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When the opportunity presented itself to fish Saginaw Bay at Mark Martin’s Ice Fishing Vacation School, it meant two things. One, knocking one of the ice fishing lakes off my bucket list and, two, missing my 26th consecutive sturgeon spearing season on Lake Winnebago.

Most people in my neck of the woods could never lay down the spear in exchange for a rod and reel, but an opportunity like this just doesn’t present itself every day! So, with a little planning and 500 miles later I arrived in Bay City, Michigan ready to take on Lake Huron’s, Saginaw Bay.

Bay City is exactly like a person would envision every Midwestern town. It was clean, seemingly quiet and full of friendly people willing to help at every turn. With a population of roughly 35,000, this charming riverside community is filled with boutiques, eateries and a wonderful historic district, but the most important aspect of this town for me was is close proximity to the mighty walleye.

Saginaw Bay is teaming with trout, salmon, perch and walleye but this wasn’t always the case. As is the story of so many Great Lake ports, pollution had left the area nearly devoid of fish. The trout and salmon where the first species take hold in Saginaw and walleyes followed years later with a little innovation from the locals.

Every year a meager amount of walleyes were raised in nearby highway water retention ponds and dumped into the bay with great skepticism by most! It wasn’t until several years after planting those fingerlings that commercial fishermen were noticing catches of walleyes in their nets. Today, a creel census by the Michigan DNR shows roughly 173,000 walleyes are harvested by traditional angling methods. That’s not bad for the walleye’s humble beginnings in the bay.

The first day of the school is always full of seminars conducted by Mark’s pro staff. They also assist students in setting up their fishing equipment. Proper line, swivels and hooks are a must when tangling with Saginaw bay eyes.

After a day of informational seminars and a trip to Frank’s Great Outdoors sporting goods store, the students and media members were ready for three days of ice fishing on the bay. Similar to Wisconsin, old man winter had a death grip on the Saginaw bay area which helped form thirty inches of ice.

Travel on the bay was ideal other than the perfectly formed moguls which would have put any ski run in Sochi, Russia to shame. As the sun crept over the horizon each day, twenty snowmobiles and ATVs lumbered and bounced over miles of frozen water to our fishing destination.

As the augers became silent, the pro staff and students assembled their temporary ice village and began fishing. The school would return to shore ten hours later and share the results of the day at a banquet style meal at the Village Inn located in Linwood, MI. Fishing brought mixed results over the three day trip for pro staff and students. Although we never really laid the lumber to the walleyes, everyone had a story about a fish they caught or unique account of something that happened as their day unfold.

One student was so excited over feeling his first walleye tug on the line, as he set the hook, his cell phone flopped into a minnow bucket. He retrieved his “still working” phone and it made for one of the best stories of the evening.

Over the course of my stay I listened to the participants at meal time and it became clear that everyone had gathered important information which helped them catch fish. Many students talked about the seminar information such as using minnow tails, glow lures or small treble hooks as part of their success. A fair number of walleye from 15- to 18-inches were caught with a few weighing over 3 lbs. A day of pre-fishing with the pro staff netted several 5 lbs. fish with one over 7 lbs. An employee at one of the local bait shops in the area reported a walleye tipping the scales at over 13.5 lbs. which was caught in the same area that the school was fishing.

Professional angler Mark Martin has run his ice fishing vacation schools for nearly 25 years. It was the school’s 22nd time visiting Saginaw Bay.

“I think most people that are new to ice fishing underestimate the conditions when fishing big water. This place is so hard on things and really puts my equipment to the test.” said Martin. “I have a great Pro Staff and so many fantastic sponsors that also help pull this off. Without them, none of this could be possible.”

Anyone interested in visiting Saginaw Bay or the Bay City area can contact their convention and visitors bureau at For more information on Mark Martin’s Ice fishing schools check out

More on ice fishing: Ice fishing news from around the state | Your ice fishing photos | Build a map | Read ice fishing reports

Read more from John McArdle.

John McArdle is a life-long resident of Fond Du Lac and blogs about fishing adventures in the great state of Wisconsin. Anything from trout fishing the Driftless Area to sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago, John will provide stories ,tips and photos of his FINtastic adventures in Wisconsin!

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