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Walleye: The Summer Doldrums and Resident Fish

  • BrianF
    Participant
    Posts: 465
    #2046383

    Does anyone want to talk about fishing??

    Contemplating my last couple of (poor) fishing trips during which I showed many different lures to hundreds of walleyes that where seen on electronics – including Livescope – with nothing but a million follows and a handful of bites from small walleyes to show. These were on ‘go to’ spots that always hold fish in the summer – these last few trips being no different. Trying to make sense of it in the hopes of changing my fortune. Here’s some random thoughts for those of you also struggling here in mid-summer.

    That walleyes make long migrations in the spring to select spawning sites has been well established by many tracking studies. However, these same types of tracking studies reveal that a much smaller home range is established once the spawn is completed and summer has settled-in.

    My experience is that these pods of summer resident fish become very difficult to catch when exposed repeatedly to the same presentations; so much so that I now have begun to ignore large groups of fish that have become uncatchable as a result of our over-exposure. Could this be the reason behind the proverbial ‘summer doldrums’? I think so.

    Where we fish, large groups of walleyes seem to stay put on prominent spots/confined areas during the summer. Due to their size and numbers, the temptation to return to them is like an addictive drug. Yet, fishing ‘history’ can make for thin soup.

    When first found, these fish would bite almost any artificial presentation we threw at them. However, over the years – and hundreds of fish catches/releases later – these summer resident fish no longer respond as they once did. This is evidence to me that many fish are returning to the same summer home ranges year after year. These are the fish I believe are being over-exposed to our presentations and showing avoidance behaviors. The fish are still there, but they don’t bite with nearly the aggression level like they did previously. Most won’t bite at all…and on presentations that used to give us insanely good fishing. Essentially, our own angling pressure helped kill the bite on these spots.

    I have not seen fall-time studies specific to walleyes, but tracking data with other species show that these small summer home ranges break down with the turn-over in the fall, usually around 55 degree water temp. That’s when the fish begin to roam again and become more susceptible to angling. I’m assuming that’s also the case with walleyes as well since we see the numbers increase dramatically on certain spots at that time of year and the overall bite improves.

    So, what does all this imply about busting the summer doldrums? ‘Fish the fishermen’ and avoid community spots this time of year, particularly spots you yourself have been beating-up – even if loaded with summer resident fish. Now is the time when finding new spots and fresh fish that haven’t seen pressure seems most important.

    That’s my BS Theory for the day. What are your thoughts/experiences around this subject?

    mike mulhern
    Participant
    Posts: 149
    #2046387

    I tend to agree with your theory in part as I have scuba dived a large underwater tree that had resident walleyes and when you dropped that first jig with a leech down there a respectable walleye would eat it. after that only little buggars would nibble and try to steal the bait, If the leech actually got too close to the fish they would actually back away from the leech.

    Mike

    FishBlood&RiverMud
    Participant
    Prescott
    Posts: 6255
    #2046406

    I cannot give credit to the fish for my failures. I don’t believe they smarten up. I’m not too sure you believe that either BrianF as you continue to try to solve a puzzle. If you felt the fish were smarter than you and believed it you’d be golfing instead.

    I think we too often get stubborn in how we want to catch them. I certainly do. There are presentations I just flat out refuse to do and at times it is a detriment to my catch rate. Presentations to me doesn’t mean lure necessarily, but also time of day/night. Fish fed well in stable conditions can settle into some stubborn feeding windows.

    Most people who just left the buffet full, will grab an M&M if offered. They may quickly decline the bag of M&M’s. Catch a walleye with a 12″ shad hanging out of its mouth on a little minnow for example.

    I’ll use winter for another example here. In February when the water is the clearest, the bite goes nocturnal here on the river. The activity level is 180 from daytime. Yes you can dial in a moderate bite during the day but the fish just turn on after dark and the same presentation will yield excellent results. Point being, getting a bite during a negative mood is always challenging but can be done, just NEVER as well as a bite during an active mood.

    If you could talk to every angler at the access i think it would be quite interesting to hear how fish were caught. From one extreme to another on any given day I’d bet.

