Saginaw Bay is one of the state's most popular walleye fishing destinations, and spring is arguably the best time of year to plan a trip to the Great Lakes Bay Region to experience it. Not only are the walleye fishing opportunities on Saginaw Bay excellent during the spring season, the nearby Saginaw River also comes into play.
Beginning in March, countless walleye stage in the southern most parts of Saginaw Bay in preparation to run the Saginaw River where they will spawn in the Saginaw River and many of the connecting tributary streams. The walleye fishing season on Saginaw Bay is open year around, but on the Saginaw River and attached tributaries the season closes on March 15 and re-opens approximately six weeks later on the last Saturday in April.
The closed season in the rivers is to allow spawning fish an opportunity to keep Saginaw Bay well stocked with walleye for generations to come. Just before the season closes on March 15 and immediately after the season re-opens on the last Saturday in April, anglers are treated to outstanding river fishing opportunities.
River Fishing Methods
Post-spawn walleye that drop out of the Saginaw River immediately encounter the "Dredge Island", a man-made island found near the mouth of the Saginaw River. Pitching jigs and crankbaits to the rip-rap banks is one of the author's favorite ways to target walleye like this one.
The lower end of the Saginaw River is characterized by being a fairly deep, but sluggish moving system. Vertical jigging using both jigs tipped with live minnows and also jigs tipped with soft plastic grub bodies is one of the most popular ways to catch transient walleye as they come and go from the Saginaw River. The best jig sizes are typically 1/4- and 3/8-ounce versions.
During the first two weeks of March, weather typically dictates fishing success. In years when snow, rain and run off are modest, the river becomes a jigging hot spot second to none. On years when heavy snow or rains create torrential run off, the Saginaw River walleye bite suffers.
When the season re-opens on the last Saturday in April, fishing conditions on the Saginaw River are normally excellent. By this time of year, most of the heavy rains and run off have already occurred, water levels on the Saginaw River stabilize and the post-spawn walleye bite is world class.
Anglers targeting walleye in the Saginaw River will find that jigs tipped with soft plastic grubs routinely produce limit catches. Split-tail minnows, paddle-tail grubs and curl-tail grubs in the three- and four-inch sizes are the three most popular grub styles.
In late April, Saginaw River anglers will also find walleye eager to strike other jigging lures such as lipless crankbaits, blade baits and glide baits. Hot spots become the upstream edges of bridge pilings, shipping channel edges and the expansive flats found near the mouth where the Saginaw River pours into Saginaw Bay. Walleye fishing success on the Saginaw River is good throughout May and even into early June, giving small boat anglers an "option" to explore on days when the open waters of Saginaw Bay are too rough to fish.
Spring Saginaw Bay Walleye Fishing Tactics
The spring crankbait bite on Saginaw Bay gets started literally as soon as the ice melts from boat launches. It's also important to note that the walleye fishing season on Saginaw Bay is open year around. Throughout the months of April and May anglers can expect outstanding success trolling crankbaits along the near shore waters of Saginaw Bay.
Thankfully, not all the walleye of the Saginaw Bay spawn at the same time. A constant supply of pre-spawn walleye are moving up the Saginaw River, meanwhile post-spawn walleye are dropping back to Saginaw Bay. In April, May and early June, the near shore waters of Saginaw Bay offer visiting anglers exceptional fishing opportunities.
The Dredge Island, located in Saginaw Bay near the mouth of the Saginaw River provides the first structured post-spawn walleye encounter when they return to the Bay. The rip-rap edges of the Dredge Island consistently hold baitfish and transient walleye. Pitching small jigs tipped with soft plastic grubs is the ideal way to target rip-rap loving walleye.
During spring the near shore waters of Saginaw Bay also support a good trolling bite for walleye. Early in the spring when the water temperatures are colder than 50 degrees, crankbaits such as the Rapala Deep Husky Jerk, Bandit 5/8-ounce Walleye, Berkley No. 9 Flicker Minnow and Reef Runner 800 series routinely produce limit catches when trolled 1.2 to 1.8 MPH. Crankbaits are always more productive when fished in combination with planer boards that help spread out lines and cover more water.
Later in the spring when the water temperature of Saginaw Bay spikes beyond the 50-degree threshold, the "spinner bite" on Saginaw Bay kicks into full force. Nightcrawler harnesses or what many anglers simply refer to as "spinners" produce best when fished in combination with a two-ounce bottom bouncer sinker. This classic, structure fishing technique produces countless Saginaw Bay walleye. The most popular blade style and sizes include Colorado and Indiana blades in the No. 3, 4 and 5 sizes.
Spinner rigs can be slow trolled or drifted across the endless flats of Saginaw Bay. In the spring of the year, most of the walleye are going to be found in water less than 20 feet deep, making this the perfect time of year for small boat anglers to cash in on the walleye bonanza.
The daily limit for walleye on the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay is eight fish and the minimum size limit is 13 inches. This is currently the most generous limit for walleye found anywhere in the Great Lakes.
Wrapping It Up
Spring is a special time of year for anglers who visit the Great Lakes Bay Region. Outstanding opportunities to target walleye on both the Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River await those who can't get enough of their favorite fish!