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Small Water, Big Results

Editor's note: John Kolinski is the reigning Professional Walleye Trail 
Angler of the Year, and an 11-time championship qualifier during eight years 
of pro fishing on the PWT, RCL and MWC. His articles can be found in many 
Midwestern publications and at several web sites. Kolinski is sponsored by 
Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Lowrance Electronics, Normark/Storm Lures, 
MinnKota, Lindy Legendary Tackle, Flambeau, Off-Shore planer boards. Berkley Trilene and Panther.

It's a warm spring day, and the walleyes are biting on the major bodies of 
water all across lake country. It's some of the easiest, most predictable 
angling of the year.
And yet, as you head for one of these major Midwestern destinations, you 
inevitably catch a glimpse of a few contrary souls who stand out like a 
shiner in a bucket of fatheads.
They are the anglers who fish alone on the smaller bodies of water that don't 
have the reputations of walleye factories like Mille Lacs, Winnibigoshish, 
Oahe, Devil's Lake or Winnebago.
Are they anti-social? Doesn't anybody want to fish with them? Are they 
That's exactly what many of these sly walleye dogs want you to think. They 
know exactly what they're doing and when to do it. In many cases, they're 
enjoying a brief window of fishing opportunity that rivals what even the most 
reputable bodies of water have to offer.
Some of walleye fishing's greatest pleasures come in the smallest of 
packages. Small lakes offer simplicity in angling because of their size and 
limited structure, and that's what makes them ideal for a quick fishing fix.
Many times, I've heard of dandy walleyes being caught from bodies of water I 
never suspected. But they exist everywhere, often just a few miles from home, 
and they are not that difficult to uncover.
The next time you see a lonely angler plying the waters of one of these small 
lakes, check them out. 
Sometimes, the boat they are running separates a serious angler from one who 
might well be fishing for bullheads or panfish. Sometimes, there may be 
evidence near the boat landing in the form of dead minnows or chubs. 
Sometimes, a trash can will reveal containers used to store leeches or 

If possible, watch that solitary angler at work. What kind of gear is he or 
she using? Can you tell if they are using live bait or artificial lures? Are 
they casting, bobber-fishing, trolling or drifting? 
None of this is going to tell you everything you need to know, but it will point you in the right direction. From there, use survey data available from your state DNR to determine the presence of walleyes.
More than high densities, keep an eye open for the numbers of fish surveyed 
in the larger size slots. In most of these small bodies of water, there is 
limited natural reproduction and relatively low overall numbers, but 
tremendous quality in the population that exists.
Other clues can be found in a lake's average depth (18 to 20 feet is usually 
necessary in the upper Midwest), the forage base (minnow species are a must) 
and the substrate (areas of sand, gravel and rock are good).
In some cases, there is no reproduction and the walleyes that live there make 
up what is known as a "remnant" population of survivors from stockings at one 
time or another.
The best way to find out exactly what a small lake has to offer is to 
experience it.
When I first launch on a new body of water, I rely on my Lowrance X-19 to 
paint a picture of what I'm dealing with. Spending half an hour exploring the 
lake and marking ledges, humps and other structure on your GPS is time 
Pick your fishing spots carefully. With limited numbers of walleyes 
available, spring can be the most revealing time of year because they are 
gathered in predictable post-spawn locations such as shallow, stained water. 
Whether they drop eggs or not, their natural instincts lead them to behave as 
would any other walleye, and this time of year that means some serious 
If it's a clear-water lake, concentrate your efforts during the early and 
late low-light periods of the day or at night when the fish are most likely 
to be active. In stained water, it's a good strategy to fish shallow early 
and late and concentrate on slightly deeper structure during midday periods.
Small lakes are often wind-driven. That means if the wind is blowing into a 
certain shoreline or a certain rockpile or sandbar, that's where you want to 
focus your efforts.
On shoreline structure, try casting minnow-, leech- or crawler-tipped Lindy 
Techni-Glo Fuzz-E Grubs on top of ledges where walleyes will feed during 
windy conditions. If there aren't any defined edges available, casting 
crankbaits such as Shad Raps or Thunder Cranks is a good option that helps an 
angler cover potential water quickly.
When I'm pitching jigs in shallow, stained water, I like the sensitivity and 
quick hook-setting reaction I get by using Berkley Fireline on a Berkley 
Series One spinning rod. When casting cranks, I prefer a monofilament such as 
Berkley's 8-pound Vanish or Trilene XL.
If I can identify what appears to be a mid-lake rockpile, I like to anchor my 
Triton 205 and try a variety of methods from casting jigs and cranks to 
slip-bobbering with live bait.
One of the most effective methods I've found on small bodies of water is 
drifting live bait on Lindy Rigs along the edges of wind-blown structure. 
Tail-hooked redtail chubs can be dynamite when they are available, and you 
can always tell when a walleye is closing in by the increased activity the 
chub exhibits. Leeches and crawlers are equally effective at times.
Once you have established the presence of a walleye population, these small, 
close-to-home lakes are also ideal grounds for experimenting with new baits, 
new techniques and new presentations. If I drive a long way to get to a 
fishing spot, I want to make the most efficient use of the time I have on the 
water. It follows that I'm not as likely to stray from proven methods.
There aren't many secrets left in walleye fishing, and those who enjoy a good 
bite on a small lake should strive to protect it. Release the majority of 
those fish to fight again another day.
After all, you will probably be the only one who knows they are there.
E-mail John Kolinski

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