Fish begin move to winter locations on area lakes
The fall cool-down continues in the Bemidji area with surface water temperatures in most lakes dropping into the 50s this past week.
The water temperature is one of the biggest factors in determining what the fish are doing at any time of the year. The temperature also can help anglers determine what seasonal patterns should be in effect in the lakes and rivers they are fishing.
When surface water temperatures fall through the 50s most species of fish will begin their fall migrations to get to their winter locations before the water temperatures get too cold.
There has been radio tracking studies done on muskies in larger lakes that determined muskies were most mobile when water temperatures were in the mid 50s.
Just like many fish make spawning migrations in the spring, fish are on the move again in the fall to get to areas where they will spend much of the winter.
Fish usually make long-distance moves when the water temperatures create an efficient ratio of calories burned because of the amount of energy they exert.
There is a sweet spot for water temperatures for migrating fish, much like runners and football players prefer cooler temperatures when they exert themselves.
Fish in larger lakes may have to travel long distances to go between their summer and winter locations. The farther they have to travel, the sooner they are likely to make their move in the fall.
Fish in smaller lakes usually don't have to travel nearly as far between summer and winter locations, unless they live in a chain of lakes and spend the summer in one lake and the winter in another lake.
Fish usually get in position for winter as the lakes or rivers cool through the 50s, so they are in their winter locations when the cold-water period begins (when water temperatures settle in the low 40s).
Most species of fish prefer winter locations that provide everything they need in close proximity so they don't have to travel long distances between their feeding areas and their resting areas.
Walleyes prefer complex locations in the winter that have different types of habitat and different combinations of bottom types so they can have access to a wider variety of food choices.
During the summer months when metabolism rates are high, walleyes have to stay mobile so they can stay close to a plentiful food source.
Fish may stay in one location for longer periods of time during the summer if the food source holds up but once their prey starts to dwindle or move, they have to move, too.
When water temperatures are cold and fish's metabolism rates are low, fish can stay in one location much longer. Their top priority isn't to stay on a large volume of food - they want to have everything they need nearby so they don't have to move too far to get what they need.
It doesn't take nearly as much forage to satisfy fish in the winter as it does during the summer when fish have to feed constantly. Most fish are much more sedentary during the winter, with fishing pressure one of the biggest factors that will eventually move the fish.
Anglers will find fish gathering into larger schools and concentrating on specific locations which are more the "spots on the spots", rather than spread out in a variety of areas. Anglers can also frequently find concentrations of fish in bottle-neck areas, where migrating fish are forced to travel through to get between their summer and winter locations.
Anglers often use presentations that fish vertically as the water cools so they can hover over schools of fish holding on key areas.
Rather than making long drifts to locate fish like many anglers do in the summer, anglers fishing in the fall are usually better off using their electronics to find fish and then stop and try to catch them with vertical presentations.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.