Catching Walleyes on Saginaw Bay: The Mystery Unraveled for Students

When travelers visit the Saginaw Bay Visitor Center and Recreation Area in Bay City, Mich., they’re often stunned by the enormity of the adjacent park, the beauty of the sunrises and the ample opportunities to recreate for children and adults alike. From the myriad of special events, one is hard-pressed not to find something of interest in this DNR-maintained facility.

The DNR teamed up with Saginaw Bay Walleye Club to sponsor a two-day open-water Walleye Clinic under the auspices of Hall of Fame Professional Walleye angler Mark Martin. The mysteries of catching walleyes on Saginaw Bay were unraveled in May when Martin and his staff presented their clinic at the Bay City State Recreation Area.

“Without the assistance of local pro Brandon Stanton and Laura Shorkey, club president, this event wouldn’t have happened,” said Valerie Blashka park interpreter.

So what do you get when Martin teams up with six other pro anglers and 28 students on a body of water considered “world class” for catching walleyes?

For students, it was an opportunity to receive years of experience, knowledge, dozens of tips and intricate insight into how to locate, entice, hook and land the most sought-after fish in Michigan: the walleye. For Martin and is staff, it was a chance to spread their expertise, know-how and memories to an eager group of anglers.

“We want to make memories for you,” Martin said, in his opening-day remarks.

A classroom session from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. covered tackle and tactics for catching the gamefish. Each of the pro staff members presented different areas where students could better their chances at catching fish.

“Stop guessing; get it right, “Martin exclaimed, before introducing Brandon Stanton.

Stanton then focused on the importance of electronics and the mapping/navigation systems that are available.

“When going out for the first time looking for fish, I use Navionics both on my graph and on my phone. The phone app is a great tool. With these two devices, anglers can see and consider the wind, inside turns and ambush points.”

Pro Nick Broughton focused on having and using the proper rods.

“I use medium-action fast-tip rods. Avoid foam or rubber on the butt of rod because it lessens sensitivity.”

Ken Rice gave tips on river jigging for walleyes.

“After the cast, start reeling before the lure hits the water,” Rice said. “Then let it touch the bottom, pick it up and follow this with steady picks up and down. Make sure there is no slack in the line, and with a hit, set the hook but keep reeling. Walleyes have strong mouths so use stinger hooks and let them float. Finally, be level with the rod tip while jigging.”

What works for one might not work for all, says Pat Bentley, pro staff member.

“It has been my experience that active walleyes are not always going to be on the bottom.”

His solution is to target suspended walleyes using ’crawler harnesses.

“They can be deadly on fish looking up, especially when trolled at a proper speed of 1 mph.”

With that, Bentley took his presentation to another level when he demonstrated how to make harnesses.

“Tying up harnesses is relatively easy and definitely easy on your wallet,” Bentley said.

The first day concluded with Martin stressing that tomorrow is not going to be a guided fishing trip and that the experts have shown different techniques and tips to be more effective while trolling and jigging and knowing what to use.

“One rod won’t cut it; you have to have the tools and you achieve this by choosing the correct rod and tackle. After this seminar, you can confidently walk into a bait shop and know what you need.”

The next morning 28 students, pro staff and a few media personnel took off from the launch and proceeded up the Saginaw River and then into the Bay. The information they retained from the previous day’s seminar was well received as witnessed by the smiles on all the students’ faces.

Walleyes were hooked by trolling, jigging, drifting and casting, and large pike were boated along with silver bass, sheepshead and a few carp.

“I’ve been fishing for many years, but I learned a lot over the past two days obviously since I managed to land some nice fish today,” Jim Waggoner, a participant, said.

With one-on-one encouragement from Martin and his staff, the two-day event was beneficial. New anglers will now be able to put skills learned into the passion for the sport. Experienced anglers may have found a fresh spark for their lifelong recreation.

Izaak Walton wrote, “God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.”

All attending this past fishing adventure can attest to this.