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Wisconsin Pro Wins / Shares Tournament Winning Tactics

MENASHA, WIS. -- John Kolinski finished last season as the Professional Walleye Trail’s Angler of the Year.  Now he’s an RCL champion, too.  The hardy tournament veteran out-fished a field of 165 boats over a stretch of four days to win over 80 thousand dollars in cash and prizes at the RCL season opener on the Illinois River Saturday.  

The major victory was his first RCL title which is quite impressive when you factor in the fact that the veteran has only fished five RCL regular season events.  "It’s pretty exciting, said Kolinski.  "You never expect something like this.  It just kind of happens."

Kolinski spent the first two days of the RCL tournament fishing both Lindy jig heads with sherbet-colored Berkley Power Grubs and hair jigs tipped with minnows.  He said the fish were far from aggressive, but the combination of six-pound mint-colored IronSilk line on 6 1/2-foot Berkley Series One rods and Abu Garcia Cardinal 501 spinning reels provided the sensitivity required to detect light-striking fish.  "Equipment is so critical when you are jig-fishing," he said.  "It’s all about sensitivity and feel."

John Kolinski Wins Spring Valley RCL Opener for 2003 A couple of additional adjustments helped, too.  "A lot of fish were hitting just short, sort of swatting at it more than hitting it," he said.  "Even with Lindy stinger snells, a lot of minnows were coming back with the tails bit off.  "I cut another inch of hair off my hair jigs and shortened the Power Bait to make both baits look shorter but still have the bulk and body of a jig.  I was just hoping to make them bite a bit farther up on the hook.  
 It did seem to help.  As far as presentation, it was a very slow lift-drop.  I was probably only lifting my jigs three or four inches off the bottom and then setting them back down."

He and his co-anglers checked in with 14.50 pounds (five saugers) the first day and 15.38 pounds (six saugers) on day two.  That put Kolinski in third for the first cut when the 165-boat field was trimmed to the top 20.  That’s when the conditions really began to test even the most seasoned anglers among the final 20.  "That third day the weather was nasty," said Kolinski.  "It rained, it hailed, it was cold, and it was very windy.  I had to upsize jigs from a quarter-ounce to 3/8th-ounce and my co-angler had to go to half-ounce to feel anything."

In the windy conditions at hand, Kolinski was able to stick to his game plan with the help of over 100 pounds of thrust from his MinnKota 101 bow-mount powered by Optima Batteries.  That extra power allowed him to continue jigging, giving him a six-sauger limit that weighed 10.13 pounds - just enough to get him into the final round as the No. 9 qualifier.  Before he even left the water Friday, he was contemplating some significant changes for Saturday’s showdown.  "I realized that I would not be able to beat the handliners and trollers because with the wind and everything, the conditions were perfect for them", he explained.

"They were putting a lot of fish in the boat.  I decided I was going to have to try to handline, even though I’m not a handliner."  So that’s how Kolinski began the final day.  Then he made the first of three decisions that led him to victory.  "After the first hour, I noticed the water was up about a foot and the current was quite a bit faster than it had been with a lot of debris coming down," he said.  "I would go a short distance with the handlines, and everything would be junked up with weeds and other debris.  

"Plus the wind wasn’t quite as bad, so we started jigging again."  However, by 10:30 Kolinski and his co-angler had yet to boat a fish, and the handful of other boats in the area they were fishing weren’t catching anything, either.  "I wasn’t marking any fish on my Lowrance X-19 anymore", he said.  "I decided to move upriver to a spot where we had been catching more males. At that point, I was just hoping to weigh enough to get into the top five."

When Kolinski and his final-day partner, Dan Miller of Madison, Wis., pulled into their second spot, the wind and cold teamed up to freeze over the guides in their rods.  "I had extra rods set up with Berkley Fireline, and I switched over around 11 o’clock," said Kolinski.  "It worked great because it didn’t freeze in the guides like the mono did."

Miller caught a couple of males that made the 14-inch minimum size limit, then Kolinski got a pleasant surprise by boating three small but heavier females on one drift.  They added two more fish on their second pass for a six-fish limit that was good enough.  With 10.15 pounds, Kolinski and Miller edged pro runner-up Rick Zachowski of Milwaukee by over a pound (9.63).  Eric Olson of Minneapolis was third at 9 pounds.

The RCL opener was originally scheduled for the Detroit River, but was moved in mid-March due to dangerous ice conditions.  Kolinski, who teams with pros Tommy Skarlis of Walker, Minn., and Eric Naig of Cylinder, Iowa, didn’t mind.  He spent six years fishing the Masters Walleye Circuit, which has made Spring Valley one of its annual stops -- most recently on March 22-23.  "I’ve always done pretty well at Detroit, too, but I did feel like I had a lot of friends who fish Spring Valley, and a lot of friends in the MWC who were just there two weeks earlier", he said.  "Their help gave me a good head start."

"I thought we were on good enough fish to maybe get a least a couple of us into the last cut (Skarlis also made the third round of 20 pros), but you never know.  Conditions were changing and the weather was unstable.  The fish weren’t in exactly the same spots where they usually are, but they were close."  With experience and determination, Kolinski figured out the rest.

E-mail John Kolinski

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