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Fins or feathers? Fish or fowl?

Editor's note: John Kolinski is an eight-time championship qualifier during
his seven years of professional fishing on the Professional Walleye Trail and
Masters Walleye Circuit. His articles can be read in a number of publications
and at top walleye-fishing sites on-line.

It's an interesting dilemma that autumn always brings to the forefront. As a tournament angler, I spend most of the fishing season in pursuit of finicky walleyes with full bellies. Finding them often requires long boat rides that challenge my skeletal structure, and big waves that test my balance and dexterity.
When I finally find fish, I'm typically trying to coax a few into biting during a part of the day when they tend to look at my presentations much the way I look at my lawnmower. And then the nights take on a slight chill, the hardwoods begin to change colors and the water cools. Those same trophy walleyes lose many of their inhibitions. They begin moving in traditional directions. They gang up in
predictable locations. And they eat anything and everything in sight. Trouble is, many of us are sitting in a tree stand or a duck blind, and missing out on some of the finest fishing the Midwest has to offer.
John Kolinski hoists a foul weather walleye into the net
From lakes and reservoirs to rivers and streams, the autumn opportunity to
catch numbers of quality walleyes stands apart from any other time frame. It
usually features stable water conditions that spring can't match, as well as
fish that are much more willing to forage. Like many outdoor enthusiasts, I can't ignore my passion for hunting ducks and geese. My solution is to throw a couple of rods and reels into the duck hunting boat if waterfowl has captured my imagination for the day, or throw the Flambeau duck decoys into my Triton 205 when I'm focused on catching walleyes.  It will still give you the opportunity to try out that new skyscraper decoy by Flambeau. The point is, double your fun. Why settle for one of the season's great sports when you can have two of them?
Finding fall walleyes isn't usually difficult. Begin where you found them in
the spring. Once the water temp slips below 60 degrees and the photo period
loses a couple of hours each day, walleyes in river systems begin to migrate
back toward their spawning You can find them ganged up at the mouths of rivers where they empty into lakes, and holding close to rip-rap and structure with deep water nearby. Inside bends in the river channel and even sand flats are other good places to find these fish.
In reservoirs and deep, clear-water lakes, walleyes will congregate on
primary points, sometimes in water as deep as 40-50 feet. In shallower,
dirty-water lakes, they'll also load up on points but can also be taken along
rip-rapped shoreline. No matter where you fish and where you find them, they'll be putting on the feedbag trying to build reserves for the rigors of winter. Any number of live bait, crankbait and jig presentations will be effective when matched to the situation. Live bait choices by October and November are usually limited to fathead minnows, shiners and chubs.
New Lindy Stealth rig It's hard to beat a redtail chub on a Lindy Rig in many of the lakes and reservoirs I fish. Shiners are a good choice, too, but can be hard to keep alive. And in most situations, I've found a jig and fathead combination as effective as anything else. Try those live-bait offerings on deep-water walleyes. My Mercury four-stroke kicker allows me to get on top of them and keep my bait in the strike zone
while I work a stretch of water  When you get some wind and cloud cover, you may find big groups of fish on top of those points feeding all day long, and you may score on numbers of the biggest walleyes you've ever caught.
Walleyes in those shallower, dirty-water lakes and rivers can be caught by trolling lead core line with crankbaits along the river channels and bends
 In river systems, barge traffic and current flow can pile up the sand into small dunes that make trolling with monofilament inefficient because of the limited time a lure spends in the strike zone. Lead-core line takes you down and keeps you there. On several occasions, I've seen fish chasing shad in the shallows and scored big by trolling stickbaits on planer boards and running them right along the
shoreline. Still, my favorite method for taking fall walleyes is the jig-and-minnow
approach. It's also the simplest, which is an advantage when trying to combine a fishing trip with a hunting outing. When the walleyes are aggressive, a quarter-ounce or eighth-ounce hair or bucktail jig flipped along rip-rap, the tips of wingdams and shorelines littered with timber can take numbers of fish. Some of them will be huge. When the fish aren't as anxious to eat, I downsize to a plain jig head and work the edges of the shoreline break instead of the flat on top. There will also be fish stacked at the bottom of the break, but they're usually the ones
that have finished feeding and are resting up for another run through the shallows.
In my opinion, fall represents the best time for an angler to boat a 10-pound
or better walleye. At no other time are they more active or more accessible.
What's more, you will likely score on many other species of fish, too.
Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, crappies, northern pike and muskies are
doing the same thing the walleyes are doing when autumn arrives -- fattening
up for winter. The next time you head out to the duck blind for a morning shoot, throw the fishing gear in the boat. When the mallards stop flying, go catch some
walleyes. You don't have to choose between fish and fowl. You can have them both.
E-mail John Kolinski

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