Walleye Capital Of The World…
It’s common knowledge that Saginaw Bay’s walleye population has literally exploded in recent years. In fact, walleye numbers are at the highest levels since biologists have been conducting population studies on the Bay. The fishing is so good now days that many anglers even consider that the walleye fishing on Saginaw Bay is even better than on Lake Erie.
Saginaw Bay produces a year-round walleye fishery that is possibly the best in the world. While it may be arguable whether Saginaw Bay is now the undisputed Walleye Capital of the World, there is no doubt that during June, the Bay serves up the best walleye bite I’ve ever experienced, bar none.
Back in 2003 most of Lake Huron’s alewives population crashed. The demise of the alewives caused salmon populations to also drop in Southern Lake Huron, but there was a silver lining to that tragedy: As a result of those alewives dying off, natural walleye reproduction skyrocketed in the Saginaw Bay watershed. Fisheries biologists theorize that the alewives had been depressing natural walleye recruitment by eating walleye eggs and freshly hatched fry. Once the alewives were gone, those walleye eggs and fry survived at unprecedented levels and started infusing Saginaw Bay with astronomical, natural walleye recruitment. Before 2003, Saginaw Bay’s walleye fishery depended largely on supplemental stocking efforts by areas clubs. Since 2003 though, natural walleye reproduction has been at such a high level that the DNR suspended all walleye stocking in the Bay because it was simply not needed any more.
Before 2003 alewives used to invade Saginaw Bay by the millions during May and June and during that period, there were so many alewives in the Bay that the walleyes were overwhelmed with baitfish and it made June the worst month of the year for catching walleyes there. Since 2003 the June walleye bite has changed big time. Now, baitfish numbers are much lower during June, while at the same time the warming waters of the Bay jump-starts the walleyes’ metabolism and really gets them feeding like pigs. As a result, June serves up consistent limit catches for savvy anglers across much of Saginaw Bay and the best part is that the catch is typically made up of a perfect mixture of smaller eating sized walleyes, medium sized chunkers and also plenty of true lunkers thrown in for good measure. Over the past five years, June has been my busiest month for running charters.
June has also produced my most consistent walleye success too, which is no coincidence. We’ve limited out on all but a few of my June charters over the past five years on Saginaw Bay, which is outstanding success in my book. My average catch rate last year during June was eight keeper walleyes per hour. Now that’s some awesome, consistent walleye fishing folks.
Hot Spots for June
The walleye population in Saginaw Bay has become so huge that it’s really hard to find a place during June where you can’t catch walleyes. I’ve caught bumper catches of walleyes during June in The Slot near Heisterman Island, along the length of the The Bar all the way down to the Callahan Reef. I’ve also limited out on both sides of the shipping canal from Quanicassee to Linwood. The Black Hole area is another consistent producer along with the waters north to Pinconning and beyond.
I’ve taken dozens of limits off the Rifle Bar, off Point Au Gres and also off Au Gres proper. During the month of June, most of the walleyes will be caught in waters less than 35 feet deep, but I’ve also taken walleyes out in the middle of the Bay at that time too. Because the hot bite is so widespread, it’s probably easier to describe where not to fish during June. Basically, during June, I don’t recommend the very deep waters to the north/east of Au Gres including the Charity Islands area. The waters from Sand Point north are also not nearly as productive as other parts of the Bay during June. I’m not saying you can’t catch decent numbers of fish at those locations during June; rather it’s just not as crazy of a bite as the described hot spots.
Killer, Can’t Miss Tactics
I’d guess that upwards of 90 percent of Saginaw Bay’s June walleyes catch is taken by anglers trolling with spinner/crawler rigs often referred to as “meat” by areas fishermen. I will freely admit that I hate fishing with night crawlers. They are messy, a hassle to fish with and have gotten downright expensive in recent years. I much prefer trolling with spoons and crankbaits and on 90 percent of my June charters, those rigs will out fish crawlers hands down, especially for bigger walleyes.
However, there are weather patterns (cold fronts) that will force anglers to slow down their presentation to the point where crawlers are going to be the best choice for walleyes. Therefore, I’ll outline my favorite spinner/crawler program that produces limits of walleyes during even the toughest cold front conditions. We even limited out last year using this program when the water temperature had dropped over 12 degrees after one particularly nasty cold front. For the scope of this article, I’ll focus on how to murder walleyes with meat.
