Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — LINWOOD — I felt just the slightest tick on the end of my line, but failed to connect on the hook set. I could tell by the way it felt that my minnow was gone, so I burned the bait back up when I noticed my partner sitting next to me, walleye pro Mark Martin, setting the hook.
He started laughing.
“He got yours, then he came over and got mine,” he said as he hauled a three-pound eye up through the hole.
Talk about adding insult to injury.
Martin had me down three-zip. Fortunately, I soon got into the plus column. But over the next half hour, Martin caught another and I blanked.
Frustration. Not that getting beaten by Mark Martin is in any way embarrassing. But it had been a frustrating day from the start.
We’d gotten up before the roosters, hoping to get going early, but there were white-out conditions on Saginaw Bay. The pressure crack we’d have to cross to get out to where we eventually wound up — 16 feet of water, just inside a second pressure crack — had opened up overnight due to gale-force winds. So we waited it out.
Long story short, it was 5 p.m. by the time we got set up to fish. (Safety first!)
It was several days before Martin’s annual Ice Fishing/Vacation School on Saginaw Bay and we were on a reconnaissance mission. It was successful; everyone in our party of more than a dozen anglers spread along the second pressure crack caught fish with a couple of limits caught and one fellow catching nine.
We all started out in the same place the next morning and the results were the opposite. Very few fish came to our holes. What made matters worse is that someone had found a path across the second pressure crack — out to deeper water — and it was about 25 yards from our shanty. We were just off what had become a highway for snowmobiles and quads. It became apparent by late morning that we were going to have to move.
Martin and I went across the crack, out to 20 feet of water, and visited with some other anglers. The bite, they said, had been pretty good early that morning, but had died off as the sun rose. So we moved back toward shallower water — just outside the pressure crack — away from the crowds and set up the shanty and set a couple of tip-ups.
At 5 p.m., the first tip-up went off. Martin hauled in a keeper ‘eye.
I was fishing with a Little Cleo, tipped with a minnow, but was hooking the minnow in an entirely different manner than usual, one that Martin said someone had shown him at his first vacation/school of the year in the Upper Peninsula.
As Martin explained it, you dangle the spoon and pick out the hook point on the treble that is perpendicular to the concave side of the spoon. Then you hook the minnow on that point, inserting it through the top of the back in front of the dorsal fin, then back out through the minnow’s head. The theory is that when you drop the spoon, the minnow appears to be backing away from it. I think that’s putting pretty fine point on your presentation, but, who am I to argue with Mark Martin?
I felt a tick, set the hook and caught a 16 incher. Martin caught a little better one. Then I caught one that would go a little better than three pounds.
Then we both started missing fish. I missed three in a row and when I reeled it back up, all that was left on the hook was the minnow head. Apparently they were grabbing it, but not quite getting all of it. The obvious answer was to use a smaller minnow, but we didn’t have any, just large walleye minnows. And rather than go with a half minnow, I wanted to explore the theory.
(Later on, it occurred to me that if I’d added a stinger hook, that might have made the difference. Hindsight, eh?)
We wound up catching one more on the tip-up. Five between us. That’s pretty good.
I left before the Martin’s school actually started. That night, the wind got up and there was open water at the pressure crack. Martin wound up gathering up the school the next afternoon, going to Pinconning — where the ice was safe, at least in shallower water. They caught a bunch of jumbo perch and a few ‘eyes, he said.
The next day, Martin took the crew to the east side of the bay, out of Sunset Marina.
“When the ice blows out, it blows in somewhere else,” Marin said.
They had to spend a fair amount of time finding their way around — and finding fish — but over the next day and a half they caught a bunch of walleyes and had, what Martin termed a “successful event.”
Which proves a couple of things about ice fishing; first, and foremost, staying mobile is your best strategy. When life hands you a lemon. . .
As for the bay, it has been on fire this year – when the weather is stable, which has been rare as honest politicians. The constant changes — high winds, warm weather, rain, etc. — have made for a trying season. But it is obvious the fish are there.
Saginaw Bay is “one of those shining jewels of walleye fishing,” Martin says. “The natural reproduction in the rivers, will sustain that fishery for years to come.”
Saginaw Bay often boasts outstanding fishing at last ice. I intend to check it out at least one more time this winter. It all depends, sadly enough, on the weather.
Mark Martin shows off a Saginaw Bay walleye caught on a Little Cleo.
Mark Martin with a Saginaw Bay walleye caught on a tip-up.
Mark Martin hauls in a walleye taken on a tip-up.