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As Clear as Mud

Editor's note: John Kolinski of Menasha, Wis., is a nine-time championship
qualifier during his six years of professional fishing on the Professional
Walleye Trail and Masters Walleye Circuit. His columns can be found in numerous outdoor publications and at several web addresses. A frequent seminar speaker, Kolinski is sponsored by Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, MinnKota, Lindy/Little Joe and Berkley Trilene.

Cool, clear water cascading over a rock ledge, bubbling from a spring or flowing gently along a riverbed is nature at its refreshing best. Unfortunately, that isn't always reality for walleye anglers who travel long distances to fish and are then greeted by muddy rivers, churned-up lakes and wind-swept reservoirs.
Succeeding under these conditions requires some patience, some innovation and some flexability, but learning to see clearly regardless of water conditions can keep those walleyes coming into your boat. In some situations, dirty water is an ally that draws walleyes into shallow environments where they are accessible and active. Among the situations I always look for when fishing reservoirs are wind-blown points and shorelines where mud lines set up a few yards offshore. Foremost, these pockets of stained water often attract baitfish because the tiny organisms and zoo plankton they feed on get stirred up and mixed throughout the water column where they are easy to find. In turn, the baitfish become easy targets for predators like walleyes that will follow them into the shallower water.
Meanwhile, dark water offers security for light-sensitive fish that might
otherwise avoid clear, shallow water. Two presentations excel for this type of fishing -- pitching small jigs and pulling spinners or live-bait rigs. Typically, these mudline areas don't cover more than 30-40 yards, and quarters are too tight to pull crankbaits effectively. Spinners and bait rigs become a better option because they can be fished slower, which helps the angler make the tighter turns necessary to stay on task.
I try to work the edges of the mudline where hungry fish often wait to ambush
prey that wanders into clearer water and becomes more visible. In some big-water situations, mudlines also signify a difference in water temperature and fish hold along the edges as readily as though it were classic physical structure.
Muddy water can hold plenty of walleyes on smaller inland lakes, as well. In
some situations, a big blow will stir up an entire section of a lake, or at least some of its bays. Most of these situations occur in water less than eight feet deep, and the become a magnet for baitfish and walleyes because the dirty
water tends to absorb and retain heat better than deeper, clearer water.
Trolling crankbaits like Storm Thundersticks in brightly colored patterns such
as firetiger and chartreuse can be a dynamite presentation.
This time of year, dirty water frequently greets anglers on rivers across the
Midwest where heavy spring rains eat away at the shorelines and runoff from the surrounding watersheds carries silt into the water. While it's never an ideal
situation, there are some tricks and tactics that will still produce fish.
Many prespawn anglers head immediately for the tailwaters below the dams in
these conditions, and they catch their share of fish although the size is often
smaller than we'd like. I suspect that their success is a product of the sheer
numbers of walleyes that gather in the tailwaters more than any new migration of
fish caused by dirty water.
No matter what the time of year, the presence of muddy water, in my opinion,
doesn't cause major migrations in the walleye population. The fish are still in
the general areas where you found them during cleaner-water periods, although
there is generally some movement shallower when the water is rising and deeper
when it's falling. My philosophy is to give these fish something they can find. 
Berkley Power Grub
Berkley Power Grub
If I'm vertical jigging, that means a bulky, flourescent hair jig tipped with a minnow or a big
jig with a scented plastic tail like a Berkley Power Grub in one of the new neon colors. It means using rattles with those jigs, stinger hooks for those fish
that don't get a clean shot at your bait, and making use of scented attractants.
John Kolinski with a nice mud eye The same applies when fishing crankbaits. Use lures that make plenty of noise
and are brightly colored. Thundersticks are a good choice here, too, because of
their profile and their relatively wide wobble even when pulled through the
water at slow speeds.


Hand-lining has become very popular in dirty water river situations because of
the precision it provides. Lures can be presented just inches off the bottom and
kept where the walleyes can't miss them.. It also allows the angler to target
specific sections of structure and keep those lures in the strike zone There is one situation where muddy water is a hindrance that I believe is best
avoided altogether. I've encountered big areas of dirty water on Lake Erie and
at Saginaw Bay, and although I've often markedgood numbers of fish, I have not been able to entice them to bite. On a couple of occasions, the school of fish has been large enough to stretch beyond the dirty water, and I've found those fish to be active and cooperative. It all comes down to adaptation. Don't let dirty water become mud in your eye. Instead, go get those 'eyes in the mud.

E-mail John Kolinski

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