    Keep the info coming to us Brian.

    dirtywater
    Participant
    Posts: 513
    #2046418

    I tend to agree with Fishblood; just not sure that I can buy that level of intelligence and longterm memory from a fish. To my mind, fish are smart enough to be spooked by a boat; and maybe smart enough to take note that the last flashy object that swam by made momma disappear — but not smart enough to keep an index of artificial baits in their memories. A couple thoughts:

    – I know you’ve posted about your aversion to live bait, but have you tossed out a leech under a slip bobber at dusk just to confirm that your target size walleye are indeed present in numbers on these spots?

    – Your posts are a breath of fresh air around here. You’re a really good writer, you think critically, and you’re obviously a good stick. Thanks for getting the conversation going.

    JasonP
    Participant
    Twin Cities
    Posts: 1360
    #2046428

    Good stuff. I assume you are river fishing. I think your points about seasonal ranges lines up really well with my experience of fishing the river.

    However, I don’t necessarily agree that the increasing difficulty in catching summer fish is caused by repeated exposure to lures/presentations or fishing pressure. There are a few other factors to consider, thermodynamic factors, some which have been mentioned.

    1. Some seasonal patterns are biological/hormonal. Fish need to feed heavily just after spawning because migration and spawning are energetically demanding. Fish in the fall need to feed heavily because they are storing energy for the winter and needing that energy for gamete production. In between they need to eat relatively less. There’s not much we can do about that.

    2. Fish in the summer are undergoing heat stress. The water temp on P2 last wknd was 85F. Higher temps mean less O2. But fish are cold blooded so they’re metabolism is skyrocketing. This is an energetic pinch point – they have the least oxygen for respiration when they need it the most. The fish I caught last wknd did not fight and needed a lot of time to release. This is probably a factor in their feeding patterns. There’s not much we can do about that.

    3. Walleyes have evolved a competitive low-light advantage over their prey and other predators. In the summer when there is so much light, feeding patterns often relate to light patterns. This can mean several things: fish use more stained water habitat, fish become more nocturnal, fish fall into crepuscular feeding patterns, feeding patterns relate to wave action which scatters light and stirs up sediment, fish go deeper where there is less light, or all of the above.

    If you’ve found the fish but they wont eat, it could be that they are using that area for staging during non-active times and are eating nearby during active times, when they have the greatest competitive advantage and feeding requires the least energy (i.e., maximized efficiency).

    Google “maximum power principle” if you really want to nerd out.

    jp

    John Rasmussen
    Participant
    Blaine
    Posts: 2511
    #2046444

    Interesting thoughts here and good info. We all wonder what’s going on in there heads when we can see them but can’t catch them. I usually just assume that I suck at fishing and go with that. mrgreen

    gimruis
    Participant
    Plymouth, MN
    Posts: 7979
    #2046498

    I think fish can definitely become over pressured. Its not just walleyes either. Heavily fished lakes for bass and muskies that see a lot of pressure from tournaments can become extremely difficult, especially in mid-summer when water clarity is good.

    Maybe try going after them at night time (if possible). Last year I went fishing at night to a couple of places I frequent when the daytime bite began to slow. The night time fishing was very successful not only because there’s generally less pressure but its not so hot out either. There are usually more bugs though if you can tolerate it.

    carnivore
    Participant
    Dubuque, Iowa
    Posts: 416
    #2046506

    I believe the biggest issue finding active walleye in mid summer is the abundance of forage as it relates to frequency and duration of feeding events. Biomass is at its highest midsummer into early fall. Most fisheries in the Midwest are full of bugs, young of year fish and crustaceans etc. like no other time of year. Walleye only have to feed a couple times a day for a short time to get their fill. If you aren’t on top of them for the 20 minutes they are aggressive then it can be tough. You either have to time the bite, or use a presentation to get reaction strikes. On the river where I fish river and weather conditions are making it hard to find a stable feeding pattern. Major feeding also will occur with clear water and clear moonlit nights.
    Been watching some bass fishing on TV and have heard a couple competitors say that the way they were fishing seemed to turn the school on. Am wondering what a walleye fisherman could do to activate a group of fish.

    icefanatic11
    Participant
    Birnamwood, WI
    Posts: 554
    #2047409

    Really love this thread, this type of thing really is great food for the fisherman’s mind, and I for one appreciate the science angle you guys have taken here to try and compliment the thought process of understanding the mid/late summer walleye pattern. But first, a thought on fishing pressure, I spend 60 percent of my time chasing crappies the rest chasing eyes. For 10 years I had two winter spots all to myself on a lake I caught crappies there from ice up to late Feb all winter long, every single time, with some obvious days being better bites and some being tougher but they were always there and I could always coax some into biting. I would fish them mostly on the weekends and had met or seen only two other guys out there in the ten years.

