Final busy weekend of the summer has arrived
Labor Day represents the last big weekend of summer for many visitors to the Bemidji area. The majority of schools and colleges across the country will be in session by next week so summer vacation will be over for many families after this weekend.
Area residents will almost immediately notice the difference in the amount of traffic in town. It will be even more noticeable on the lakes, when the amount of fishing pressure drops-off significantly after Labor Day, especially during the week.
Hunting seasons begin in September. Snipe, rail, mourning dove and bear hunting seasons opened Thursday. Many anglers are also hunters so every hunter in the woods means another boat that is not on the lakes.
The surface water temperatures in the lakes have started to drop again, with forecast highs through Labor Day only in the 60s.
Fall patterns for the fish are part water temperature, part the amount of daylight and part other environmental factors. Even though water temperatures in most lakes are still over 70 degrees, fish in most lakes have already started their fall patterns.
Perch and walleyes on Lake Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake have been getting more active, with more fish moving onto the shallow chara covered sand flats to feed on crayfish, minnows and small perch. Northern pike and muskies also frequent the same areas to feed on whatever they can fit into their mouths.
Anglers usually catch a mixed bag of fish when they go perch fishing. A 1/8-ounce jig and a fathead minnow is the bait of choice for most perch anglers. Stand-up jigs with a flat top instead of a round top usually work better for fishing through chara because they keep the bait in the strike zone instead of lying on their sides.
Chara is a short, rigid weed that is sometimes called sand grass. Chara does not have roots but gathers in mats and covers the sand flats on many of the lakes in the Bemidji area. Crayfish like to hide under the mats of chara and perch love to eat crayfish, so chara-covered sand flats are perfect hunting areas for the big schools of perch in the fall.
The best areas on the flats are usually between six and 12 feet of water, regardless of whether they are mid-lake or shoreline connected. Most fish like to be near the drop-off so they can easily back out of the area when some kind of threat or weather event causes the fish to temporarily evacuate the area.
Walleyes in the deep lakes like Bemidji, Cass, Pike Bay and Plantagenet have been moving off the sides of structure in 12 to 24 feet of water, depending on the time of day and the other weather conditions.
Some anglers are still using bottom bouncers and spinners, but more anglers have been switching back to live-bait rigs and jigs. Minnows, leeches and night crawlers have all been catching walleyes so anglers should bring than one type of bait and try switching baits when the fishing slows or when a school of fish stops biting.
The dog days of summer are officially dead. There can still be some hot days or even weeks, but the chances are pretty much gone for another prolonged period of hot weather.
Fishing should gradually improve for most species as the surface water temperatures fall through the 60s. Actually, there are many similarities between fishing patterns in the fall and the spring when the lakes go through the same temperature ranges.
Some of the best fishing in the spring occurs when water temperatures rise through the 60s and much of the best fishing in the fall occurs when the water temperatures fall through the 60s.
Fishing should also be improving for muskies as the water in the lakes begins to clear. Algae growth peaks during the hottest part of the summer. Algae begin to die-off in the lakes very quickly as water temperatures drop with a new layer of dead algae on the surface of the lakes each morning.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.