Bemidji area anglers experience mixed results during opening week
The walleye opener was good for some anglers and tough for others. The lakes were extremely busy on Saturday but heavier winds on Sunday kept many anglers off of the lakes.
Leech Lake and Upper Red Lake were two of the better lakes for walleyes on the opener. Lakes like Cass, Bemidji and Winnibigoshish were a little slower for most anglers. Some smaller walleye lakes like Andrusia, Blackduck, Kitchi and Plantagenet were also good for walleyes on the opener.
Surface water temperatures in most lakes in the Bemidji are now in the mid to upper 50s so the walleye bite should keep improving as long as the weather stays stable.
The peak spring walleye bite usually occurs about the same time the lilac bushes are blooming. Another good indicator for timing the peak walleye bite in the spring occurs when the surface water temperatures in the lakes are able to hold 60 degrees overnight for the first time.
Surface water temperatures can soar during the day when it is hot and calm, creating misleadingly high water temperatures. The most accurate measurement of surface water temperatures are done in the early morning before the sun has had a chance to warm the water.
The conditions are advancing very fast this spring. Anglers are already seeing midges hatching on the lakes, which are usually the first "fish fly" hatches in the spring. Midges are the adult phase of blood worms which hatch by the tens of millions out of the mud basins of most northern lakes.
The early ice-out this spring, combined with the more recent warm-up, is causing the insect hatches in the lakes to begin early. The heaviest mayfly hatches in the Bemidji area usually occur in early June but this year the hatches might actually occur in May, as the name suggests.
Spot-tail shiners have been moving into the shallows in huge numbers in most of the larger lakes, getting ready to spawn. Walleyes in the larger lakes usually stay on shoreline connected structure as long as the shiners are in the shallows.
Walleyes begin to move out to mid-lake structure about the same time spot-tail shiner minnows are finished spawning in the shallows. Walleyes moving to mid-lake structure also occurs about the same time mayflies begin to hatch out of the mud basins in deep water.
The mayfly hatch provides a deep water food source for walleyes as they migrate across the basin and head towards their summer haunts on mid-lake structure.
Walleye anglers have been finding most of their fish on shoreline connected structure with cabbage weeds or hard bottom with some broken rock or gravel.
Walleyes have been in six to 12 feet of water in most situations. Most anglers have been using jigs and shiner minnows for walleyes but live-bait rigs with leeches or night crawlers will increase in popularity as the water temperatures continue to rise.
Crappies, sunfish and bass are all members of the sunfish family and will begin to spawn when water temperatures reach the upper 60s to low 70s.
Crappies and sunfish are feeding in the shallows in most lakes right now. Most of the fish are in two to six feet of water, so slip or fixed bobber rigs are usually the best way for anglers to keep their baits in the right zone.
Crappies usually prefer small jigs tipped with crappie minnows or plastics. Crappies will also take tiny hair jigs without meat because they depend on sight more than smell.
Sunfish also have good eyesight but they rely more on scent when they feed. Sunfish usually prefer small jigs tipped with wax worms, night crawler pieces or small leeches. Sunfish don't usually like unscented plastics or minnows.
Anglers are encouraged to practice selective harvest on panfish, especially right before and during the spawn. Female crappies are much lighter in color than males, which are extremely dark. Anglers should release the female crappies and all large sunfish, only taking male crappies and medium size sunfish to eat.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org