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Current Events
By John Kolinski
Editor's note: John Kolinski is the 2002 Professional Walleye Trail Angler of the Year, last year's Illinois River RCL winner and a 15-time championship qualifier on the PWT, RCL and Masters Walleye Circuit. His articles can be read in numerous Midwestern outdoor publications and at 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.

Pick up a February edition of an outdoor magazine or newsletter and you'll probably see article after article promising to reveal the secrets to catching crappies the size of hubcaps, football- shaped perch and bluegills that look like nuclear experiments. Hard-water fish make great headlines, and they become more accessible to a greater number of anglers when a cover of ice locks down our lakes and reservoirs for the winter. Whether or not you catch fish like those that take up entire magazine covers, the possibility is often enough to keep the pursuit alive. You will be lured by hot bites on lakes both large and small. You'll be intrigued by small ponds that give up big catches. You'll be motivated by innovative techniques that take fish from frozen reservoirs. One thing current events don't always do is go with the flow. River walleyes are largely overlooked once winter caps the open-water adventures for all but a handful of die-hards who are willing to push their boats across the ice to reach the open water below locks and dams. That doesn't mean there aren't excellent river-fishing options through the ice. The window of opportunity is much smaller, but the rewards can be all an eight-inch auger hole can handle. Not every winter provides access to moving water.

John Kolinski the Author Ice Fishing Even though flows tend to be slower because of lower water levels in most rivers at this time of year, it takes some serious cold weather to build a sheet of ice thick enough for me to venture onto it. Safety is always priority one. Avoid areas where the river bends or eddies because changes in current velocity create unstable and unpredictable ice. Generally speaking, river fishing on the main channel means working the deep edges of breaklines and sandbars. Most of the time, I know where to find these areas from my open-water adventures. Seek out long, straight stretches of river and test the thickness with your auger as you cross it. Once I am confident there is sufficient ice where I want to fish, I drill a number of holes in a relatively small area along the break, and that's where I fish. Unlike fishing on lakes and reservoirs where anglers can move around at will, safe river fishing means limited mobility. It can be beneficial to drill those holes at a slight downstream angle. With the current working with them, it can be difficult to get a 3- to 4-pound walleye's head started up a standard vertical hole. A slight angle can make that task much easier. Quality electronics are critical to success.

First, it's been my experience that the bottom edge of the breaklines will produce the most consistent action, and my Lowrance X-67C Ice Machine gets me on the spots. It's also important to know there are fish holding on the break or working along it, and the X-67C lets me know exactly what's going on in the underwater world so I can focus my efforts where there seems to be the most activity. One thing I like about river fishing is its simplicity. Where state regulations allow multiple lines, I'll rig tip-ups Wolf River-style with whatever the preferred forage is on the river I'm fishing (shiners, fatheads, etc.).

Berkley's Fire Line Micro Ice

Berkley Fire Line Micro Ice

The basic rig consists of 8-pound Berkley Micro Ice, which is a small-diameter, low-stretch, low- visibility line. Slide a 4-foot leader with your hook on one end and a barrel swivel on the other up the line. Then tie another barrel swivel to the end of the line, followed by a two-foot dropper to which you will attach as heavy a sinker as is required to take your rig to the bottom and keep it there in the current. When the sinker hits bottom, keep the line tight and set the flag. The sliding leader allows the bait to act naturally and the fish to eat it without feeling the weight of the sinker, but yet there is enough tension to easily trip the flag into free-spool mode. Occasionally, the current will roll the sinker an inch or two and trip the flag, but that's simply a fact of life when you go with the flow.
Lindy Little Joe Rattlr SpoonLindy Little Joe Rattlr Spoon on card You'll also need to check your rigs periodically for debris. Once I've set as many of those rigs as the law allows, I move around and put a Lindy Rattl'r jigging spoon to work or a Lindy Fat Boy jig tipped with a minnow or shiner. If I have any doubt about the strength of the ice on the main river, I simply relocate to sloughs off the main channel where the flow is lighter and ice tends to be thicker and more uniform. There can be some great bites in these areas, too. Usually, they can be found near the mouth of the slough where it meets up with the main channel. Focus on the upstream edge where walleyes tend to tuck just around the corner out of the main flow. Taking care of your live bait and keeping your lures dry are two important considerations whenever you are fishing on the ice. Flambeau Outdoors takes care of both areas with air-tight tackle storage boxes and bait containers that keep minnows fresh and lively. Going with the flow is a great mid-winter alternative. Stay abreast of current events. There are plenty of headlines just waiting to be written.


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