BAY CITY, Mich. – Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay is a unique fishery in that it’s loaded with 12- to 19-inch walleyes. While these make for delectable table fare, they can be frustrating for tournament walleye anglers. This week at the second Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event of the 2018 season, anglers are faced with the difficult decision of sorting through dozens of fish or running considerable distances and fishing for five big bites. Ranger pro Tom Keenan chose the latter program and is leading the tournament after day one with 24.17 pounds.
After a productive practice, Keenan came into the event’s first day hoping to catch somewhere between 20 and 26 pounds. While he achieved that goal, he only caught seven walleyes altogether.
“It was just a grind,” said the Hatley, Wis., angler. “We would just get one here and one there. There were no real flurries; we just continued to jump around and hit different spots.”
Keenan estimated that he stayed on his best spot for two hours. It only produced one fish, but it was a quality 5-pounder. Keenan said he sampled roughly 15 spots over the course of the day. He started his morning by making a “decent run” and then slowly worked his way back towards Bay City.
With one day of competition remaining, Keenan was unwilling to reveal many details of his pattern.
“It was a bit breezy on those reefs today. I will say that the new Minn Kota Spot-Lock absolutely saved us. If we caught a fish or saw something that looked good, we’d Spot-Lock, and that made a huge difference.”
Keenan likes both the venue and how the conditions are setting up for tomorrow.
“I know this lake fairly well, and I just like to fish the Great Lakes in general. I don’t like congested river tournaments. I like to get away from everybody. I think tomorrow is setting up to be pretty good. With lighter winds, we should be able to get to the spots and fish them right.”
Tight-lipped King second
River rat Brett King sits in second place with a five-fish limit weighing 23.94 pounds. King is proving this week that he’s no slouch on the expansive Great Lakes. After a top-10 finish at the season opener, momentum is clearly on his side.
“I had a really good practice,” said the Hager City, Wis., pro. “I had four practice days over 23 pounds and that was on two different programs. One of those programs fizzled out, but sometimes that’s good, because you’re not overthinking things. I’m very happy with 24 pounds today, but I can’t say I’m surprised.”
“I’m running spots, and generally they show themselves pretty quick. I only caught five fish today, and I will only get three to nine bites tomorrow. The irony is that there’s fish everywhere. It’s a cool system. I guess you could say there’s a tinge of craziness to my program.”
King hasn’t fished Saginaw Bay in 15 years. However, he’s done well in the past on Green Bay, and for at least this week, they’re fishing similarly.
“Green Bay has been pretty good to me, and it just carries over when you’re on this system. I don’t have the history here, but I’m pretty confident I’ll get five tomorrow. I should have more time to fish tomorrow with better conditions. I think the stars could be aligning.”
Kemos third on prototype bait
Oconomowoc, Wis., pro Tom Kemos is holding down the third spot on the leaderboard with a 23.91-pound limit. All his day-one weight came from a new Strike King prototype bait.
“I can’t say much about it yet, but I finished seventh with this bait at Winnebago, so it’s working so far,” Kemos said. “I’m fishing it in anywhere from 19 to 32 feet of water.”
Kemos explained that he cycled through eight or nine different spots today and caught fish at four. He had his limit in the boat by 8 a.m., and he finished with 15 or 16 walleyes, four of which were over 24 inches.
“I found one key area that is pretty much the spot. I go there and work it over, and then I let it sit while I fish other areas. The good news is that there really isn’t anyone fishing it, so the spot reloads. I went back and checked it again this afternoon, and they were still there.”
Kemos was pleasantly surprised today when he put the hammer down on this aforementioned spot.
“When I went out this morning, I felt like I could do high teens. But I hadn’t really worked my main area over in practice. I didn’t really know the full potential of it. The biggest fish I caught there in practice was a 26-incher. Today I was fortunate to catch two 28s.”
Okada fourth, Stachowksi fifth
Rounding out the top five are young sticks Joe Okada and Ed Stachowski, both of whom excel on the Great Lakes. Okada, the Cambridge, Wis., pro, caught a limit weighing 23.63 pounds for fourth place.
Stachowski, the 2016 Angler of the Year, sits in fifth with a 23.51-pound stringer.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2018 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event on Saginaw Bay:
6th: John Hoyer of Orono, Minn., five fish, 22.43
7th: Randall Gaines of Salem, Ohio, five fish, 22.07
8th: Steve Vandemark of Linwood, Mich., five fish, 21.78
9th: Jason Doyon of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, five fish, 20.92
10th: John Gillman of Freeland, Mich., five fish, 20.80
The final day of competition begins tomorrow at 6 a.m. Eastern time as the full field takes off from Veteran’s Memorial Park. The final weigh-in takes place at Wenonah Park, beginning at 4 p.m.