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Sizing it up
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, Tempress Rod Holders, Off-Shore Planer Boards, Berkley Trilene, Optima Batteries, Panther Marine and Headlight Lures
Big water can be overwhelming during much of the walleye season.
Unless an angler has the luxury of fishing on an almost-daily basis, it's tough to keep up with a species that often travels miles in a day across largely unremarkable water in the middle of nowhere to pursue baitfish like smelt, alewives and shad.
October changes all of that. Those thousands of acres of potentially productive water aren't so big and bad anymore as walleyes begin a predictable migration that takes them into areas and onto structure that is far more accessible to anglers.
It's a time of year when everything comes together in an angler's favor. From the Great Lakes to giant reservoirs like Fort Peck and Sakakawea to sprawling natural bodies of water like Lake of the Woods, tremendous numbers of walleyes head to relatively small areas.
As always, they are motivated by food. That's what lures summer walleyes, especially mature fish in search of larger forage, into open water. In this case, that's what brings them back to shallower haunts and specific structure in October and November as they put on the feedbag to build reserves for the cold-water months ahead.
Aquatic life comes full circle in October. Baitfish move back to shallower water where the temperatures are slightly warmer and they can find sustenance while preparing for their annual spawning runs. Gamefish follow for the same reasons.
It's like a family reunion. Whether the participants like one another or not, they'll come for the picnic. Big, small, young or old -- they'll all be there. And you can bet the ones who have been around the block won't be far from the table with the brats, burgers, sweet corn and watermelon.
Most of the time, that figurative table is the breaklines that exist in the bays and along the shorelines of these big bodies of water. Two elements must be present -- an area to feed such as a shallow flat or weedbed and deep water.
Find a breakline in an area that offers those characteristics and chances are there will be good numbers of fat and sassy walleyes present. Because the water is typically clearest in the fall and the subsequent light penetration greatest, it makes sense that walleyes will seek out the security and comfort of breaklines that go down 20 feet or more.
John Kolinski with a nice walleye In reservoirs and large natural lakes, big main-lake points are a good place to start, although secondary points shouldn't be overlooked either. These are areas where walleyes will concentrate, but it also pays to consider how they got there. Usually, it's by following a long and distinct breakline, and there are often plenty of transition fish to be caught along these areas, too. In some large lakes, the fall migration will lead walleyes toward rivers and creeks where there are autumn runs of shiners or other baitfish species. Focus your efforts on the first major breaklines outside the river or creek mouth, unless the flowage is large. In that case, check out the river, too. The breaks provided by changes in current can concentrate good numbers of walleyes

In the Great Lakes, you may have to expand your search. While breaklines at the mouths of rivers and creeks can be good, there is usually some type of structure that ultimately attracts and holds these walleyes, like islands or shallow-water reefs and the breaklines around them. In other situations where these conditions don't exist, probe the breaklines leading into bays that feature plenty of shallow, vegetated water.
While focusing on distinct breaklines helps eliminate a lot of water, those drop-offs can still extend for miles. That's where a quality sonar unit can make a huge difference. I like to motor along those breaks while paying close attention to my Lowrance 111 HD. When I pass over baitfish or gamefish, I mark a waypoint and continue on. Usually, I can identify three or four specific stretches that seem to be holding most of the fish.
Catching them isn't all that difficult. One might assume that because there is so much forage available that it would become harder to coax a walleye to bite. What actually happens is that there is so much more competition for food and so many more walleyes in the area that there are almost always some that can be caught. Because these fish are trying to fatten up, their periods of feeding activity are also more frequent.
If the fish seem to be grouped in small pods and scattered along the break, I crank up my Mercury 9.9 kicker and set up a trolling spread that features large, No. 11 and No. 13 Rapala stickbaits or big Storm Thundersticks. I try to cover as much of the break as possible by using a combination of Off-Shore planer boards, deep-diving cranks on Yo-Zuri line, stickbaits with in-line keel weights or Off-Shore snap weights or even lead-core line.
I also keep some live bait on hand. If I troll through an area and catch a fish or two but know there are more present, I'll slow down and offer the fish a redtail chub or large shiner. I've even scored at times with these fish using spinner and crawler combinations.
Basically, however, the most productive way to target these fish is to try to pick off the most active ones and not spend a lot of time fussing with those that already have a full belly.
October anglers have another ace up their sleeve they can play, as well.
While the bite is generally decent all day long, there are times when conditions make walleyes a bit finicky during daylight hours. Fortunately, you can almost always count of them to bite around dusk or even after dark and again around sunrise. The same baits and techniques work, but you'll have to work more of the shallow water than you would during the day.
As always when fishing during autumn months, dress accordingly, watch the weather and play it safe. Be prepared for the worst-case scenario and try not to venture too far from a ramp.
By and large, it's a great time of year to fish, and the angler who understands the walleye's annual life cycle and migration can get in on some of the best fishing of the season.
Break it down, size it up and get after it. It's hard not to fall for big-water October walleyes.

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