    Fast forward to year 10 (which is now 3 years ago now). Someone found those two spots and the community followed. Last three years I have looked with panoptix and livescope, no crappies to be found. Now either some seismic shift occurred in that year based on forage, biomass, fish population, weed growth etc. But I have yet to catch a fish on three years out there when I’ve stopped. Coincidence, maybe but hard to ignore the fact that the year after the bucket brigade showed up the fish have not used that area since, in the same time frame.

    Now to walleyes and fish in general. I too think fish memory, especially long term is extremely limited, their motivations and movements are not dictated by cognition (as is the case in most humans today) but I believe, rather by their instinct, specifically, feeling comfortable and being able to feed when they feel the urge, or at least to have access to food relatively easily. As a related side note when in high school we raised walleyes in a stock tank for FFA class from fingerling to like 7-8 inches at the end of the year. We fed them bait shop minnows twice to three times weekly to start. Well over Christmas break which was two weeks for us, we forgot and no one fed the walleyes. To be clear for four months we fed them two to three times weekly, then for two weeks, did not feed them at all. We expected on Monday when we walked in our fish would be floating, we had for sure starved them. Nope, didn’t lose one fish, so then our interest was piqued, we started messing with the feeding intervals, long story short, they were opportunistic. If we fed them three straight days their ferocity of hunting was diminished but we would still see them engaging with the bait and eating on day three. And in pretty much all cases, from time we poured bait into tank, to the time all minnows were eaten ranged from 5 min (typically day one) to 5 hours (highest we saw on a third straight day of feeding).

    This leads me to believe that fish are more reluctant to engage with bait when they are comfortable, safe, and not hungry. Will they occasionally yes, but the bait, the motion, the depth, the smell, the color have to be so precise to get that instinct to engage for them. Now I am an eye fisherman who uses live bait probably 50% of the time, I start with plastics and cranks initially then move to bait if needed. My biggest success (mostly a lake fisherman here) has been in mid/late summer, doing things that are completely different, ever since that crappie story above, I’ve been scarred permanently, whatever most guys are using if I’m fishing eyes in a community hole, I at least start the complete opposite. I.e. if guys are throwing cranks on shallow rock in spring or pitching bobbers and minnows, I’ll soak a half night crawler on the bottom with a jig or a plain hook. If guys are lindy rigging leeches moving .3-.7, I’ll bust out a crawler harness on the spot elevate it higher off bottom than normal where I expect the other guys to be fishing and I’ll rip by a 1.5-1.7 as fast as my blades will allow. Etc. Etc.

    I am not above doing what the crowd does, if I have to and it works, I just think that us fisherman sometimes get caught too much in our own heads fishing patterns and places the fish should be and what everybody has been using, I try to be different and then come back to the crowd.

    One final note on metabolism in the summer, I know conventional wisdom says walleyes metabolism (aka instinct to eat) is at it’s peak in warmest water of the summer. Why is it then that you very seldom hear about just hammering/smashing tons of eyes when they are at peak metabolism? Sure you hear about huge days, numbers and size in spring around the spawn and fall, but very seldom at least on the lakes of northern WI, that I fish, that their is a banner mid summer walleye bite going on. I hope we can keep this discussion going. Sorry for the long and late reply.

    BrianF
    Participant
    Posts: 465
    #2047417

    Ice, good points and good stories. I like it.

    As for memory and fish, there are several studies of which I’m aware that conclude the same thing: fish can learn and have both long-term and short-term memories. For us anglers, this can result in all sorts of maddening avoidance behaviors from the fish. There is no consequence to anyone who doesn’t believe that fish learn and have memory. For those that do, well, it’s a huge part of the equation for consistent success.

    Many fish species have been documented to make seasonal migrations to take advantage of unique seasonal foraging opportunities, moving long distances in anticipation of what is to come. That’s one example of long-term memory in fish.

