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Give Me A "W"
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.

A walleye angler's wheel of fortune can spin out of control in July. The "easy" bites of May and June, when good numbers of aggressive and hungry fish could be found in predictable locations, are gone. Walleyes, especially on lakes and reservoirs, become more difficult to pattern and harder to catch consistently. We've all experienced the "here today, gone tomorrow" nature of summer 'eyes. Today's weed bite is tomorrow's wind-blown shoreline bite. This week's bite for suspended open-water fish is next week's mud bite. Fish that cooperated all day long in May suddenly seem to eat only during the low-light hours at dawn and dusk or during the cover of darkness in between. It's a good time of year to visit a major river system where walleyes can consistently be found wedged in the nooks and crannies of rocky wingdams. One of the best ways to tempt these fish is with willow cats, a small, spiny member of the catfish family that walleyes can't seem to resist. In fact, walleyes, wingdams and willow cats go together like Pat and Vanna of television game show frame. A good share of the major walleye tournaments taking place on river systems these days are being won by anglers dunking willow cats on wingdams, and it's not limited to mid-summer. As more anglers learn the art of willow-catting, they are turning it into a presentation that can be used almost year-round. Still, there's no better time than July, August and September. Learn to read and probe these rocky current deflectors and how to effectively present a willow cat, and you'll be onto a presentation that produces good numbers of walleyes and plenty of trophies. You won't need a lot of fancy equipment to fish willow cats. You will need two good anchors with enough bite to hold a boat in a variety of currents. I've found that claw-style anchors do a good job of digging in and holding my Triton 215X. The reason for two is to allow you to position your boat parallel to the dam once you've decided to set up on a particular area. You can cover a wider area of water when you are able to fish from both the bow and stern. You'll need a fairly long, soft-tipped rod for dead-sticking, a slightly stiffer rod for casting and retrieving and a pair of high-quality graphite 7-footers for rigging.

Berkley FireLine so smooth and easy to handle its a no brainer Because of the sharp rocks and the growing presence of zebra mussels in our river systems, I use 14-pound Berkley Fireline for my snells and backing, but add a piece of 6- or 8-pound monofilament when I'm rigging so I don't lose everything if I get snagged up. Basic terminal tackle consists of Lindy No-Snagg slip sinkers, No. 2 bait hooks and barrel swivels. There are several ways to fish willow cats, and they all have their merits. One of the first decisions you will have to make is which wingdams to fish.

That will depend a grat deal on the river stage and the current velocity. If you are dealing with high water and extremely swift current, it can be nearly impossible to maintain boat control or hold with anchors. However, there are usually other dams with less current that can be fished. When you are working wingdams, be aware of patterns. Sometimes, dams just outside feeder creeks or tributaries are holding the majority of the walleyes. Sometimes, they seem to prefer rockpiles located on inside or outside corners. Sometimes, the depth of a dam will attract fish. In general, I like at least three or four feet of water flowing over the top of the dam, at least 8 to 10 feet of depth along the face and a flat top rather than a sharply peaked dam. Look for irregularities, as well. Occasionally, a boat or a barge rearranges the structure of a dam, flattening out a spot on top or creating an indentation that walleyes will relate to. Avoid dams that have been covered by silt. Seldom have I contacted walleyes unless I can feel good rock in the area. Once I've identified the dams that I can and want to fish,

MinnKota Maxxum 101 bow mount trolling moto4r

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I use my MinnKota bow mount trolling motor and Lowrance electronics to crawl along the face with a slip-sinker rig that features a 2- to 3-foot snell leading to a barrel swivel. I use a bait hook through the bottom lip of a 3- to 4-inch willow cat. The slip sinker is then attached to the main line above the barrel swivel. When you feel the hit, simply free spool it and the fish can take that willow cat and run with it. Count to 10, reel down until you feel the sinker and set the hook. You won't hook every fish that bites, but you will get your share of them. One trick to proving these rocky dam faces is finding the right weight for your slip sinker. If you are set up right, you should be keeping your rigs out of trouble and slowly move them over the top of the rocks. It's been my experience that where there is one wingdam walleye, there are usually a lot more. That's why I start with a slow-trolling presentation.
John Kolinski the author hoists a fine walleye Walleyes usually locate along certain sections of a dam. In high water, it may be close to shore where there isn't as much current. During normal flow conditions, I've often found them along the outer third. And in low-water situations, the best spot tends to be the top of the dam. When you are able to make that determination, you can really work them over by anchoring with the same slip-sinker rigs. I like to set up a soft-tipped rod in a rod-holder and try to keep it out of trouble at the front edge of the rocks. With another rod, I'll cast out of "walk" the rig along the face as the current carries it by slowly lifting and lowering my rod tip. For a change of pace, sometimes I'll set aside the bait rod and spend a few minutes casting jibs or crankbaits across the top of the dam in search of aggressive, active fish. There seems to be plenty of debate among walleye anglers regarding why willow cats work so well for walleyes. Some claim walleyes hate them and are trying to kill them more than eat them.

Some claim that cats make up a significant portion of a walleye's diet. Whatever. There is no debating the fact that the distinct slime, scent and spunkiness of a willow cat attracts walleyes. Next time you're wondering where to find a good summer walleye bite, just say "Give me a 'W'". Wingdams, willow cats and walleyes are a letter-perfect solution.

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