Area lake temperatures remain in the 40s
Surface water temperatures stayed about the same this past week, with most lakes still in the low to mid-40s. The lakes need to get down to 40 degrees before they are ready to freeze.
Once a lake cools down to 40 degrees any surface water that cools below 40 degrees will float on top of the 40-degree water until it freezes.
Water is most dense around 40 degrees (actually 39.16 F.), which is why lakes freeze from the surface to the bottom instead of from the bottom to the surface. This is also what allows fish and other creatures to survive under the ice during the winter.
The lakes will begin to freeze in a somewhat predictable order. The first lakes to freeze are the shallow lakes, with the large deep lakes taking the longest to freeze.
Some years the fall cool-down is gradual and it takes weeks for all the lakes to freeze. Other years there is a sudden cold snap with temperatures dropping to single digits or below zero, and the lakes freeze virtually overnight.
This year appears to be a week or two behind past years, with daily highs still above freezing in the extended forecast.
The weather has been very warm for deer hunting. Too warm if you ask some of the successful hunters who had to cut up their deer the day after harvesting or put them directly into cold storage instead of hanging them outdoors for several days before processing.
Most hunters can remember past deer hunting seasons with significant amounts of snow on the ground or temperatures that were so cold it was nearly impossible to sit more than a couple of hours in a deer stand without freezing.
Anglers who haven't put their boats away for the season have been one of the major benefactors of the unseasonably warm weather this fall.
Muskie anglers have been catching some large fish and the good fishing can last until the lakes freeze.
Late fall can be the best time of year to catch a big muskie. There is usually a portion of the muskie population that stays in deep water during the summer, following schools of tulibees like shepherds following their flock. Staying in deep water usually helps muskies stay away from anglers baits which helps them grow to larger proportions.
These fish eventually follow the tulibees to shore in the fall as the tulibees prepare to spawn. When big muskies move shallow they are much more vulnerable to anglers' presentations.
Some anglers like to use large wood jerk baits in the fall. Other anglers like to use large plastic muskie baits, or any bait that is heavy enough to cast a long distance. The baits usually are neutrally buoyant or slowly sink which enables the fisherman to work them deeper and slower.
Silver and black baits imitate tulibees, shiners or whitefish. Gold and black baits imitate suckers or walleyes. Baits with green, yellow, red and orange can imitate chubs, perch and sunfish.
Muskies and large pike may be concentrated into specific areas late in the season, depending on where most of the food in the lake is located.
Numbers of large predators feeding in shallow water will create large swirls and boils when they chase their prey, which can give muskie anglers a big clue to the best locations.
Walleye fishing has been good in most of the deeper lakes. The fish are scattered along steep breaks, shoreline points or mid-lake structures with direct access to deep water.
Crappie fishing continues to be good in deep water. Anglers can use their electronics to find the crappies and then hold on top of the schools of fish with their electric trolling motor.
Anglers don't necessarily need live bait for crappies. Crappies are visual feeders so all the bait usually has to do is look like something the crappies want to eat.
Jigging minnows, small spoons, tube jigs or small plastics designed to mimic minnows will all work well for crappies as long as they are presented at the right depth.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.