The Later it Gets, the Better it Gets

For anglers targeting Saginaw Bay it isn’t over until the fat walleye bites. Seemingly the outstanding fishing that has been taking place on Saginaw Bay just gets better and better. One thing is for sure, the late season trolling bite not only produces great numbers of fish, but some of the largest fish of the season.

During the spring and summer months, Saginaw Bay anglers have gotten used to catching lots of fish, but smaller fish. Apparently, the big walleye that inhabit other places in Lake Huron during much of the year zero in on Saginaw Bay in late fall. The only reason for this kind of migration boils down to forage opportunities.

The Shad Connection

The lower Saginaw Bay benefits from an abundance of gizzard shad that are attracted to the warmer waters of the Saginaw River late in the fall. Gizzard shad numbers are highly unstable on Saginaw Bay and in some years the population is high and other years far fewer shad show up. These important bait fish are a temperate species that survive best in the years when the region enjoys mild winter weather. Harsh winter weather and especially long winters takes a heavy toll on shad numbers.

Fortunately for Saginaw Bay fishermen, our last few winters have been mild and short. The winter of 2017-’18 looked like it was going to be a good ol’ fashioned winter when in December thick ice formed on the Bay. Ice and cold weather dominated the landscape in December and January, but by mid-February the weather turned mild and the ice came out quickly. Winters that linger into March and April are the ones that do the most damage to shad populations.

Matching the Hatch

Crankbaits are the most popular lures used to catch late season walleye on Saginaw Bay. Historically, the top producing bait in the fall has been the Rapala Husky Jerk No. 12– a bait that has been around a long time and produced countless Saginaw Bay walleye.

“The Husky Jerk caught fish last fall, but it certainly was not the best producing crankbait,” says Jake Romanack of Fishing 411 TV. “My top producing Saginaw Bay baits were smaller lures like the Berkley Flicker Minnow No. 9 and the Storm Deep Jr. ThunderStick. I think these smaller lures simply better matched the size of gizzard shad in the system.”

The stomach contents of Saginaw Bay walleyes pretty much told the story. “Literally every fish I caught on the Bay last fall was chuck full of gizzard shad,” added Romanack. “The fish were big, fat and if you were fishing the right crankbaits the bite was crazy good!”

The Fall Forecast

All indications suggest that this fall Saginaw Bay will again produce lots of walleye and big walleye for those anglers who are willing to fish late into the season. The best fishing takes place after the water temperatures dip down into the 40s. Believe it or not, great fishing takes place right up until ice puts and end to the fun in December.

The last couple years some of the best fishing took place on the Dumping Grounds located just west of the Saginaw River shipping channel. Walleye also turned up in good numbers a little north of the Dredge Island. Good fishing in the fall can also be found on the east side of Saginaw Bay near Sebewaing.

Trolling Speeds Matter

Matching the hatch by using the right size crankbaits is important when walleye trolling on Saginaw Bay. A second and equally important consideration is trolling speed. Once the water temperature dips down into the 40s, it is very important to concentrate on slower trolling speeds in the 1.0 to 1.5 MPH range.

A gasoline kicker motor does the heavy lifting when it comes to open water trolling chores. Most kickers these days are four stroke models that tend to be a little cold blooded when used in icy cold water. To get the best performance from a four stroke kicker requires adding an after market digital throttle control. The manual linkage controls on these kicker motors are not sensitive enough to set and maintain consistent RPM levels and trolling speeds.

Digital throttle controls allow anglers to dial in very precise speeds and also to keep the boat moving at those precise speeds all day long. Evinrude Outboards produces the 15 HO E-Tec which is actually a two stroke kicker motor that comes factory equipped with a digital throttle control. Located right on the tiller handle a button indicating + and – symbols makes it easy to increase or decrease the RPM’s of the engine in 50 RPM increments.

This unique feature makes it possible to dial in trolling speeds precisely and keep them there. Because this engine is an E-Tec, it is a direct injection model that uses a computer to mix gasoline and two stroke oil precisely, based on the RPM levels. Many anglers are surprised to learn that E-Tec engines actually produce far less emissions than modern four stroke outboards. This occurs because E-Tec engines burn all the fuel and oil injected into the cylinder.

Lube Up Those Baits

Cold water trolling simply cries out for lures that are not only the right size, but lures that also smell like the forage species walleye are used to feeding on. Pro Cure Bait Scents is the leading producer of fishing scents made from natural forage species.

“On Saginaw Bay, we use Pro Cure Super Gel in the Gizzard Shad formula,” says Jake Romanack. “Not only is Super Gel sticky enough to stay on the baits better than other scent products, it’s actually made by grinding up real gizzard shad.”

The best way to use any scent product is to first clean lures using a non-bleach based soap like Joy dishwashing soap. Once the baits are clean, apply a dab of scent about the size of a pencil eraser.

Cleaning the baits first eliminates unnatural odors and allows the scent products to do their work effectively. Just some of the unnatural odors anglers should be concerned with include skin lotion, insect repellent, tobacco smells, gasoline, shaving products and of course human odor from the natural oils in our skin. Clean baits that are in turn treated with natural scent products simply catch more fish.

Summing It Up

Some of the best trolling action for walleye on Saginaw Bay takes place from mid-November into mid-December. The colder the water becomes, the more walleye seem to sense the approach of winter and the need to feed often.

Lots of anglers have put away their boats for the year before the fishing on Saginaw Bay even peaks. This fall, fish late and fish often for Saginaw Bay’s biggest fish of the year.