Your basic setup will be 3-4 line counting reels with 12-pound high visible line down to a 10-pound fluorocarbon 3-foot leader off of a ball swivel. Utilizing Hot-N-Tot Juniors, or Junior Thundersticks in orange, blue chrome, and chartreuse always seems to bring the fish into the boat.
To start, you need to locate some drifts with at least 6 to 10 feet or deeper of water coming off a shallow flat on the river. A good way to find these deep holes is to go to the high-bank side of the river on bends; usually, you will have deeper water. If you line up the deeper water to the next bend, usually the center of the river in between the two bends will also hold fish. If possible, you want to find some nice 50-yard to 100-yard runs of 6 to 10 feet of water and focus on them.
A winch anchor and a trolling motor or oars are very handy to keep yourself lined up.
Start on top of your drift 100 yards above the water you want to fish and drop anchor. Set your 3-4 lines back anywhere from 30 to 50 feet until the Hot-N-Tots are barely tapping the bottom while anchored. If they dig into the bottom, reel in 5 to 10 feet, recheck to make sure the tip is vibrating. Once you have your 3 to 4 lines running with a constant vibration at the tip, slowly bring your anchor up and drop back about 10 feet at a time and drop your anchor back down and park for 5-10 minutes. If there’s no hit, pick the anchor back up and move another 10 feet. If you do get a strike, do not move but rather pick up the rods and pull them in and let them back out slowly for agitation. You want to very slowly work your way downstream while keeping your lure action consistent.
Another great technique is to keep letting the anchor line out about 10 to 15 feet, then take your oars or trolling motor to swing the boat back and forth to cover as much of the river and the hole as possible. You continue to do this through the hole. The steelheads are very prone to bite when agitated, and this technique seems to stir them up quite a bit. As you work your way through, keep your eyes on the bottom, looking for large boulders and structure as the steelheads are prone to hide behind large boulders and stumps. If you can mark them, keep your lures close to them on your next drift.
If your lures are running smoothly, I highly suggest taking a casting rig with you to cover more water and cast a tadpole or wiggle wart to the areas you are not covering with your lures. There is nothing more exciting than a steelhead smashing a lure on a retrieval!
Saginaw River Ice Walleye
There is nothing like midwinter walleye fishing on a frozen river. For as long as I’ve been alive, the Saginaw River has been that place where people can consistently get out on the ice and have great success, even if it’s just for a couple of months. This year’s colder weather has been awesome, and the Saginaw River has solid ice. The best areas I’ve fished on the Saginaw River are from Veterans Memorial Park in Bay City, downstream to the Zilwaukee Bridge. I know this might sound like a place where everybody goes, but to be honest, it’s got great fishing most of the time.
Some of the best ways to catch these fish are obviously vertical jigging with heavier baits. You are dealing with the current. I like number five or number seven jigging raps in your basic high visible colors. Fire tiger, fire tiger with orange, and gold with orange, as well as chrome and blue, all seem to be great producers. Although many people don’t tip it with anything, I like to tip the treble hook with a minnow head.
Another great bait is a crocodile spoon or Swedish pimples. Again, I like to sweeten the bait with a minnow head, especially when fishing spoons.
It’s very important how you jig. Do search jigging, and slow methodical jigging at the same time. What I mean is, you want to call fish to you with longer higher lifts and drops, allowing the lure to go “all the way” to the bottom. This longer drop flutters down and hits bottom and is a great attractor jig. After making a couple of those, I’ll slow my jigging to just short 4 to 5-inch lifts and down to the bottom again. I make sure that I sometimes hold my spoon or jigging rap still for a few counts in between each jigging series. This allows fish that aren’t quite so aggressive to come in and smack my offering.
When it comes to selecting where to fish the river, that will be a bit of trial and error. I don’t want to set up right on top of someone, but you can certainly tell where people have been successful by where most of the shacks are. But to be truthful, I don’t like to fish around lots of people, so I try to start shallow first thing in the morning, let’s say less than eight feet, and then work my way out to deeper water if I’m not having success. Sometimes the guys who fish by themselves and locate the right depths can outfish others.
My best tip, bring a bunch of people. This is really where you can isolate fish the fastest. When you have a larger group, you can scatter out and cover multiple depths simultaneously. This makes locating the fish much quicker, allowing everyone else, whether they’re communicating via text or walkie-talkie, to be able to all yard into the right depths and everyone catch lots of fish. It’s also the same way with baits. When you’re fishing with a bunch of people, the baits that are working can be easily communicated amongst each other, as well as the jigging cadence. There’s also the safety aspect of fishing with lots of people. I’m not a big advocate of going out on the river without good solid ice. But accidents can and do happen, and when you’re with a larger group of people, your chances of getting out of a situation are much better. Always remember to bring a length or two of rope as that is the quickest and best way to help a struggling angler who’s fallen through.
So, get out this year on a river, and enjoy some of the best fishing anywhere in Michigan!