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Dirty Little Secrets

April showers aren't just about May flowers. They are also nature's version 
of spring cleaning as the grit of a long winter gets washed away.For anglers, much of that sand, dirt and topsoil ends up in the river systems where we like to kick off the open-water season. High, dirty springtime conditions are common on major flowages throughout walleye country. It's not a pretty sight, but it's a fact of life on the moving water.  Fish still eat, including walleyes that are building strength for the spawn or recovering from the rigors of procreation.
Many anglers find it difficult to locate and catch these fish. Often, they are fishing too deep. 
Shallow, dirty water is a hungry walleye's best friend. It absorbs heat better than clear water, and that attracts baitfish. It conceals the predator from prey that doesn't see as well in dark conditions. And when brush or other structure is present that diverts the current and creates pockets of slack water, it provides opportunities for walleyes to feed efficiently.
These are dirty little secrets we can use to our advantage.Extreme fluctuations in water levels, especially a rapid drop of several feet, can send walleyes scurrying for the safety of the depths, but when conditions are fairly stable or the water is on the rise, think shallow. In most Midwestern rivers, the walleye spawn takes place in early to mid-April, depending on the length of the days in relation to water temperatures.

Bigger fish will be located in the vicinity of spawning habitat. They tend to favor low-light periods for feeding and will cruise the shallow sand flats or slip up onto wingdams to fill their bellies just before sunrise and again at sunset. They typically slide into deeper water and are less active during the day, although when water clarity is especially poor, like 1-2 inches, and the river running fast, a current break in 6 to 8 feet of water may qualify as "the depths." If the river is really raging, I've found them tucked in behind flooded trees and stumps or anything else that provides a respite from the current.
Postspawn fish favor will seek out the same areas of slack water. 
Males often hang around the spawning area for awhile, but the females seem to head downstream shortly after dropping their eggs.
Some of the best fishing of the year occurs as they disperse downstream and 
tuck in behind brush, logjams, deadfalls or rocks along the shorelines. Often, 
a foot or two of dirty water is all they need.Every few years, a system experiences a severe flood where the river's waters reach well beyond its banks into adjacent crop fields or backyards. The result is a buffet for fish as the earth releases a variety of crawlers, worms, grubs and other insect life into the water.
It's another opportunity for anglers, although I don't like to get up into those areas because of all the debris that tends to be present. I've had better success looking for current breaks immediately downstream where walleyes wait for that food to reach them.
In each of these situations, a handful of basic presentations will produce fish and most involve jigs. Crankbaits aren't usually the best presentation because of fish location and debris in the water. Blade baits can be effective in vertical situations, but offer limited options in terms of scent and live bait and tend to snag up far 
more than jigs in the wood and rocks.The first key to jig-fishing is to slow down. Visibility is limited, as is a walleye's opportunity to identify and locate its prey. The longer you can keep a bait in its face, the better chance it will eat.
When I'm trying to locate fish along main channel current breaks, 
MinnKota Maxxum 101 bow mount trolling moto4r
Minnkota 101
I use my MinnKota bow-mount trolling motor or my Mercury four-strike kicker to jig vertically while slipping as slowly downstream as possible. If I'm searching flooded timber and stumps, I sometimes tie my Triton 215X off to a tree and pitch jigs 
to likely spots.Experiment with rattles, colors and scents. Anything we can do to enhance a walleye's ability to locate our bait is a plus. Berkley's new line of Gulp! scented baits are reported to release over 400 times more scent than plastic baits, and they last infinitely longer than applied liquid scents. 
In general, chartreuse, lime and white are visible colors, but don't be afraid to try orange, blue and black, as well, if there is any water clarity at all.
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Sometimes, color is less important than water displacement. While I like a Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub or Lindy Max Gap Jig jig tipped with a large fathead 
in most vertical jigging situations, more bulk can be the way to go when looking for fish in water shallower than four feet. The current will dictate how small a jig you can use, but you can make a quarter-ounce hair jig fish like an eighth-ouncer by dressing it with a big piece 
of plastic such as a 4-inch grub tail, a ringworm or even a lizard. The larger profile not only slows the jig's fall, but it makes a better target for fish that are looking for an easy meal.A couple of other things to consider are rod sensitivity and line choice.When a bait is moving, a rod with a quick tip like a Berkley Series One is
critical. The 6-foot model is ideal for vertical situations and the 6 1/2-footer is perfect for pitching to shallow water and following a jig downstream.
High visibility, abrasion-resistant line is another advantage when current 
restricts the sensitivity between an angler and his or her jig and snaggy 
habitat is part of the plan. Berkley's IronSilk is tough and the Solar Mint color 
will help you see the strikes you can't always feel. This spring, don't let high, muddy water keep you at home or limit your catch. Those walleyes are eating. Think shallow, and you'll get your share of them. It's a dirty little secret that can turn difficult conditions into productive springtime outings.
E-mail John Kolinski
Editor's note: John Kolinski is the 2002 Professional Walleye Trail Angler of the Year and a 13-time championship qualifier on the PWT, RCL and Masters Walleye Circuit. His articles can be read in numerous Midwestern outdoor publications and several web sites. Kolinski is sponsored by Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Lowrance Electronics, Normark/Storm Lures, MinnKota, Lindy Legendary Tackle, Flambeau, Tempress Rod Holders, Off-Shore Planer Boards, Berkley Trilene, Optima Batteries and Panther Marine.

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