Ice Fishing Bay de Noc Walleye Gold
By Larry Smith
As many of you know, I am an absolute ice-fishing maniac. I’m usually one of the first guys out on the hard water; using a lifetime of experience to safely assess the ice conditions to find fish Crappies, bluegills, perch, pike; you name it. I love catching all of them on any of the Midwest’s’ numerous fine ice fisheries. I am, however, a walleye guy and there is a walleye ice fishing goldmine north of the WI border that is one of the finest waters for ice fishing trophy walleye: Bay de Noc.
A drive along Hwy 35 passing the home of the Green Bay Packers along the west shore of Green Bay waters will lead you to Escanaba, MI to Little Bay de Noc on the north end of Lake Michigan holds good numbers of 10lb+ trophy walleyes from late fall into the ice fishing season. There are many places to get onto the ice, great bait & tackle shops in the Escanaba/Gladstone area to purchase your fishing license and any ice fishing gear necessary for your trophy walleye ice fishing expedition. Bay Shore is a notable establishment that has a state boat launch and a fine selection of live bait & tackle, fishing reports & updates
Something I love about Bay de Noc is machines aren’t absolutely necessary to get on great fishing. Of course, a UTV or snowmobile makes it a heck of a lot easier hauling gear and crew around, but when the ice is just thick enough for walking, it’s not a huge pain hoofing it with just a sled of gear in tow. Most trophy walleye ice fisheries can be quite expansive, and walking to prime spots would be an all-day affair. I’m not saying you won’t burn some calories on Bay de Noc, but it is very doable for the ice angler on foot.
With that being said, I would like to preach a little ice safety. Ice fishing is an extremely enjoyable sport, but one must ALWAYS respect the ice and be mindful of the conditions at hand. Have your ice picks handy around your neck, try to fish with a partner whenever possible, have a rope with a flotation device at the ready, spud your way out, and measure ice depth often as ice thickness can vary greatly. One safety product I cannot say enough good things about (and, as I guide, I wouldn’t be without) is a Nebulus emergency flotation device. After all, can you say that $450 isn’t worth your life
Ok, lets get ice fishing! There are a few things to know about Bay de Noc that will help you in your quest for that trophy walleye before you even drill your first hole. This is an extremely clear body of water, which usually means time of day is an important factor when trying to capitalize on the best bite. Typically, the low-light times of dawn and dusk are your best bets. I’m not saying that midday can’t be good at times, but in my experience low-light times of day are the most productive. Bay de Noc does have a decent night bite, so this is a fishery you can burn the midnight oil on if you so choose. (Escanaba in da moonlight…?)
Because of its clarity, the bay does have a decent amount of weed growth, which makes finding good areas to place baits very important. I usually try to set my baits in 12-16 fow in pockets of weeds adjacent to deeper water where my baits (typically suckers) can swim unimpeded by cover where they will be found by feeding walleyes. If you place your baits in the weeds, the baitfish will find cover in said weed growth significantly reducing your chances of hooking up with that trophy. I usually set my baits a few inches from bottom, but in a good area that has some weed growth (not a jungle mind you), I will position the baits 4’’-6’’ from the tops of the cover. The key is to have the bait attract feeding fish, so make sure the prey is visible to the predator.
Tip-ups are the choice method of presenting the aforementioned baits efficiently on Bay de Noc. I have at least a 6’, 6-8lb fluorocarbon leader attached with a micro swivel to my tip-up line. I use #12- #10 hooks depending on the size of the suckers I’m using and I will, at times, attach a tiny glow bead right above the hook to give me an edge at night or during extreme low light times. Even though the water is very clear, that little bit of glow will help walleyes home in on the bait from afar. Biting a portion of the tail off of the bait to keep it actively moving will also aid in attracting fish. I favor the smaller hooks on my rigs due to the fact that negative walleyes are notorious for “mouthing” baits before they actually commit to the chop, and a hook that is too large will result in a lot of dropped baits and false flags.