First, my spinner/crawler program is actually a mixture of my favorite crank baits run side by side with spinner/crawler rigs. I typically troll with eight rods on Saginaw Bay during June. My spread consists of six lines off Church Tackle Walleye Boards and two more run flat right off the gunnels. The outside and middle boards pull Hot N’ Tots, which are my long time favorite Saginaw Bay crank bait.
Since the Bay’s walleyes seem to almost always relate to bottom during June, I troll the Tots within 5 inch of bottom. The Hot N’ Tots are taken to the desired depth using rubber core sinkers. I mainly use 1.0, 1.5 or 2.0 ounce sinkers for that job and attach them about 6 feet from the lure. You can effectively catch walleyes on Hot N’ Tots with trolling speeds ranging from 1.0 to 2.2 mph.
When I’m running Tots mixed with crawlers in the spread, I typically troll at 1.0 to 1.5 mph. My favorite Hot N’ Tot patterns last year was Perch, Fire Tiger, Chrome/Green and a custom Chrome/Green/Red pattern that I paint myself. After a cold front, I’ll tip the hooks with tinny pieces of night crawlers to spice up those tasteless plastic morsels.
My inside boards and those flat lines are loaded with spinner/crawler rigs, which are also often referred to as crawler harnesses by old timers or just spinners by lots of folks on the Bay. Over the last five years I’ve fished my spinners behind bottom bouncers exclusively on the Bay.
On Saginaw Bay, the heavier the bottom bouncers the better. Forget all that stuff you’ve heard or read about walleyes being line shy or weight shy as that couldn’t be further from the truth. Heavy bottom bouncers will out produce light ones every time on the Bay regardless of the depth being fished. Those heavy weights will cause the wire end of the bouncers to kick up a bunch of silt, debris and invertebrates, which drives walleyes into a feeding frenzy.
I’ve fished light bottom bouncers side by side with heavy ones and the hefty bouncers will typically out fish the wimpy ones two fold. I mostly use 4 ounce bottom bouncers, but there are times in very deep water or when I’m trolling faster where I break out the 5 or 6 ouncers. I use plain, unfinished bottom bouncers and prefer the Walleyes Choice bouncers made right here in Michigan.
I tie all my own spinners/crawler rigs. I start out with a 4 foot length of 20 pound test, fluorocarbon leader material. For hooks I prefer Eagle Claws, Laser Sharp bait holder hooks with the barbs up the shank to hold the crawler in position. I tie the front hook on first with a snell knot. The rear hook is tied on about 4 inch down from the front hook and I use an improved half blood knot to secure that hook. Next, I string on beads and/or floats to bulk up the rig, provide attraction and also to create a customized action. I then add a quick change clevis and never string any beads or floats ahead of the clevis, which would greatly impede the spinning action of the blade. A loop knot is tied at the front of the rig, which attaches to the clip on the bottom bouncer.
I favor Colorado blades on my Saginaw Bay spinners. Smaller sized blades seem to work better these days. Blades the size of a nickel to a quarter were my top choices last year. My favorite spinners last year were red beads/silver blade, orange beads/chartreuse float/orange-chartreuse blade and chartreuse beads/chartreuse float/chartreuse blade.
If the walleyes are ignoring my Hot N’ Tots completely, which is rare, then I’ll pull the middle board Tots out of the spread and replace them with additional spinner/crawler rigs. I can probably count the number of times on one time where I’ve had to run more than four spinner/crawler rigs in the last five years. Here’s why: Those crawlers will get nipped off by small fish, so you’ll need to check them every 5-10 minutes or so to make sure that they are still intact. If you run too many spinners, then you’ll likely let them run longer without checking them and that will typically cost you more fish in the long run and it will certainly cost you a lot more crawlers and money. Better to have some lures running on the harder to check middle and outside boards that require less maintenance to effectively catch fish. Besides, I’ve caught a whole lot more big fish on Hot N’ Tots on Saginaw Bay compared to crawler presentations.
Those noodles that kids play with in pools are perfect for storing harnesses. I cut the noodle into 12-16 inch lengths and draw a line with a Sharpie felt tip pen down each tube. Using a knife, I cut small slits every 1.5 inch across the line where I can insert the loop knot of the harness and keep it in place. Then I warp the harness around the noodle semi-tightly and imbed each hook into the foam to secure it. I store the noodles in a plastic tub, which fits nicely under my console. This storage system seems to work great for storing a bunch of spinners.
The author offers fishing charters for Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay walleyes along with trips for salmon and trout at Manistee on Lake Michigan and Rogers City on Lake Huron. Contact Mike Veine at www.trophyspecialists.com or 734-475-9146.