Fish begin their transition into summer patterns
Several consecutive days of hot weather was just the boost the bass, crappies and sunfish needed to get them moving onto their spawning beds, but more cold weather can move them back off just as quickly.
The cold and wet weather this spring has delayed the progress of the spawn for members of the sunfish family. These species prefer a gradual but steady increase in water temperatures and spawn when water temperatures reach into the mid 60s.
When the spawn is delayed by cold water temperatures the young-of-the-year have less time to grow during the summer, which reduces their chances of surviving their first winter under the ice.
Surface water temperatures in most lakes exceeded 60 degrees this past week. The most accurate time to measure surface temperatures is in the morning, before the sun has had a chance to warm the top few inches of the water column.
The cold weather has also slowed the algae growth this spring, which has kept the water in the lakes very clear. Zooplankton growth is also limited by cold temperatures, which may have a negative effect on young walleyes and perch which rely on zooplankton as their primary food source during their first few weeks of life.
The spot-tail shiner minnows are almost finished spawning in most lakes and will be moving into deeper water once they are done. When the schools of shiners move off the shoreline a major food source for walleyes and perch is removed which forces the walleyes to look for alternate food sources.
The next link in the food chain after the shiner spawn is the insect hatches in the basin of most large lakes. Some walleyes have already begun to move off shoreline structure and have moved into deeper water searching for food. Many walleyes are starting to show up on mid-lake structure and switching into their summer patterns.
The insect hatches in deep water attract many species of fish. Many predators follow the baitfish into deep water and will feed on both insects and the other fish species.
The jig and minnow bite has been the hot presentation most of the spring but as the walleyes begin to move into deeper water most anglers will switch to live-bait rigs with leeches, larger minnows or night crawlers.
The warmer water increases the chances walleyes will respond to more aggressive presentations like trolling or casting crankbaits or trolling bottom bouncers and spinners tipped with night crawlers, leeches or minnows.
Some anglers like to use jigs and plastics for walleyes during the summer. Jigs and plastics are easier to work through the weeds because they can be ripped through the cabbage without losing the bait like anglers do when fishing a jig and minnow through the weeds.
Most anglers like to use a ¼-ounce jig or heavier when fishing jigs and plastics so they can work the bait faster while keeping in good contact with the bottom.
Several different styles of plastics will work. Some angers use flukes, some like paddle tails and some like curly tails or even a straight tailed worm. Anglers can also try scented plastics to give their presentation a more natural scent.
Anglers can experiment with different color plastics and jig heads to find the right combination. Walleyes can be fussy about color so it can pay off to switch colors until anglers find a winning combination.
The same is true with crankbaits when it comes to finding the right combination of color, size and shape. Many pro walleye anglers have literally hundreds of different crankbaits in their tackle boxes, so they can try different patterns until they find the exact lure that is triggering the most bites.
The cabbage weeds are nearing the surface and the reeds and bull rushes are beginning to poke their heads above the water, so soon it should start looking more like summer on the lakes.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.