If there’s one fish that the Bays de Noc are known for, it would have to be the walleye. Walleye fishing in both Big and Little bay de Noc is nothing short of spectacular at times. Over the course of history there have been ups and downs and many changes in the fishery, but through it all, the fish have remained abundant and healthy. Let’s take a look at the fishery in both of these awesome bodies of water.
Little Bay de Noc, with its 30,000 acres of water can best be described as a fish factory, with a D.N.R. estimated population of walleyes around 400,000. Thousands of these fish spawn in the Escanaba River, Rapid River, Tacoosh River, and the Whitefish River from mid to late April. Each year the Michigan D.N.R. conducts an egg take at the north end of the by near Rapid River. These eggs are used for stocking both bays on an alternating year basis, and they are also used for planting inland lakes throughout the state. While it used to take a few days to get all the eggs needed, the last few years D.N.R. personnel have been able to reach their quota in one days take, showing us that the population of walleyes is stronger than ever.
Fishing Little Bay de Noc
Fishing Little Bay de Noc has changed throughout the years though, mostly due in part to the exotic species that have been introduced to the Great Lakes from foreign vessels. The number one exotic species that’s made a change is the zebra mussel. Each one of these thumbnail sized foreign invaders filters the plankton out of one liter of water a day. With millions and millions of these filtering the water, it has cleared up the water immensely, making fish more skittish. The dark tannic acid colored water is gone, meaning walleyes now seek more cover in weeds, feed more after dark, and also move to deeper water than ever before.
As the environment has changed, so must anglers techniques to catch fish. Planer boards are used more than ever now to get baits away from boat-spooky fish. Looking for the dirtiest water available is another tactic that has to be employed. Walleyes are very light sensitive fish, but in dirty water they can feed effectively and they are not spooked as much by bright sunlight. Let’s take a quick look at some of the locations and techniques used to catch Little Bay de Noc walleyes.
The north end of the bay from Gladstone to Rapid River holds tons of fish year round. Some of the most popular areas are Center Reef at the north end, First, Second and Third Reef out from Kipling, and the deep water along the east bank from the Vagabond Resort south to Hunter’s Point, these are all great fish-holding locations throughout the year. Early in the season, trolling or drifting night crawler harnesses is probably the most preferred and effective method. Walleyes Choice harnesses are made locally and are a favorite among Bay de Noc anglers. This method works throughout the summer and into the fall when larger fish start to migrate back into the bay. At this time, many anglers switch over to trolling crankbaits. Many of the popular lures include: #18 Rapalas, Thundersticks in the aj series and dj series, Rapala deep husky-jerks, and Smithwick rattlin’ rogues. The most popular colors include: fire-tiger, blue/orange, silvers, and anything with purple on it!
The outer bay, from Gladstone to Escanaba, is comprised of a deeper water basin surrounded by shallow sand/gravel flats. Early in the season a good location is just out from the Gladstone public beach. Here you’ll find a nice weed-lined drop-off leading to deep water. Drifting or trolling crawler harnesses works best until weed cover gets too thick, then pitching jigs tipped with night crawler halves or leeches is a good bet. Another good area to try south of Gladstone is the famous “Black Bottom” area. Here there is a large weed flat in 8 to 14 feet of water that drops off sharply to depths of 30 to 36 feet. This is a good spot year-round, but really starts turning out fish in mid-summer. From July through September thousands of fish relate to this area. Walleyes can also be caught in the Escanaba River throughout the year, however, once the water temperature gets above 70 degrees, usually around the end of June most years, the average size of the fish goes down, with many of the fish being sub-legal. If you don’t have a boat, this is one location you can count on catching fish. There are new fishing platforms just downstream of the new North Shore boat launch on the River, and they are located near one of the best stretches of the river.
Now let’s take a look at Big Bay de Noc. This body of water can be feast or famine, but when it’s feast, it’s some of the best fishing you’ll ever see, with the average size of the fish incredible. There isn’t the number of fish in Big Bay as there is in Little Bay, but the size of fish in much bigger. Many days the average size fish runs from 24 to 30 inches, with many fish topping 12 lbs. The fishing on Big Bay takes off most years around mid June and lasts right through the fall. Starting at the north end of the bay we have the area out from the Fish Dam River. This area yields some nice fish when the water is dirty and when the weedbeds start to emerge. Another great location is Ogontz Bay in the northwest corner of Big Bay. Heading further south, we have Big Bay de Noc Shoal and Round Island. A couple areas that really heat up during the “dog days” of late July and August. Many tournaments have been won while fishing near these areas. Trolling crawler harnesses or crankbaits puts fish in the boat on Big Bay, with the crankbait bite being better in late summer through the fall period. Bigger blades tend to work better for the fish of Big Bay, with large 5,6,and 7 sized blades the norm. The water can be extremely clear on Big Bay making it almost an absolute necessity to get lures far from the boat. The fish tend to suspend high up in the water column on Big Bay also, meaning that many times you won’t mark fish on your electronics because they are spooked by the boat. Put lures at different depths throughout the water column to search for these giant “eyes” of Big Bay and pretty soon you’ll be hollering “fish-on” and reaching for the net.
There you have it, a brief overview of fishing both Little and Big Bay de Noc for "ol’ marble eyes”. If you’ve never fished these bodies of water, it is imperative that you get a hydrographic map showing the depths and structures throughout the bays. There are many shallow sand bars and rock piles in the bays, but they are shown on most of the maps available for the bays. For up to date fishing information, call one of the many local bait and tackle shops and they’ll be happy to point you in the right direction. “Good Luck” from all of us in the Bay de Noc area, we’ll see you on the water!!!