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Crappies starting to turn on in Bemidji area

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Lakes in the Bemidji area continue to slowly warm and surface water temperatures are now in the mid-50s in most lakes.

Water temperatures have been increasing during the day, but they cool back down at night, especially when air temperatures drop into the low 30s like they have been recently.

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The surface water temperatures closely reflect the average temperature between the daily highs and lows. Anglers can estimate water temperatures in an area by adding a week's worth of daily high and low temperatures and dividing by two.

Crappies in most lakes in the Bemidji area are still holding in 10 to 20 feet of water, with a few fish moving shallow in the evenings when temperatures are near their peak.

Crappies started biting in the Brainerd area this past week, so the lakes in the Bemidji area should be picking up soon. Lakes in the Bemidji area are usually about a week behind the lakes near Brainerd.

It usually takes surface water temperatures above 60 degrees to get a mass movement of crappies into the shallows to feed.

Anglers can use a water temperature gauge (available on most sonar/GPS units) to find the warmest water in the lake. Water temperatures can easily vary four or five degrees in different parts of the same lake, which can make a big difference in activity levels of crappies.

The most active crappies in a lake will usually be feeding in the warmest part of the lake. Crappies in the colder portions of the lake will become active later. Anglers can target the warmest water first, and then move to other parts of the lake as the season progresses.

Crappies sift zooplankton out of the water for much of their diet during the winter, but when spring arrives, they need something more substantial. Crappies are hunting for minnows when they move into the shallows, so the presence of baitfish in an area may tip-off anglers to where the crappies are feeding.

Anglers may see minnows dimpling on the surface of the lake or they may actually see crappies slurping up minnows as they chase them around the shallows.

Sunfish are usually slightly behind the crappies when they move into the shallows. Sunfish feed more on insects, which hatch out of areas with mud bottom. Sunfish usually wait for the insect hatches to begin before moving in to feed.

Lakes warm from the surface to the bottom, so shallow mud will have insect hatches before the deep mud. Anglers with good electronics should be able to see the plumes of insects rising out of the soft bottom.

Perch are early spawners and they have been done spawning in most areas for weeks. The larger perch are starting to recover from the spawn, which means they are getting more active and starting to feed.

Perch are opportunistic feeders and will take advantage of whatever food source is most available in the lake. Perch may move shallow and feed on minnows, crayfish or smaller perch. They may also move into deep water and feed on insects. Most lakes will have perch feeding in both shallow and deep water.

Many of the docks at the public accesses were put into the lakes this past week, with most of the rest going in this week. Some accesses need repairs from ice damage over the winter, which can delay when the docks are put into the water.

Anglers should be aware of low water conditions on many lakes in the Bemidji area. Many lakes are down more than a foot, so anglers need to be sure there is enough water under their boats before going through shallow areas with potential hazards.

Anglers don't usually have this much time with open water before the walleye season opens. This is the perfect opportunity to do a little homework on your favorite lake or to look at new lakes in the area.

Anglers can also go to the areas they fished this winter to do a little research for next winter, while the locations are still fresh in their head.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at panelson@paulbunyan.net.

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