Cool weather, mayfly hatch result in tough conditions
Surface water temperatures on many lakes in the Bemidji area had risen above 70 degrees for a couple of days, only to drop back into the mid 60s again this week after some chilly days and very cool nights.
This week there was also a hatch of the largest variety of mayflies which are greenish-yellow in color and can be more than one-inch long. The mayflies are large enough for walleyes, perch, tulibees, suckers and even crappies to be able to gorge themselves in a matter of minutes if they are feeding in the middle of a hatch.
Lakes in the Bemidji area had sort of an imperfect storm this past week, with a severe cold front, heavy winds, falling water temperatures and a significant mayfly hatch combining to give walleye anglers some tough fishing conditions to overcome.
Anglers also have a wide range of depths to check for active walleyes. Anglers fishing in the Kraus Anderson Walleye Classic on Lake Bemidji last Saturday caught walleyes shallower than five feet and deeper than 40 feet, all on the same day.
The wide range of depths is fine when the fish are biting, but when the fish shut down, it makes establishing a pattern much more difficult because of the huge amount of water anglers need to search to find active fish.
Most walleye anglers start searching for walleyes in shallow water and work their way into deeper water. Once anglers find a few fish willing to bite, they can narrow their search to the depth range where they caught the fish.
Shallow walleyes tend to be more active than deep walleyes but it depends on where the most food is located. There are always minnows and crayfish in the weeds and shallow rocks but there can also be plentiful food sources in deep water, such as during the mayfly hatch.
Deep-water walleyes can be located on mud, they can be located on hard bottom, they can be on the edge between hard and soft bottom, they can be suspended or they can relate to the tops or sides of structure.
If anglers have a choice between fishing shallow water or deep water for walleyes, anglers should consider fishing for the shallowest fish possible.
One of the most important differences between shallow walleyes and deep walleyes is how easy or difficult it is to release fish anglers don't want to keep or release fish that are inside a protected slot.
Shallow walleyes are much easier to release than deep walleyes in almost all situations. There is usually very little delayed mortality when releasing walleyes in shallow water, while releasing walleyes out of deep water (mid 20s or deeper) can cause a significant amount of delayed mortality from the fish getting the bends or rupturing their air bladders.
The best chance for fish to survive coming out of deep water is to be unhooked and released as quickly as possible while they can still get back to the bottom and limit the amount of damage to their tissues.
The good news for anglers fishing in shallow water is the cabbage weed beds got a jump start this year, much like the local gardens, with the longer growing season helping the lakes produce thick and healthy patches of weeds.
Cabbage weeds (pondweed) are the favorite type of weeds for many species of fish, which also makes them favorites of many anglers. The cabbage weed beds are almost like corn fields under the water, providing good cover for both predators and prey species, along with producing lots of oxygen as they absorb sunlight.
Anglers have been catching walleyes in the weeds with a variety of presentations. A good option is a stand-up style jig and a shiner minnow. Other options for weed walleyes include jigs and plastics, slip bobber rigs with leeches and live-bait rigs with light sinkers and an inflated night crawler.
Most of the bass, crappies and sunfish were able to finish spawning last week when the surface water temperatures rose above 70 degrees. After they spawn, bass like heavy cover, sunfish like cabbage and coontail weeds and crappies move into deeper water and make feeding movements into structure in the mornings and evenings.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org