I know a lot of old-school fishermen favor depth bombs for quickly setting tip-up depth, but because of the weed growth, my Vexilar is an extremely important tool in determining the best possible location for my presentations. It conveniently lets me find weed pockets quickly without ever having to drop a line until I’m ready. The Vexilar also lets me see my baits as they go through the water column, so I can set them at precisely the right depth. (Flashers: More than just a jigging tool.)
Speaking of jigging, it does have its place on Bay de Noc. I will, at times, move around jigging trying to find active fish while a couple of tip-ups do their thing; conveniently rigged with Blue Tipz from Deep Freeze. These slick little devices send an alarm straight to my smartphone or an optional receiver when a flag is tripped so I can concentrate on jigging without having to rubberneck around for flags. They’ve been a big hit with a lot of people we have fished with during our television trips; allowing anglers to concentrate on jigging while just listening for the alarm. Jigging helps fill in the spaces while waiting for tip-up action because, not only is it another way to search out and catch walleyes, but there are also plenty of perch and pike to be caught on this body of water.
It’s important not to take the “set it and forget it” approach with tip-up fishing on Bay de Noc. Every 20-30 minutes I will SLOWLY and QUIETLY walk up to my rigs (remember these fish are wary in the clear water) and gently lift them up to make sure that baitfish keeps moving. If that bait isn’t moving, you’re not attracting fish. Munching the tail off helps with this somewhat, but it is still important to check your tip-ups often. You have to put all the odds in your favor to consistently catch fish so don’t get lazy.
When you hook up with that Bay de Noc trophy walleye, (and if you follow these fishing techniques I’ve outlined here) you'll immediately see what the attraction is for this body of water: Giant walleyes with a chance at a 10lb+ fish that are, in my well-travelled walleye opinion, the most beautifully colored specimens of the species around. This is the place for truly photogenic fish of trophy proportions. Have the camera at the ready, because you will want to capture every angle of these superstar walleyes, and while staring in disbelief at a creature so magnificent you might hear yourself say, “What a great day to be alive!”
Watch episode “Ice Walleyes on Bay de Noc” here to see these techniques in action!
Walleye, Bass Jigging Tips & Techniques
By Larry Smith
I love to catch fish. Any fish. I will use the many fishing techniques learned through my years as a fishing guide to catch fish wherever I go. However, there is one technique that I hold most dear: Jigging for walleye and bass. It’s the best hands-on fishing experience there is!
There is nothing like feeling a fish strike, feeling the weight, and the fish fight. Jigging, is one of the best methods but it's a fishing technique that requires a little attention to detail...
Whether snap-jigging soft plastics or slowly gliding a night crawler through current, the size of the jig is very, very important. The key to successful jigging is having the bait fall correctly to make a fish bite. While snap jigging, I typically adjust the fall rate depending on the weather and mood of the fish, a faster fall and snap for aggressive fish, while a lighter jig and fall rate for cold front lethargic fish.
Jigging in river current is a little different. In current, you want to have the jig glide through the water. Cast at a 45-degree angle into the current, use a jig just heavy enough to periodically bounce bottom as it glides naturally into the mouth of a hungry walleye. Too heavy of a jig, it will fall too fast and most likely snag into rocks or submerged timber, If too light of a jig, it's difficult to control the bait, feel the bite and also will be swept down the river current too fast without contacting the bottom where most hungry walleye are holding.
Experiment with different size jigs and colors in various weather conditions. When you get the combination right and start feeling the bite, the fight, and the happiness of a big fish; you will see why I love to jig more than anything else!
Forgotten Trophy Potential: Petenwell and Castle Rock Flowages
By Larry Smith
When it comes to walleye fishing in Wisconsin, everyone knows about Green Bay on Lake Michigan and the Lake Winnebago system, indeed, these are great walleye fisheries. there comes a time when you want to get away from the crowd and STILL have the chance to catch trophy-caliber fish: Enter the forgotten Wisconsin River impoundments of Petenwell and Castle Rock.
