|Editor's note: John Kolinski is the 2002 Professional
Walleye Trail Angler of the Year, the 2003 Illinois River
RCL winner and a 17-time championship qualifier. He is
the only anger to fish the PWT and B.A.S.S. at the same
time. His articles can be read in numerous Midwestern
outdoor publications and at several web sites. Kolinski
is sponsored by Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Lowrance
Electronics, Yo-Zuri fishing line, Normark/Storm Lures,
MinnKota, Lindy Legendary Tackle, Tempress Rod Holders,
Off-Shore Planer Boards, Optima Batteries and Panther
|Poker stars Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan could
have been great tournament anglers.
With each new hand, they gather and process the information
they know to be fact and develop a strategy. As the hand plays
out, they apply instinct and intuition to improve their odds.
They know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, and when the
dealing's done, they are often the players counting tall stacks
of chips while others lament the mistakes that left them with
Late-summer walleye fishing is a gamble, too. It's all about
getting a read on the situation and then putting your expertise
and experience into play.
||One of the games walleyes play this time
of year is like an old-fashioned, high-low poker game.
Our challenge isn't so much how to catch them as deciding
when to go high and when to go low.
There is no question that walleyes are often suspended
during the warmest part of the open-water season.
In smaller bodies of water, stratification is the primary
reason as fish seek layers of water with adequate oxygen.
In larger bodies of water, a combination of comfort and
the availability of forage are at work.
From the Great Lakes to reservoirs and huge inland lakes
like Winnebago, Mille Lacs and Lake of the Woods, it's
not uncommon for the screen on my Humminbird sonar unit
to be littered with fish in certain areas. Typically,
they'll be scattered from about 10 feet down all the way
to the bottom. Any fish higher in the column are probably
moving away as the boat approaches and not showing up
without Humminbird's side-imaging technology.
These fish also tend to be loosely schooled, meaning they are
scattered over a sizeable area. That makes trolling the best
Each day is different, so it's sound strategy to start with
a set-up that covers a broad range of depths. And don't read
too much into what you see with the naked eye. There are no
foolproof indicators that reveal where the suckers are sitting
at this metaphorical card table.
Bug hatches that attract baitfish and provide food will at times
bring walleyes close to the surface. So will slight algae blooms
or a nice chop on the surface that break up the penetrating
rays of sunlight.
However, I've also seen far too many days when it's been flat,
calm, sunny and blistering hot when the most active walleyes
were just a couple of feet below the surface. And I've seen
just as many days when, despite the generally accepted indicators
of a high-column bite, the only fish I've been able to catch
were those in the middle or near the bottom.
Set up an initial spread that targets the fish you can see on
sonar. Keep in mind that walleyes, like most gamefish species,
have eyes near the top of their heads. That means they see what's
above them better than they see what's below them, and our trolling
presentations should take that into account. A walleye will
raise 10 feet before it will descend a foot to take a bait.
And while 30-inch walleyes can be mixed right in with 15-inchers
when they are active, they often settle in closer to the bottom
when they've had their fill. Put the right bait in front of
them and they can still be caught.
I like to work from the bottom up early in the day, targeting
first the fish that have settled lower in the column overnight,
which often are also those larger fish. If I have another angler
in the boat and can fish four lines, two of them will work near
the lowest fish I see on sonar, one will probe the middle and
I'll run one just above the highest fish I mark. As the day
proceeds, I'll reverse my approach and put more lines high in
the column where the majority of the active fish tend to hang
out. Off-Shore planer boards help me spread my lines for maximum
Keep in mind that weather conditions may dictate some adjustments
during the day. Thunder, lightning or just a strong front may
push the fish down in the water column where they could remain
for a few hours or a few days.
Sometimes, it's like the fish have simply vanished. Areas where
you caught them a day earlier or even a few hours earlier look
like the dead sea. Or, you may still mark numbers of fish scattered
throughout the column, but you can no longer catch them.
That tells me it's time to get a bait or two right below the
surface and go into stealth mode. Get your boards far away from
the boat and use your electric trolling motor. It's a situation
where my MinnKota Engine-Mount 101 excels and, with Optima batteries
providing the power, I can fish that way all day if need be.
Another decision to make is what hand to draw to. Should you
play for the crankbait flush or the spinner/crawler straight?
Both can be highly productive.
Basically, crankbaits are an effective tool when the fish are
scattered and you need to cover water. Once you've narrowed
down an area, spinner/crawler combos are hard to beat because
of the flash, vibration and scent they provide. There will be
times, however, when the fish are just plain finicky and the
only way to get on a consistent bite is by buzzing a crankbait
past or dangling a slow-moving spinner and crawler in front
of indecisive fish. Sometimes, it's a spinner/crawler bite early
in the day and a crankbait bite later, or vice-versa.
You will have to consider wave action into your game plan, as
well. If it's rough, the violent movement and speed of your
lures can dramatically decrease your effectiveness. Trolling
with the wind and keeping your boards closer to the boat with
less line out will help smooth out the presentation, but it
may not help you achieve the necessary speed. When I need to
slow down, I'll often turn off my Mercury kicker motor and drift.
If that's not enough, I toss out a drift sock. If that's still
not enough, I'll run the kicker in reverse and use my bow-mount
MinnKota Terrova for directional control.
Sometimes, success is as simple as making one subtle adjustment.
I've seen a lot of days on rough water where my baits on one
side of the boat are catching all the fish and I've doubled
my catch by moving as many lines as possible to that side where
they are tracking better or working at a more enticing speed.
Snap weights are another effective tool in rough water. Attached
30 to 40 feet ahead of a spinner or crankbait, they act like
a leaf spring and absorb much of the shock from a crashing planer
board before it reaches your lure.
For the same reason, I avoid using braided or hard lines when
targeting suspended fish with planer boards. Yo-Zuri's Hybrid
line has some stretch that helps reduce violent movements, and
it gives the angler a better chance to stay hooked up while
wearing down a fish that can be 250 feet away from the boat.
It's no bluff. Suspended fish are fun fish to catch. Figuring
out the best odds for success is an inviting challenge. Put
your cards on the table and go all-in.
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