The Church board tipped back slightly as a huge walleye slammed the crawler presentation and headed for Tawas. I was fishing just outside the sparkplug found five miles from the DNR boat launch at the mouth of the Saginaw River when the brute gulped my Bugsy’s Foil spinner trailed by a huge crawler. I grabbed the bent double rod and eventually worked the ‘hawg-eye’ to net.
This was the third walleye in 20 minutes and I was busy setting lines and keeping my boat trolling downwind 1.7 mph. I was pleased with the trophy fish and before we could get hero shots the starboard board marched backward from a sold strike from another walleye. That’s when it dawned on me that June is perhaps one of the hottest months to pursue walleyes on Saginaw Bay. In fact, DNR census data reveals that limit catches are the norm in June and more big fish are showing up in coolers. But the Bay can be challenging at times and if you want consistent easy catches you need to be familiar with several trolling tactics.
June/July water temperatures are ideal for trolling Saginaw Bay and savvy trollers have learned you can up your speed to 2.0 mph and pull cranks and spoons for fast limits. This strategy is deadly on massive schools of walleyes that suspend in the Bay, but often you need to do some recon work to find walleye hotspots. Sure fish are scattered throughout the Bay but wind, waves and current can stack fish in certain areas where the fishing is off the hook fantastic. A prevailing west wind can move Saginaw Bay current toward Sebewaing and Bay Port and walleyes tend to congregate along the eastern shore from Callahan Reef all the way to Caseville.
Last summer Michigan had plenty of east and northeast wind which pushed fish toward Linwood and they congregated in the shipping channel too. My recommendation is to check water clarity when fishing and if the water is gin clear and cold you need to move to slightly discolored water that is often a few degrees warmer. The idea is to sample several different locations and identify where fish are congregated. Hopefully your run-n-gun strategy will result in full coolers at lightning speed. Keep in mind Great Lakes walleyes are vagabonds of the deep and are constantly moving. Your task is to find them using sonar, temp gauges and fishing tricks that work.
The Bay has a long history of serving up impressive catches of walleyes on spoons and cranks. Outdoor Writer and Bay guide Michael Veine prefers to use Moonshine lures and Hot-N-Tots and last year he had limit catches and happy clients using his deadly strategy. Mike loves to troll glow lures like the Blue Melon, Purple Nose, Shell Bell and more to excite walleyes into striking. He also uses a lead core sinker attached three-foot ahead of Hot-N-Tots to keep weeds from sliding down to the lure.
I prefer Silver Streak spoons made by Wolverine Tackle and my favorite color is called Copper Greasy Chicken. I use the Streak Jr. spoons for walleyes and productive colors include Green Huckleberry, Blueberry Muffin, Frankenberry, Chicken Pox and Perch. Spoons can be used behind downriggers, snap weights, Jet Divers and Big Jon Mini Disks. Larger boats go for Jet Divers with five-foot fluorocarbon leads trolled 1.7-2.2 mph. I like to use Big Jon Mini Disks set on zero and place spoons about three feet behind the disk. The distance you set disks behind the boat depends on how deep you want them to go, let out 50 foot of line and the spoon dives to 15 feet. Once the disk and spoon is set at the proper distance I attach the line to an inline board like Church or Off Shore. The trick is to set divers at a variety of depths until you hit on the hot pattern where you catch walleyes. Then you switch all divers to the strike zone and soon the box is full of beautiful walleyes.
My favorite crank on Saginaw Bay in June is a Clown color Rattle Tot. The difference between a Rattle Tot and Hot-N-Tot is profound. Rattle Tots have a larger profile, dive deeper, extra loud rattles and erratic side-to-side action. Rattle Tots have a large chrome bill and favorite Rattle Tot colors include Silver Red, Purple Fire UV, Rainbow Smelt, Chrome Yellow Perch, Chartreuse Purple Shad and Chrome Clown. There are a number of minnow imitation cranks with large clear plastic bills that catch walleyes from ice out till ice up including Bandit, Berkley Flicker Minnow size 9 and 11, Rapala Deep husky jerk and more.
Mother Nature can be unfair to fishermen and once in a while turns the switch off for walleye feeding behavior. That’s when I go to meat and slow my trolling speed. My presentation is simple; I use super copper line from Blood Run Tackle to get spinners rigged with crawlers into the strike zone. Super copper is the ideal choice for slow trolling and I gotta tell you it is the deadliest trolling strategy going for big walleyes. For some reason ‘hawg-eyes’ love to gulp big nightcrawlers slowly wiggling through the water column behind a flashy spinner. Plus with super copper you can fish crawlers up top or on the bottom by simply letting out line before you attach to the board. Keep in mind that when your boat makes a turn it pulls hard on outside boards and inside boards relax which means presentations move up and down in the water column. One big advantage of super copper is you can get your presentation far from the noise and shadow of the boat. This is a big advantage because at times walleyes can be very boat shy.
My recommendation is to use the new Blood Run Tackle Walleye Super Copper. It is 20 lb. test and cuts through the water to get to the strike zone. Super Copper can be used with spoons, plugs and crawler harness rigs. I like to use a 10 ft., 12 lb. fluorocarbon leader and snap swivel to make changing presentations a breeze. I usually rig reels with 75-100 ft. of copper. If walleyes are down 15-18 ft., the 75 ft. of copper will put crawlers in their face.
