Anglers getting ready for opener
The ice has been gone from the lakes in the Bemidji area for more than a week and anglers are busy getting their boats and fishing gear ready for next Saturday's opener.
Cold water this spring has slowed the progress of the walleye spawn. Walleyes begin spawning when water temperatures rise above 42 degrees and they are usually done spawning before water temperatures exceed 50 degrees.
Walleye populations in most lakes are split into two groups, walleyes that spawn in rivers and walleyes that stay in the lake to spawn.
The ratio of river spawning walleyes to lake spawning walleyes in each lake is closely tied to which group is the more successful spawner.
River spawning walleyes often travel great distances to reach a specific section of a river or stream that has the right combination of current, depth and bottom content.
Walleyes spawning in lakes are also looking for a specific combination of depth and bottom content, only the lake fish rely on waves instead of current to incubate the eggs.
Rivers warm significantly faster than lakes in the spring, so river spawning walleyes get a big head-start on the lake spawning walleyes.
River spawning walleyes are usually done spawning about the same time walleyes in lakes are just starting to spawn.
Male and female walleyes behave much differently during the spawn.
Male walleyes arrive at the spawning sites early and stay late to be sure that there are always male walleyes around when the schools of female walleyes arrive.
Female walleyes usually show up at the last minute when their eggs are fully ripe and ready to spawn.
When male walleyes are done spawning they take their time returning to their home lake, stopping frequently to feed.
Female walleyes usually leave the spawning sites almost immediately after spawning and head directly back to their home lake where they will rest until they recover from the spawn.
Female walleyes can lose 20 to 25 percent of their body weight when they spawn. They rest in deep water where the water is cold so it slows their metabolism and gives them more time to recover without having to actively feed.
Female walleyes will feed when they are recovering if an easy meal falls in their lap but they won't resume their normal feeding patterns until they are completely recovered.
When the female walleyes are ready to eat they will leave the deep water and head for the shallows hungry and ready to feed.
Most of the walleyes anglers are hoping to catch on the opener will be male walleyes that spawned in a river somewhere and have been done spawning for more than a week when the season opens.
Many lakes in the Bemidji area are part of a chain of lakes with each lake having its own resident population of walleyes. Early in the season many of the smaller lakes will have a significant number of walleyes migrating through them as the walleyes make their way back to their home lake.
Most walleyes living in a chain of lakes prefer to live in the largest and deepest lake in the chain.
The male walleyes usually follow the shoreline back to their home lake, frequently stopping to feed when they encounter a food source.
Anglers can anticipate the path of the migrating walleyes and concentrate on the potential feeding areas the walleyes will pass by on their way home.
There are natural bottlenecks at all the outlets between the lakes, with walleyes staging during the day where they wait until night to make the run through the shallow rivers between the lakes.
Any large flats, points or food shelves along the way are potential feeding areas for the migrating walleyes, with old cabbage weed beds or patches of rocks the most likely cover for baitfish and minnows.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.