    Another is what I’ve described in my original post – avoidance behaviors. Let me give a personal example to illustrate. For three straight years I was chasing a giant musky – “Sandy” – that would lay up in shallow water soaking up the sun in summer and early fall. Sandy was always in the same exact spot, right next to a certain water in-take pipe, laying motionless in 2’ of water. She was quite easy to spot, but was tucked away where most anglers wouldn’t think to look. Night and day I chased her, using as much stealth as possible: graphs off, drift in with no trolling motor, no casting until perfectly positioned, staying as far off of her as I could. Sandy’s response was the same every time. As soon as she became aware of me or my boat, or I showed her a lure, she would go from resting motionless to a purposeful swim right out into the basin. She never followed and never struck a bait, but immediately got the heck out of Dodge at the first sign of me. This was her response every time. I believe this fish is uncatchable. Too bad because she’s massive.

    Speaking of uncatchable, a study in Texas with LM bass showed that some fish were ‘stupid’ – poor learners – and could be caught over and over with the same lure. Conversely, other fish in the study were quick learners or completely uncatchable, even with live bait. Not surprisingly, offspring of ‘smart’ or uncatchable fish tended to be uncatchable. Offspring of highly catchable fish tended to also be highly catchable. This is the premise behind Texas fisheries ‘Share a Lunker’ program…get the biggest angler-caught fish and propagate them.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if most of the fish the bodies of water we fish were these ‘stupid’ fish? Unfortunately, stupid fish wind-up in the frying pan far more often than fish that learn easily. If you extrapolate the Texas bass study to other species, their ‘highly catchable’ genes also get fried in oil…leading me to theorize that we may be inadvertently creating generations of fish that are more difficult to catch with the effects of both catch-and-release and harvest; the former by educating fish and the latter by removing the genes of more easily catchable fish. It’s unproven, but a made-up theory based loosely in science and personal experience. Using Livescope, I’m commonly getting follows from hundreds of walleyes in a days fishing with maybe a handful of bites. Would this happen on an untouched Canadian Shield lake?

    I could talk about this stuff all day, but will leave you with one last thought. Having now fished extensively with Livescope/Mega 360 over the last two years, I am convinced that fish populations are very robust…far more so than I could ever have imagined prior to this new technology. So, why do any of us struggle to catch fish considering how many are actually in the water? I dunno for certain, but the answer could be in this thread.

    As a boy, I used to daydream when bored in classroom about being able to see fish in the water as if they were suspended in air. As a man, I daydream when bored at work about what it would be like to fish in bodies of water that have never been touched by other anglers.

    FishBlood&RiverMud
    Participant
    Prescott
    Posts: 6255
    #2047427

    Having now fished extensively with Livescope/Mega 360 over the last two years, I am convinced that fish populations are very robust…far more so than I could ever have imagined prior to this new technology. So, why do any of us struggle to catch fish considering how many are actually in the water? I dunno for certain, but the answer could be in this thread.

    Also have had the ability to identify fish species with SI for several years. Yeah sippi pools are full of them, but it was widely voted by the public to reduce limits. I don’t think people will see increased catch rates as a result.

    One final note on metabolism in the summer, I know conventional wisdom says walleyes metabolism (aka instinct to eat) is at it’s peak in warmest water of the summer. Why is it then that you very seldom hear about just hammering/smashing tons of eyes when they are at peak metabolism?

    Are you asking if it happens or if it is shared publicly.
    I’ve had a few great bites this summer. Put a little blurb on here. So my response is yes it happens and yes it is shared.
    Not many reports in the summer period though.

    I think a lot of folks are comfortable going to a lake without a bite report in the summer and fishing their comforts and in spring fall and winter they want a spoon held out before hooking up the boat.

    mike mulhern
    Participant
    Posts: 149
    #2047432

    I will also add that while diving I have watched walleyes suck in and blow out a jig and leech quicker than you or I can set the hook, My partner up top fishing said they weren’t hitting at all. When he said they were really biting was when one walleye snatched his jig on the fall and swam off with it. These fish sure are fun.