With fond memories I recall an outing to the Bay when huge marks on my Lowrance indicated walleyes were stacked on bottom near buoy #1 where the depth is 30 feet. I rigged rods with 100-foot of copper and began a downwind troll at 1.7 mph. The lake was calm and we began catching fish. Then clouds moved in and the increased wind pushed the boat to 2 mph and the walleyes went berserk. By days end I was trolling 2.2 mph and the surging waves made harness blades spin like crazy and the fish slammed them.
I like big blades for big walleyes and have caught more Great Lakes 8-pound plus hogs on a #5 size blade than any other size. My second choice is a #4 size blade for Great Lakes walleyes. Guess I’ve experimented with just about every blade style on the market and my top choices are Bugsy’s Baits Foil Blade #5 size deep cup Colorado. Bugsy’s hottest color going has an antifreeze colored back and multi-metallic front with the ends painted orange. The unique metallic shine, deep cup Colorado, unusual orange rim is a ‘hawg-eye’ drawing magnet and recently has out fished the rest in major tournaments. I expect the Foil Blade to catch on statewide and smaller sizes like #3 is ideal for inland lakes like Houghton Lake, Macatawa, Portage, Muskegon Lake, White Lake and many more. My second blade choice would be Northland Tackle Mr. Walleye Willow Crawler Hauler #5 size colored Perch or White Alewife.
I prefer large blades when trolling for Bay ‘eyes. The extra size gives off more flash and fish can see it in deep or stained water. Big blades like Bugsy’s deep cup Colorado displace more water and give off a loud vibration that also attracts predator fish. More importantly I’ve learned after countless hours of watching walleyes feed that big fish prefer big baits.
Locating walleyes on Saginaw Bay can be difficult. Sometimes you mark no fish because they are far from shore hugging the surface. Most trollers use a ½-ounce weight set 25 feet back for surface eyes. When they are close to the surface you need to get your boards extra far from the boat. The calmer the water and the brighter the sun the further you let out inline boards. Sometimes you need them a couple hundred feet away. My favorite surface setup is a Northland Crawler Hauler #5 colored Emerald Shiner set 50 feet behind a ½-ounce snapweight placed 20 feet from the board. However when walleyes are hugging bottom I usually free spool until the 2-3 ounce weight touches bottom and snap the line onto an inline board. With bottom hugging fish I also frequently use a three-ounce weight with crawler harness set five- feet behind the weight. Just free spool until it crashes bottom, engage the reel and set the rod in a holder that places the rod to the side of the boat. In this case I simply watch the rod tip for strikes.
If you plan on using crawlers make certain you stop at Northland Wholesale Outlet in Pinconning and take advantage of their super crawler deal; $1 per dozen up to 10 dozen. Walleyes love crawlers and the hottest trick going is to use large, juicy nightcrawlers. One tactic is to soak them in ice water and they will stay lively and puff up with liquid like an Oscar Meyer wiener on the grill. Honestly the real trick with crawlers is to put the first hook of the harness through their nose and second hook through the body so the crawler stays straight on the harness and does not spin.
Bay trolling for walleyes can be fast paced and when fish are suspended and active, cranks and spoons fire them up. How fast can you troll for walleyes? Sometimes you need to forget the pro trolling speed of 1.5-mph with blades and get spoons flashing to the max at much faster speeds. Most spoons have much better action at 2-mph and if you experiment with speed you will hit maximum spoon action around 2.3-3 mph. Experiment with increased speed and you will be surprised how many walleyes simply can’t resist a fast moving offering. This is a deadly strategy for downriggers, heavy snap weights and divers. The idea is to rip spoons through schools of active fish, give ’em a spoon that is wobbling, flashing, zipping past and trying to swim away. Flipping, flashing lures get the attention of walleyes and key their strike instinct and produces savage bites.
Fast trolling speeds allow you to cover more water, pull your lures in front of more fish and produce more strikes. Once you start catching fish, you mark the spot on your GPS and you continue trolling, looking for new faces in different places. If you mark a big school, ideal conditions or catch more fish you mark another GPS icon. The idea is to have several GPS spots saved on your graph and you troll from one known hot spot to another. Sometimes you are trolling in a long line, other times a circle or triangle, but the idea is to remain in a walleye rich location. If the wind increases and wave action impairs the direction you were trolling it might be a good idea to pull lines, run into the wind and troll downwind to known GPS locations where fish are stacked.
June is a key month for outstanding walleye fishing because water temperatures are ideal and fish eat more often because their metabolism kicks into high gear. Sure there is often a feeding frenzy at daylight but Great Lakes walleyes generally feed throughout the day. Some captains like to hit the water at dawn and troll until noon. Then run to shore for lunch, enjoy a cold beverage, take a nap and return to the water for an afternoon trip.
Each trolling situation is different and you need to experiment with a variety of lures and fishing tactics. In June following cold fronts try spinner rigs, but if the weather heats up and fish become more active switch to cranks and spoons. Experiment with super copper, divers and boards to get offerings at different depths. Last summer northeast winds helped to keep walleyes in the inner Bay and fishing was red hot. If you are catching nothing but eater fish make the move to the outer Bay near the Charities. The last few years many tournaments have been won with bigger fish caught off the tip of the thumb near Caseville and Grindstone City. Here the water is deeper than the Bay, sometimes cooler and cluttered with fantastic structure and fish attracting drop offs.
What about you? I’m certain you have heard about the splendid walleye fishing Saginaw Bay offers. But now you know the best time to go, in June, and tactics that work.