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Mastering the Mystery 
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 Trail and
the Masters Walleye Circuit.

For most of us, retirement is about as far from reality as the neighbor’s
fish stories. That makes our days off, vacation time and weekends precious, especially for those of us who enjoy an annual family fishing trip or a getaway with th eguys or gals. When time is limited, angling is all about efficiency. Nobody wants to spend any more time than necessary searching for cooperative fish. Sometimes, that keeps anglers from exploring unfamiliar bodies of water. I’ve often heard friends and acquaintances say they’d like nothing better than to take their gang to one of the country’s premier walleye waters like Bay de Noc, Fort Peck, Lake of the Woods or Mille Lacs. Instead, their fear of the unknown usually leads them to the comfort of their traditional destinations.
It doesn’t have to be that way. With the information and technology available
today, there’s no reason an angler can’t be successful on any body of water
in the country. As a tournament angler on the Professional Walleye Trail and Masters Walleye Circuit, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to attack new water over the years. A few basic guidelines can help lend some method to what often becomes madness for many.
The first step is gathering information. It can come from numerous sources,
and it will give you a foundation with which to work before you ever leave
home. You’ll have an idea what type of fishing you’ll be doing over what type
of structure in what part of the lake, river or reservoir you plan to visit. A good starting point is the Internet. There are web sites today that are species-specific, providing information and fishing reports on everything from walleye and bass to catfish, trout and salmon. Other sites are location-specific and will fill you in on everything that’s been happening on a particular body of water. Most of these sites have message boards where dozens of anglers post reports and offer tips every day. However, the quality and depth of information you can glean from the Internet can be sketchy if there’s an upcoming tournament.  It’s also a good idea to contact a couple of bait shops in the immediate area. 

John studies maps and his Lowrance unit before going to far One of the first questions I ask is what kind of contour maps are available. On more noted bodies of water, Fishing Hotspots maps are a good source of information, but sometimes there are better maps that are produced locally. 
I’ve even had tackle and bait shop owners or their employees mark hot spots or make note of seasonally productive areas before dropping the maps in the mail.
Other questions you’ll want to ask are:
  • What time of year is the best bite?
  • What kind of quality can you expect in the fish you catch? Is it a lake

  • where 14-inchers are easy to catch, but fish over three pounds become rare at
    certain times of the year?
  • What is the main forage base? The answer to that question will help you

  • narrow down the potential baits you will use as you try to match that forage.
  • Does the body of water in question have a particular bait that seems to

  • work best? There’s no question that occurs as my experiences have shown with
    Hot ‘n Tots on Saginaw Bay, Reef Runners on Lake Erie and Shad Raps on the
    Mississippi River.
  • What type of structure seems to be holding the walleyes, and what part of

  • their seasonal pattern will they likely be in when you arrive? This
    information can help you narrow down a lake to a specific section or a
    specific type of structure and save you hours of unproductive angling.

    Once you’ve consumed all that information, you can begin to build a basic
    plan of attack. When you get the contour maps in your hands you can make note of structures like dominant points, inside turns on river systems, old channels that run tight to shore, areas of rock and rubble and weedlines.
    Judging by the latitude of the lake, ice-out and depth, you can get a good
    idea of when walleyes spawn there. By looking for creeks and rivers that run
    into lakes, rocky points and reefs or hard-bottom areas on rivers, you’ll
    have an idea where those fish spawn.
    From there, it’s a matter of working your way backward to your arrival.
    If it’s a postspawn situation (within a month or so of the primary spawn),
    you’ll be looking for shallower areas of the system where recuperating fish
    can feed easily without expending a lot of energy. Add another week or two
    and you’ll be looking at more of a summer pattern where walleyes will likely
    be relating more to dominant points or weed edges.
    Late summer usually sends the fish deeper along defined breaklines or even
    causes them to suspend over open water. 
    Lowrance X-15MT Late summer usually sends the fish deeper along defined breaklines or even causes them to suspend over open water. With a 480x350 pixel display, the degree of resolution provides detail that Quality electronics, like Lowrance’s new X-15 unit, are essential to solving this puzzle.
    A good unit will indicate the presence of important weedlines, as well as baitfish and any fish that might be following them.
    Many times when I suspect there are fish suspending in such a situation, I
    run my boat out into open water, then slow down to an idle while I study my
    electronics, repeating the procedure every quarter-mile or so. When I find
    baitfish, I usually find walleyes, even when they don’t show up on the
    electronics because they’re moving away from the approaching boat. If you see
    baitfish, stop and fish just above them. You’ll know a lot more about where you’ll be fishing once you arrive. Talk again to bait shop owners and resort owners. They know what’s going on and they want to see you catch fish and have a good time as much as you want that to happen. Their livelihood depends on it. If a couple of people mention the same location or pattern, that’s something you want to take an immediate look at. If they all mention different areas, those are places you’ll push farther down your list.
    When you are inside a bait or tackle shop, scan the displays and see what
    type of lures are selling. If most of the No. 7 chartreuse Rapala the lures of choice Shad Raps are gone, that’s probably the bait that’s working best at that time.
    Take a ride around the lake. See where others are fishing. Stop at the boat
    ramps and ask other anglers how they’ve done. If there’s a fish-cleaning
    house in the area, stop by and see what kind and size of fish are being
    cleaned. If nobody’s there but there are plenty of people fishing, peek into
    the trash can or dumpster to see what’s been going on. Sometimes, you can
    even learn what the fish have been feeding on.
    Finally, make sure your equipment is dependable and in good working order
    before you head to a new destination. Finding service in a foreign area can
    be frustrating and costly. That’s something I never worry about with my
    Triton 205 and Mercury motors. They always seem to answer the call.
    There are far more reasons to take on new adventures in fishing than there
    are to avoid them. If you do a little homework and pay attention to details
    when you arrive, chances are you’ll be outfishing the locals.

    E-mail John Kolinski

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