Cold water delays start of summer fishing patterns
The weather continues to be the big story this spring in the Bemidji area. Rain and unseasonably cold temperatures have kept many of the fair-weather anglers on shore and have forced anglers on the lakes to bundle up to stay warm and dry.
A brief warming trend last week was finally able to raise surface water temperatures into the 60s, which quickly prompted the bass, crappies and sunfish to move onto their spawning beds.
Almost as quickly as members of the sunfish family were able to spawn, more cold and rainy weather dropped surface water temperatures back into the upper 50s in many lakes.
Cold water temperatures have slowed the summer algae blooms, which keeps the water clear in most of the lakes. Algae blooms increase as water temperatures increase and are heaviest when surface water temperatures exceed 70 degrees.
Fishing patterns are also largely dependent on surface water temperatures. Summer fishing patterns begin to take hold in the lakes when water temperatures exceed 70 degrees.
Until the lakes warm many of the walleyes and other fish will tend to be more scattered, which scatters the fish and makes it more difficult for anglers to find a productive pattern.
With water temperatures staying below 70 degrees the fish are only limited by food and can go as shallow or deep as they want to go.
Anglers fishing on the same lake on the same day may find walleyes scattered between five and 60 feet, with at least a few fish using most of the different types of structure available in the lake.
Anglers fishing walleyes in shallow water are still finding most of the walleyes relating to either cabbage weeds or rocks. Jigs and minnows usually work when walleyes are shallow.
Another option for weed walleyes is to use a live-bait rig with an inflated night crawler or a slip-bobber rig to fish the edges around the weeds. Floating jig heads or floats pegged on the line can help keep minnows or leeches off the bottom and out of the weeds.
Jigs and plastics can also work well in shallow water. Anglers are able to rip the jigs and plastics through the weeds without losing their bait. Anglers can use heavier jigs when working plastics so the jigs can be snapped hard and worked aggressively and still keep in good contact with the bottom.
Color can be very important when fishing plastics. Anglers should switch colors until they find a color the walleyes are willing to eat. If anglers are getting bit more by northern pike than walleyes, they should consider switching colors, unless they are happy catching northerns.
The best lakes for walleyes have been the larger lakes like Leech, Winnie, Upper Red, Cass and Bemidji.
Leech Lake continues to be hot for walleyes and perch. The water is extremely clear in Leech Lake so the walleyes are very wind driven and will usually be most active on the windward sides of structure or shoreline. The bite has also been good on days with cloudy skies.
Winnibigoshish has also been good for walleyes, with many "keeper walleyes" using the shoreline cabbage and rocks. Many of the larger "slot" walleyes have moved onto the mid-lake bars and humps.
Anglers fishing shallow water in the larger lakes can usually have some success with jigs and minnows. Anglers fishing deeper water usually have better luck when they use a live-bait rig tipped with a night crawler, leech or larger minnow.
Crappies and sunfish have spawned in most lakes and have moved out of the shallows. Many sunfish have moved to the outside edge of the cabbage and coontail weed beds while most crappies are suspended off the sides of structure and will make feeding movements into structure in the mornings and evenings.
Most muskie anglers have been seeing a few fish but the water in the lakes is so clear the muskies have been getting too good a look at their lures and have not been making many "mistakes".
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.