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Fishing shallow, and slowly, keys to catching Saginaw Bay walleye


05/12/07 By Bob Gwizdz

THOMAS -- Saginaw Bay was smooth as glass. And that presented a minor problem for Doug Demming.

A 50-year-old hunting/fishing lodge proprietor, Demming has been smacking the walleyes here all spring, slow-trolling without an outboard. There's been enough wind to push his 24-foot Dusky at just the right speed, he said.

But this day, with not a breath of air on us, Demming fired up the engine, and by the time he had our sixth rod set, we were reeling in one, then another keeper walleye.

Before he could reset the rods, we had two more go off.

"A lot of times, when it's like this, I only run four rods, I don't care how many guys I have on board," Demming said.

Fifteen minutes into fishing, we had four in the boat.

And it continued. By 5 p.m., an hour after we'd started, with three of us aboard, we had 10.

Demming was fishing crawler harnesses as slowly as he could -- well less than one mile an hour -- in six feet to seven feet of water. The keys, he said, were fishing in shallow water, fishing slowly and fishing above the fish.

We used gold blades (highlighted with red or pink) or chartreuse blades with beads of a similar color. Both rigs have been hot lately, Demming said, though the key wasn't so much color as it was trolling speed and depth.

Demming would bait his rig -- a No. 5 spinner with two hooks, a small single and a trailing treble -- drop it to the bottom, peel off 10 more feet of line, then attach it to a planer board.

"The biggest mistake people make is letting out too much line," he said. "They're running that crawler below the fish.

"That's why God put eyes on the top of the fish's head. Fish come up to strike. You see the same thing ice fishing. Guys have a tendency to jig below them. Bring it up."

Most days, Demming said, he can troll at 1.2 or 1.3 mph without using his outboard. Often, he uses a drift sock to slow him down, which helps keep the bait in the strike zone longer.

"If it's (water) rough, you'll catch 80 percent of your fish going with the wind," he said. "You can have the best boat, the best rods, the best equipment, but speed is what's really important."

Catching fish in that depth of water was a major change from a just a few days earlier, when he was getting them in four feet or less, Demming said.

"They stay shallow all through May," said Demming, who has been running Fish Point Lodge (a well-known destination for many duck hunters), for two decades here. "Guys have a tendency to remember where they caught fish last summer. This is not summer."

We went through a period without boating any fish when the wind increased, the sun disappeared and the day took on an entirely different complexion. Demming cut the motor, turned the boat away from the wind. In no time, we had four more, with one more to get tp reach our limit.

It took a little while, with only a bowfin to break the monotony, and it started to rain, until two rods went off at once. Demming cranked in a small walleye (maybe a half inch shy of the 15-inch minimum limit), but the one I had on acted like it wasn't going to budge. As I slowly gained ground I could see why; though the majority of the fish we'd caught that day were perfect dinner plate walleyes -- 17 to 20 inches -- this one was a horse. As I brought him to the transom and Greg Sochocki slipped the landing net under it, I guessed it at eight pounds. Sochocki said he thought it might go nine.

Demming hoisted it for photos, then we slipped back into the Bay.

"So what do you think?" he asked.

The rain had picked up significantly. I offered that there was little use getting soaked just so we could say we brought in a limit. We pulled the rest of the lines and went back to the marina.

We were on the water for less than two and a half hours. It doesn't get much better.

"My goal is to not only get people into fish, but show them how, when they get into their own boat the next weekend, one or two things that'll teach them how to catch more fish," Demming said. "I'll tell you I think this fishery is better than Lake Erie, it's just not capitalized on."

Better than Lake Erie? That's a tall order. But when you catch a limit in 150 minutes, dock to dock, it's pretty hard to argue with.

You can reach Demming at (989) 674-2631.
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