Ice fishing for Walleye on the Bay

Published: 03/16/2015

It was right at 8 a.m. when I felt my rod get heavy, so I snatched it skyward and hauled a walleye up onto the ice.

A couple of minutes later, my partner, Mark Martin, jerked a walleye through the hole.

Twenty minutes later, I hooked another ’eye, but this one got off on the edge the hole. Martin, for his part, stuck another fish within a minute or so and he iced his.

So that’s how it’s going to be, eh, the bites coming two at a time?

No such luck. That was it for the morning.

We were in 20 feet of water on a foot of good, clear ice about two and half miles off shore on Saginaw Bay. It was a couple of days before Martin’s annual ice fishing/vacation school here and we were prospecting for where the on-ice sessions would commence.

I’ve been going to Martin’s event for about two decades now, first when he held them at Little Bay de Noc, and for the last 10 years or so, at Saginaw Bay. It’s an outstanding opportunity for those who are new to ice fishing, walleye fishing, Saginaw Bay, or any of the above, to get a jump on the learning curve.

Martin and his pro staff — a handful of guides, other walleye pros and just generally good fishermen — mix a little classroom work and evening discussion with on-ice tutorials. For my part, it’s chance to pick Martin’s brain — one of the best in walleye fishing – for a couple of days. I always go for the pre-fishing portion of the event as its gives me more time to spend with Martin before he gets really busy.

We were fishing an area that had been holding fish, according to the locals, but you couldn’t tell that by what we were seeing on the sonar. All four of our bites came out of the blue; there was no indication there were any fish around when they bit.

That’s not entirely unusual, but you typically see some activity on the fish finder. Martin theorized that the fish were on the move and when they saw our offerings — we were both fishing with spoons, me with a Saginaw Bay standby (a blue and chrome Do-Jigger), Mark with a smallish glow-in-the dark green and white Little Cleo, both sweetened with bait — they just charged in and inhaled it.

We stayed at it for another hour without a hint of a walleye on the sonar, when we took time to set up tip-ups around the shanty. Some of the guys said there had been a pretty fair mid-day bite — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the time many Saginaw Bay anglers head in for a break – but we didn’t see it. And a handful of phone calls to surrounding anglers told us that nobody in the immediate vicinity was doing any better.

It was decision time: Should we stay or should we go? Because no one reported a hot bite anywhere else, Martin said we might as well stay put.

So we did, solving many of the world’s problems while we waited. And waited. And waited.

At 4 p.m., we tangled lines. It was a mess, so much so that there was no choice but you go for the scissors and re-rig. And that’s when the fish showed up on the depth finder, while I was tying on a new leader and Martin was, too.

Although we couldn’t drop a bait on their heads, a couple of fish apparently found our tip-ups as we had two flags. Martin caught the fish that had taken the minnow on the tip-up he went to, while the one I went to was abandoned. (The minnow was still there, no worse for wear). But at least we had something going, no?

No. That was it. We packed up at 6:30 p.m.

I slept in the next morning and joined Martin on the ice at 9:30 — and he had a fish on his line when I got there. He told me he had two bites early, missed them both, then had four bites in a row that he 1) missed, 2) hooked but the fish got off at the hole, 3) hooked but broke off – “I never do that,” he said — then 4) caught.

So we sat there all day. At 5 p.m., Martin caught one. At 5:50 I had my first bite. I missed it on the hook set, but immediately went into the drill that Martin had taught me many times in the past — I dropped the bait to the bottom, pounded bottom a few times, then slowly raised it up, jiggling it constantly until I was a few feet off bottom, held it in place for a few seconds, then free-spooled it to the bottom. The fish hit it on the fall. I caught it.

Right at dark we started seeing a few fish on the sonar, but they wouldn’t play. We stayed until 7 p.m.

So after two long days on what is no doubt the hottest walleye fishery on the planet with one of America’s top walleye anglers, I had three bites, hooked them all, and iced two of them.

That’s fishing. But I can’t wait to go back. Next time, for sure, right?

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