Changing weather patterns confuse fish, Bemidji area anglers
October is a month of change in the North Country. The typical weather pattern in October is to go back and forth from warm to cold until eventually turning into winter by the end of the month, just in time for the rifle deer hunting season to begin.
There is no better example of October weather than this past week in the Bemidji area. Early in the week near perfect weather had surface water temperatures in the lakes back on the rise. Later in the week (insert deep breath here), an extremely early snow storm hit the Bemidji area.
The fishing had been pretty good early in the week for most species. Walleyes in many lakes were actually moving back up the breakline towards shallow water, taking advantage of the stable weather to feed during the full moon period.
The full moon period is over and most fish are back to feeding during the day. Mornings and evenings have still been better for most species, with slower action in the middle of most days.
Cold fronts can disrupt fishing at any time of the year. An early snow storm is at the extreme end of the scale of cold fronts, with the sudden drop in water temperatures having a significant impact on the fish.
Surface water temperatures in most lakes were in the upper 50s when the latest weather event arrived in the Bemidji area. The lakes will likely drop into the low to mid 50s by the time the weather stabilizes again.
Most fish will retreat into deeper water when a cold front passes through. The retreat to deeper water makes the fish more visible for anglers with good electronics, even though many of the fish may not be in a feeding mood.
The location of the schools of baitfish has an impact on where the predator species are located. When schools of baitfish are close to the bottom and tight to structure, it is usually better for fishing than when schools of baitfish are further from structure and suspended.
Many of the minnows anglers are seeing on their electronics are young-of-the-year perch. The mild winter last year and the early ice-out in the spring created near perfect spawning conditions for perch in the Bemidji area this spring.
Perch lay their eggs in strands on standing vegetation almost as soon as the ice is off the lakes. The mild winter allowed the vegetation in the lakes to continue to grow under the ice, which provided plenty of habitat for the spawning perch.
The early ice-out also gave the young perch extra time to grow this summer, which created a huge age class of perch in many of the larger lakes.
Some of the schools of perch are more than six feet thick and can run for more than 100 yards along some structures.
Many of the walleyes anglers have been catching have had stomachs full of small perch. The overall health of the fish has been good due to the plentiful forage in the lakes.
The huge schools of young perch can also have a positive impact on the survival rates of this year’s hatch of walleyes. The young walleyes’ main forage during the winter is the young-of-the-year perch, so they will have plenty to eat to help them make it through their first winter under the ice.
Anglers fishing for other species this fall have also been having success, especially when the weather cooperates.
The larger perch in most lakes have been split between shallow and deep water, depending on where the best food sources are located.
Crappies have been moving closer to structure in many lakes. Crappies like deep rocks or brush piles in the fall. There have also been schools of crappies suspending over deeper water on the edges of the deep holes.
Sunfish have been holding on the edges of the last remaining green weeds.
Muskies and northern pike are often concentrated in the same areas where the schools of pre-spawn tulibees are located.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at email@example.com.