Petenwell and Castle Rock were created in the 1950’s by impounding sections of the Wisconsin River for power production; creating the 2nd and 5th largest bodies of water in the state respectively. Before the damns were built, the areas to be flooded were not cleared of trees, so this left a multitude of cover and structure.
These Wisconsin River impoundments are not some newly discovered secret. About 10-12 years ago the word was out on the trophy potential of these waters for walleyes, crappies, muskies, plus the incredible numbers of white bass and catfish. However, in the past these fish were not very good table fare. The Wisconsin River is probably one of the most industrialized rivers in the country and had many paper mills operating along it’s shores which gave the fish a sulphurous taste. Many of these mills are now gone, and the ones that remain are operating under cleaner regulations thus returning quality table fare status to the fishery. There are many campgrounds around Petenwell and Castle Rock Flowages; located in Adams and Juneau counties, along with plenty of bait shops that can provide you with fishing tips, techniques and everything else you need for a successful fishing trip.
So what fishing techniques work on these Wisconsin River impoundments? If you’re thinking about trolling, you might want to reconsider. As many of you know, trolling is probably about the last thing I want to do to catch fish, which makes Castle Rock and Petenwell exactly the kind of lakes for my style of fishing. They’re absolutely a hands-on fisherman’s paradise. Three-way rigs, Lindy rigs, weedless jigs, all tipped with fatheads (or a big sucker for trophies) will produce all year on these waters. This is something that is kind of unique in comparison with other walleye fisheries across the state. When other systems turn to a crawler or leech bite later in the season, minnows will produce all year on the Wisconsin River impoundments. I typically use 8-10 pound line (mono or superline) on spinning reels, but will also use bait-casting gear for a large sucker rig, which provides a little more backbone when hauling a huge walleye out of the wood cover. Petenwell and Castle Rock are stained bodies of water, so I find that darker colors (or even glow varieties) of jigs work best. Because of its stained water, sun is crucial to the best bite. I’ve probably said this a million times: It’s a banker’s bite, meaning the hours of 8am-4pm are the most productive. It is also important to remember to use shorter leader lengths (16-18”) and light wire hooks on your jigs and bait rigs. Longer leaders will just have your bait swimming in and around all the wood, which will have you snagged most of the time instead of catching fish. Light wire hooks will also bend out of the snags, allowing you to not lose your entire rig. Another handy tip is to use about a 6” leader of 6lb test on the sinker drop line on three-way rigs. The lighter line will break off and leave the rest of the rig intact if it becomes snagged. Also, when using jigs, keep movement to a minimum, almost like a dead sticking presentation, the fish just don’t like a lot of movement in the presentation. Perhaps they need to study the bait when they come up and out of the cover before they commit to biting…
These impoundments are definitely a “spot on the spot” type of fishery, so boat control is crucial to staying on fish. I use electronics with a good mapping chip to locate bends in the river channels with ample wood cover within the flowage. Once located, the trick is staying on top of them. Years ago, before the advent of spot-lock technology on trolling motors, you had to anchor to stay on fish. With all the wood on the bottom of these waters, I bet I’ve lost many anchors to their snaggy depths over the years. Just be aware that if you don’t have spot-lock technology, you might not want to bring your best anchor when fishing Petenwell and Castle Rock. In fact, you might want to bring a spare...
The walleyes of the Wisconsin River impoundments are protected by a 5 fish, 15-20” and 1 over 28” slot limit. I always say how much I love fishing bodies of water with protective slots; you catch lots of fish and always have a shot at trophy fish every time you’re out on the water. There’s plenty of fish available for a nice meal, and there’s plenty of fish to get excited about as well. Petenwell and Castle Rock are great destinations for a summer fishing trip adventure! And when you’re out in the summer sun hauling in that 30” walleye with plenty of elbowroom, you’ll definitely say, “It’s a great day to be alive!”
To see the techniques explained in this article, watch “Summer Petenwell Walleyes get Suckered!” episode.