    Mike

    icefanatic11
    Participant
    Birnamwood, WI
    Posts: 554
    #2047457

    Brian that LMB study is fascinating, I have never know about that study or data. Although unproven as you say, if there is truth to it, that would support a basic premise of natural selection, better genes that increase survivability become more prevalent in populations as time goes on. The sheer horror that “we are creating generations of fish that are more difficult to catch is,” is in two words mind blowing. Perhaps that is nature’s way of striking back at humanity in the fishing world, and perhaps that explains why “old-timers” hammered the fish every where they went, they were just catching all the “stupid fish”. I knew it! Although one must always take care to see embellishment in the days of old tales.

    I’d say it’s hardly a coincidence in the results/data because they tested it on the next generation, mom and dad are both quick learners = progeny quick learners too. One could theorize then that, assuming fish, as most species, when young and small have lesser mental aptitude, they are much more likely to get caught, before they have truly “learned” the fishing pressure techniques. Whereby the time they are mature, assuming they have been caught and released while immature, they have learned enough to be more “uncatchable” or significantly less prone to an angler catching them..

    Are you asking if it happens or if it is shared publicly.
    I’ve had a few great bites this summer. Put a little blurb on here. So my response is yes it happens and yes it is shared.
    Not many reports in the summer period though.

    It was more rhetorical than anything, I know there are good bites to be had mid summer, I’ve been on a few of them myself, I too probably have more confidence in spring fall when fish are on more predictable and perhaps concentrated structure. It just seems odd to me that in the bait shops, talking to locals and the groups of guys that I fish with (who are transparent with each other) that I have not heard about a “got to get there now” they are “jumping in the boat” kind of bite in mid summer. Heard that many time in spring, fall and even winter to some extend, but far far less in my life about the mid summer period. Maybe I’m not just running with the right groups of guys who are mid summer walleye hammers, who knows. Just seems odd to me that at peak metabolism, one could expect a more pronounced aggressive and prolonged bite, but angling reports, experience, conversation in my life time has not supported that theory or “conventional wisdom.”

    FishBlood&RiverMud
    Participant
    Prescott
    Posts: 6255
    #2047463

    Just seems odd to me that at peak metabolism, one could expect a more pronounced aggressive and prolonged bite,

    I find the best bites are finding areas of concentration and using a reactionary bite in the summer. Trouble is concentrations are rare. You can spend a lot of time looking for a concentration that isn’t there.

    The food chain is very diverse, the most diverse in the warm water periods. Food chain starts on the microscopic level and you got to go through several levels before you get to a gamefish. There’s a lot happening in the summer on those lower food chain levels that drive all the behavior of the links to follow.

    There is a LOT happening in the warm water periods that does not happen in the cold water periods. MUCH more bait in the summer and MUCH MORE BAIT VARIETY that comes and goes. Various hatches. Hatches growing in size and changing food sources. Everything MOVES more in the summer to adjust the the ever growing and diversifying food chain. In cold water periods fish just plain and simply…Group Up!
    They group up because there isn’t the massive availability and diversity, there is however predictability.
    I have no hard time saying my favorite months to fish is long before and long after bikini season.

    1 Fish in a given area vs 15 in a given area. Cold water is like shooting fish in a barrel whereas warm water the fish are roaming the pasture so to speak. Cold water habitat changes are minimal, and habitat changes daily in the warm water periods. Habitat to me is: Oxygen, Wind/wave action, currents, weed growth, algae growth (Both suspended and fixed), thermoclines, water height, temperature, light penetration.

    We get seriously prolonged bites in the cold water periods. You can go back to the same general spots (or specific current/locational -habitat- preferences) for months at a time. Summer things move very quickly to and fro. I see it as similar to others feeding habits. Deer in the summer vs deer in the winter is a prime example (Here in the northern states) and how they concentrate over the small food sources in the winter (Group up) and in the summer they are spread across everyone’s acreages until freeze up. 90% of the fish are in 10% of the water, same with deer, birds, etc. What is habitat in the warm periods is not habitat in the cold periods.

    I believe all species are masters of efficiency or they are dead. Utilizing energy appropriately to maximize the benefit of gained energy. Being close to life sources of high nutrition. Energy acquisition and Rest being the largest drivers of attitudes and locations.

    Why we troll in the summer? To cover ground! Why we speed troll? To cover MORE ground and find the most active fish. They’re spread out…until they’re not, but never expect a summer concentration to last long.

