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A Walleyes Inc. affiliate
By JOHN KOLINSKI
John Kolinski is the 2002 Professional Walleye Trail Angler of the Year,
last year's Illinois River RCL winner and a 13-time championship
qualifier on the PWT, RCL and Masters Walleye Circuit. His articles can
be read in numerous Midwestern outdoor publications and several web
sites. Kolinski is sponsored by Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Lowrance
Electronics, Normark/Storm Lures, MinnKota, Lindy Legendary Tackle,
Flambeau, Tempress Rod Holders, Off-Shore Planer Boards, Berkley Trilene,
Optima Batteries and Panther Marine.
While they may seem to be discerning dieters at times to anglers, fishwill
basically eat anything. Consider the largemouth bass. It is known to feast
on worms, bugs, crayfish, salamanders, leeches, snakes, various fish species
and even mice. Panfish eat everything from grubs and maggots to crickets
Often, one goes with the other in December. When you find feeding fish,
you will also find big fish. Considering the things these fish will eat and their lack of regard for their figures, it's fun to try different things and different baits. You
will find that lures and baits you never considered during warmer-weather
walleye fishing can be dynamite during the final days of open-water fishing on lakes and reservoirs or the early days of winter on river systems.
Here is a five-course meal that's sure to please a walleye's palate. Put it to use and you will also satisfy your own appetite for a meal of fresh walleye fillets.
Good things can come in small portions, and while bigger tends to be
better as far as the main course is concerned, there are situations in
early winter when whetting a walleye's appetite is the best way to cook
up some success. Environmental disturbances such as cold fronts and sudden changes in water levels or even clarity can push walleyes tight to structure, such
as the edges of sharp breaklines or tight against wingdams and rockpiles.
Three-way rigs with small crankbaits or small jigs are a great way to
test the mood of your dinner date. Depending on state regulations, you
may be able to use a Lindy Jumbo Jig for a dropper with either a Floating
Rapala or a 1/16h-ounce Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub for a trailer.
It's hard to beat a good chowder with a pinch of appropriate seasoning. This is where live-bait presentations come into play during those periods when the majority of the walleyes aren't actively feeding. In December, that's often during the day when they're waiting for the main course at dusk. Set the table the same way you did for appetizers along breaklines and structure. The difference with live-bait rigs is that they can be trolled or drifted to reach fish in almost any location. Two of the most popular three-way adaptations for slow-trolling live bait are a dropper jig tipped with a fathead minnow or a plastic grub tail and
a floating jig head or a plain bait hook on the trailing leader with a fathead. Don't rule out crawlers, either. While minnows or chubs will probably be a more productive option, there is no truth to the old school of thought that says walleyes and saugers won't eat crawlers once the water temperature dips below 50 degrees.
Fish enjoy a little fiber in their diets, too. For early winter anglers, that means hair jigs and bucktail jigs fished vertically over deep-water structure or along breaklines, whether you are on a lake or a river. Many times, the profile and action of a jig is all that's necessary. Leave the live bait at home. One advantage hair jigs have over other jigs is the way they maintain a somewhat bulky profile underwater. Since winter walleyes don't eat as often, they tend to prefer baits that appear somewhat larger when they do step up to the plate. Bucktail jigs provide profile, too. It never hurts to add a few carrots, cucumbers or tomatoes to a salad, either. In this case, that would be jigging spoons. It's hard to believe
a walleye will eat something made of metal as readily as they do, but I've seen it happen too many times to not be a believer. One reason spooning works is the clear-water conditions that usually exist in the winter. Another reason is the dying baitfish action that occurs when the spoon is fluttering back to the bottom after a sharp upward stroke.
It's a tool that should always be in your arsenal. I have experienced situations where walleye and sauger showed no interest in live bait, crankbaits and jigs, but could not resist the temptation to attack a jigging spoon.
Dim the lights. It's time for the main course. There is no question that winter walleyes feed very actively for brief periods, usually during low- light conditions in shallow water. Many winter anglers on Midwestern rivers don't even hit the water until dusk, and they are still home by 9 or 10 p.m. It's far easier to stay warm for
a few hours than an entire day, and the walleyes will usually keep you busy enough that you forget about any chill in the air. These areas are always worth a try during daylight hours, as well, especially during dark, overcast conditions, and I like to try them in the early afternoon on sunny days when the shallow water warms up a few degrees and attracts fish that aren't satisfied to eat just one big meal a day.
The best place to find the fish is on shallow flats adjacent to deep water, and the best way to catch them is to sneak up on them with your bow-mount and cast jigs or crankbaits up onto the flat.
Few things are as different as a willow cat, which despite their distinct scent and evil barbs, are deadly on wingdam walleyes. Anchor upstream of the dam just inside the tip. Rig the cats on a three- to four-foot leader on a floating jig head or a plain hook. Slip an egg sinker or walking sinker onto your line ahead of the leader and use a barrel swivel to connect the two. Then toss the rig out and let the current work it across the face of the dam. If you are consistently hanging up in the rocks, go to a lighter sinker.
When the dishes have been cleared and appetites largely satisfied, it takes something subtle, yet light to cap the dining experience. Most walleye anglers don't consider tube tails, but they are missing an opportunity that sometimes takes fish when few other things work. Fish them vertically on a jig head along current breaks, structure or dropoffs.
If you suspect there are shallow fish in an area that just aren't biting, try casting tube tails to them on light jigs. You may be pleasantly surprised. It's been said that the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach.
It's also the best way to will a winter walleye into your livewell. Take a five-course approach and you'll be sitting down to a delicious December dinner. It's all about table manners.
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