes this bay the great fishery it is-it is also loaded with reefs and breaklines, water temperatures and water clarity that fluctuate with the wind, and baitfish that move accordingly. These are all important factors of walleye fishing, no matter where in the world you fish. Pay attention to them and you’ll catch more fish, for sure.
A Word Of Warning
There’s no doubt, Saginaw Bay is big water-in fact, some of the best places to fish in summer are in areas far enough off shore that there’s no sign of land in any direction as far as the eye can see. For safety’s sake, I must first say this bay is no place for anglers in a tiny rowboat. The weather in summer, coming off the flatlands of Lower Michigan, can change for the worse in a heart beat-going from calm to rough, sunny to dark clouds full of lighting, literally within minutes. I suggest never going into Saginaw Bay’s outer bay in a boat smaller than an 18-foot deep-V, with its main motor’s horse-power maxed out. Safety first is the rule of thumb on Saginaw Bay.
Never head out onto the bay without GPS, coupled with a Navionics chip with hydrographic map of the bottom contours-to help keep you away from shallow-water danger. Don’t have a GPS? You should, at the very least, have a quality compass onboard.
Hunt And Peck
As I just mentioned, Saginaw Bay is big water. So how does one go about finding where the fish are in summer? By watching the prevailing winds and noting the water temperatures that move in and out. In summer, I look for areas where the cool outer bay water meets the warm inner bay water. Where the cold and warm waters meld is where the baitfish, thus the walleye, will be.
If you are internet savvy, you can go to www.coastwatch.msu.edu/ and click on the Lake Huron link at the top of the page, then onto Saginaw Bay, and check out the latest satellite information on surface temperatures before heading out.
You can also find out the water’s surface temperature by trial and error, by watching the water temperature on a quality sonar unit. If you’re finding water temperatures in the 80s or higher in the inner bay, then head north until you find the temps in the high 60s to low 70s. The opposite holds true if you are starting in the outer bay, where water temperatures could be anywhere from the high 40s to low 60s. If the water’s too cold, then head south until you start finding warmer water.
Next it’s time to hunt down the baitfish. I’m not as worried about marking fish themselves on my electronics as I am marking bait. Find bait and the walleye will be there, whether you mark them on the sonar or not.
The next steps are determining the depth the walleye are at, and then the speed and lures that will trigger strikes. These steps are all a matter of trial and error each and every day out.
To help guide me along breaklines and stay within a specific depth I watch my GPS, coupled with a Navionics mapping chip, as intensely as I do my sonar. With a Navionics mapping chip, I know the lay of the underwater land all around me, and know which direction I’ll have to steer well before reaching key locations.
Saginaw Bay has many reefs, and, if the water temperature and clarity’s right (not gin clear, but not stained like coffee with cream); any could hold large numbers of walleye. Key areas to concentrate on are the tips, or, any odd points or curves along the breaklines of the reefs.
Next I decided whether to use spinners (crawler harnesses) or crankbaits. Tip: Because of the speed requirements of each to work at their best, the two very rarely ever work well together.
I like my crankbaits; thus I start my day out with them. Some of my best catches on Saginaw Bay have come while trolling 800 Series Reef Runners and 600 Series Little Rippers. These long, slender-shaped baits imitate shiner and smelt, which are now two of the main forages since the alewives left the bay. With the right amount of line out (again, trial and error as all lines, whether monofilament or super braid are different in diameter, thus the lure will dive at different rates) I can reach 21 feet with the 600 Series and 28 feet with the 800 Series.
If I happen to stumble upon some shad in the system, I’ll switch to the wide-profiled 200 and larger 400 Series Ripshad lures. These lures will dive to 16 feet and 20 feet, respectfully.
Generally, crankbaits should be fished from 1.5 to 2.5 mph. I speed up and slow down often until I find the speed that triggers strikes.
If crankbaits don’t produce, then I’ll switch to spinners. These baits should be fished slower, from .08 to 1.4 mph. Lindy/Little Joe Hatchet Harnesses-their odd-shaped blades giving off their tell-tale “thump”-work well when the water’s stained in Saginaw Bay. If the water’s clear, I’ll also try the Colorado-style Lindy/Little Joe Red Devil Crawler Harness Supremes. Whether using Hatchets or Red Devils, I experiment with color; metallic gold and holographic perch patterns have been good choices here overall.
A live crawler skewered onto the multiple-hook harness is always a good choice, however, in the bay’s yellow perch, white perch and white bass infested water where the tail of a real crawler can easily be nipped off-I like to use Berkley Gulp! The scent given off is more potent than the real thing and the walleye easily zone in on this bait.
Whether I’m using crankbaits or spinners, the first thing I take note of when I hook a fish is the exact speed I was going when it hit. I then continue that speed throughout the trip or at least until the walleye change their minds.
I always use Off Shore Tackle’s in-line boards on Saginaw Bay, even when I’m fishing alone. Saginaw Bay’s relatively shallow and fish tend to scoot out from under the boat. My Off Shore Tackle boards get my crankbaits and spinner outside the path of my Lund and into the zone of un-spooked fish.
The equipment I use in either case includes 12-pound-test Berkley XT, for its “Extra Tough” coating to help protect the line from fraying if it accidentally touches the bay’s zebra muscle-infested bottom, ABU Garcia Ambassadeur Line Counter reels, and 8-foot 3-inch Berkley Tactix Planer Board Rods.
Mark Brumbaugh is a walleye tournament pro who’s finished first in a PWT Championship on Saginaw Bay. Check out his website at markbrumbaugh.com