    BigWerm
    Participant
    SW Metro
    Posts: 7030
    #2047562

    Great discussion! I’d side more on FBRM’s side that we are giving their pea brains more credit than they deserve, and think it’s more a factor of other variables, like Ice’s experience with feeding walleye, they just have more food. Another huge factor is weeds, not only does this give them way more places to hide/more difficult to find, but also makes it significantly more difficult to fish them effectively. So in the summer we have fish spread out, with more places to hide and the most options on the buffet all year. This makes the most sense to me.

    I’m skeptical of the fish’s memory theory, as I don’t think a fish in a lake like Mille Lacs would touch a lindy or a lead line rapala if that were the case. But I’m wrong often, and it’s a interesting discussion.

    Matt Moen
    Participant
    South Minneapolis
    Posts: 3620
    #2047644

    We saw FBRM’s example on the head to head broadcast. Okada found a small pod that were active and he picked them off in a few cast. Then it was done…that’s the typical summer pattern, especially as the bait really moves into the system.

    We’ve seen it on P2 the last month. As the bait has really entered the system it’s becoming tougher to find concentrated pods. They have all the food they need so they feed in tight windows and are roaming.

    This is a fascinating discussion. As more of a late bloomer to serious walleye fishing it’s interesting to hear the thoughts and opinions of everyone.

    BrianF
    Participant
    Posts: 465
    #2133632

    Update: A year has passed since posting the original thread about the summer doldrums. Thought I’d provide an update about my thoughts on this as my angling theory continues to evolve.

    About a month ago, fishing alone so as not to waste anyone else’s time, I chose to ignore my own advice and spot-camp on a big pod of heavily pressured walleyes to see if there was something – anything – that would get these fish to ‘go’. The idea was to throw everything in the box at them, however weird or off-beat, before giving up. The fish were easily seen on electronics so know for certain these fish were being exposed to what was being presented.

    I cycled through presentation after presentation with only two fish catches to show for the effort in over an hour of fishing. Dozens of different presentations were tried, all having either potential or historically shown great success in the past – but all illiciting only frustrating lazy follows in the present situation (Livescope confirmed). The weather was sunny and relatively calm, mid-morning. Maybe just a lull in the bite due to weather and time of day? Perhaps, but the experimenting continued.

    After so many presentation fails, I got yet another idea and dug deep into the box for a forgotten lure that I had not used for walleyes in a long, long time. The next hour was magical. Big fish were caught on the next three casts in a row and then about every third cast for the next hour after that. Twenty five big walleyes came into the boat from that school before they spooked, without moving the boat more than a few yards. This scenario has been repeated over and over on heavily pressured, typically negative fish holding on community spots since then.

    The moral to the story seems to be that hard-to-catch summer resident fish CAN be caught with great success, provided they are shown a novel presentation that appeals to their desire to chase fast moving food items in the warm water period.

    No doubt with over-exposure this presentation too will die and another will have to be found to take its place, but for now, the summer doldrums theory needs to be modified; either move to find no/low pressured fish, or camp on pressured fish and show them a novel bait that can illicit a bite reaction. I guess there is a third alternative…live bait (*yuk*), which is not for me. lol

    FishBlood&RiverMud
    Participant
    Prescott
    Posts: 6255
    #2133637

    What I learned most in the last 300 outings is when to go home and do something else.

    Now I try to go when the going is good.

    I applaud your investigative mind with the tech you have. Keep it up.

    gimruis
    Participant
    Plymouth, MN
    Posts: 7979
    #2133655

    And the magical forgotten lure was what again???

    Haha. I wondered that too. I am pretty sure he would have told us already if he wanted us to know.

    BrianF
    Participant
    Posts: 465
    #2133752

    No magic lure found, just a new one to which the fish haven’t been over-exposed. Like all the others, the fish will soon become over-exposed to this bait and will learn to avoid it as well. They always do. The point is simply that the summer doldrums can be overcome by finding either fresh fish or a fresh presentation.

    Karry Kyllo
    Participant
    Posts: 815
    #2133759

    I don’t know where or how you guys fish but I fish mainly in Lake of the Woods and Devils Lake I’ve always experienced some of the best fishing of the year in the middle of the summer when the weather is the hottest.

    ajw
    Participant
    Posts: 397
    #2133760

    they eat worms with spinners on their heads being dragged behind a metal stick with a weight. Lets not give them more credit than what’s due

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