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How to Hang 10
By JOHN KOLINSKI
Editor's note: John Kolinski is an eight-time
championship qualifier during
his seven years of professional fishing on the Professional Walleye
Masters Walleye Circuit. His articles can be read in a number of publications
and at top walleye-fishing sites on-line.
Bigger is almost always better in angling circles. And when it comes
to walleyes, double digits are the standard measure of excellence. There
are probably two dozen bodies of water scattered across the country that
consistently yield such trophy walleyes, but catching one (or several)
doesn't have to be a stroke of luck. Instead of wondering if you will catch
that wall-hanger of a lifetime, you can ask yourself when you will catch
it by targeting brief windows of opportunity.
In general, the very biggest walleyes can be
caught in the spring and fall
when they are either trying to gain weight before or after the spawn,
to fatten up for winter. Yet even on the very best waters, there are
periods within those seasons when the biggest fish are most accessible,
and most vulnerable. The key is to be there when they are.
The winter sports show circuit provides a great opportunity to make
reservations in the 10-pound club. The open-water season isn't far off,
many bodies of water the prespawn period offers the best window to
Over the years, I've narrowed my list of favorite big-fish waters,
time frames and presentations to a handful. While nobody can guarantee
walleyes, these have been the most consistent and predictable in my
Keep in mind, too, that I'm talking about legitimate 10-pound 'eyes.
That usually means a fish at least 30 inches in length, except for the
prespawn 29-incher that makes the grade.
1. Detroit River
This is, without question, my No. 1 pick for double-digit fish, a conviction
that's become even stronger after the Professional Walleye Trail's
stops there.When the PWT visited during the first week of April, 2001,
the circuit's previous big fish record went down to a 13.15-pound walleye.
That narrowly edged out the 12.93-pounder I caught during the tournament.
A fish under 11 pounds did not even qualify for any of the top 12
big fish awards.
Target that first week in April when there are unbelievable numbers
coming out of Lake Erie to spawn. Two years ago, we dropped an underwater
camera to the bottom and were amazed at how many walleyes we saw.
The best stretch of river is the first 10 miles from the mouth. It's
fishable from a small boat, and trophy walleyes can be caught day or night,
night bite is the best. Most traditional early season structure will
hold fish -- from sand flats and mud bottom to rocky areas and river bends.
Presentations that work well include trolling 3-way rigs with stickbaits,
vertical jigging. There is typically decent current moving down the
river, requiring at least a 4-ounce weight to keep a three-way rig in the
zone. The best lead lengths with that weight have been two feet to
and about five feet to stickbaits like floating Rapalas and Deep Jr.
Jigging enthusiasts will need 1/2-ounce to 3/4-ounce leadheads. Lindy's
Fuzzy Grubs are a good choice. Tip them with big minnows or medium-sized
chubs or shiners. Fireline is an added advantage because of the jagged
shale rock and zebra mussels in the river.
2. Lake Erie/Port Clinton
About the time the big-fish bite on the Detroit River begins to slow
little, things are heating up out of Port Clinton, and particularly
in the Bass
Islands area where scores of big fish are taken trolling crankbaits
harnesses over open water. My personal-best walleye came from this
area, a 14-pound, 7-ounce postspawn fish that measured 34 inches in length
and fell victim to a crawler harness.
The time frame from about April 10-20 seems to be best. Some fish are
returning to the lake after spawning in area rivers while others are
cruising around rebuilding their strength after spawning on reefs in
the lake. It doesn't seem to matter if you fish day or night, and the target
areas for the real hawgs has been 30-35 feet of water over a mud bottom
in my experience.
You will need a fairly large boat, something in the 18- to 20-foot
least, because Lake Erie can get rough, and dangerous.
Presentations should be slow. These fish won't waste a lot of energy
a bait at this time of year. Work fairly close to the bottom, too,
but keep an
eye on your graphics as the day wears on. When you start seeing fish
up off the
bottom, adjust your lures to get in their faces. If you encounter
dirty water, move to an area with better clarity. There may be fish in
the muddy or stained water, but I have never been able to get them to go.
Charter boats are always an option out of Port Clinton, but you may
ask the captain if he or she plans to troll or anchor up and cast the
the largest fish, you'll want to troll. The reefs will produce an occasional
10-pounder, but most will be smaller males.
3. Fox River/DePere Dam
This is another early April prespawn bite, with the first week of the
typically the best for the very largest walleyes. Big fish can
be caught during the day or at night, and from a boat or on foot, but my
top approach has been wading at night casting large stickbaits into shallow
water and along shallow breaks in 3-5 feet of water. Don't expect ferocious
strikes. Again, those big old females tend to be a little sluggish in cold
water. Work the bait across the current and if it comes to a stop, wait
for the telltale tug of a big fish before reacting. There is no question
you will catch a lot of fish in the 7- to 8-pound class, and if you put
in your time you will land a 10-pounder. My best night featured five fish
over 29 inches. Two nights later, I caught the second-largest walley of
my life with a 13-3. Keep in mind that this is a trophy-only area in the
spring. Anglers are allowed only one fish per day, and it must measure
at least 29 inches.
4) Little Bay de Noc
Michigan's Upper Peninsula is home to some of the best fall walleye
in the country. Scores of big 'eyes migrate into the bay and provide
action as most anglers can handle. The time frame depends on the weather,
but the big fish bite typically heats up in October and peaks in November.
It will last into December if the Bay doesn't freeze over.
A medium-sized boat is required. Long runs aren't needed to reach the
but again for safety and comfort, a bigger boat is a good idea. Concentrate
on the north end of the Bay, and troll crankbaits or crawler harnesses
on the edges of the reefs and shoreline breaks during the day. At night,
casting cranks on top of the reefs and over the decaying weedbeds will
yield lots of fish from 6-9 pounds, and quite a few between 10 and 12 pounds.
Local regulations allow each angler only one walleye over 23 inches
To get in on the best fall trophy fishing, call ahead. Bait shots and
motels in Escanaba and Gladstone will be happy to provide accurate, helpful
5) Rainy River and Green Bay
I couldn't pick one of these spots over the other. They're both home
spectacular fall bites, and they both deserve to make the cut. The
Rainy River loads up with big fish from the mouth where it hooks up with
Lake of the Woods to about five miles upstream. It can be fished from a
boat of just about any size, and the best fishing will coincide with the
annual fall shiner run.
Top presentations are trolling cranks on lead-core line along the river's
breaklines and bends or jigging. Again, use local resources to put
you on the
best bite. If the Rainy is too far to go, Green Bay has a lot to offer,
experience takes me to the east shore where reefs like Larsen's and
near Sturgeon Bay load up with jumbo walleyes. A bigger boat is required
out on this vast expanse of water, and the best bite is at night.
Top methods are trolling cranks over the reefs and along the shoreline,
casting them. There are plenty of guides available for anglers who
want to go
There are other places that offer a decent chance at a 10-pound walleye,
Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana would be a good bet in the fall, the
Islands area of Saginaw Bay has a tremendous reputation for big fish,
Lacs is a fishery that's going to explode for 29-inch-plus trophies
next couple of years. Make those plans now to become a member
of the double-digit club
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