Flats are key areas for late summer fishing success
The summer tourist season is nearly over, with only one week remaining before Labor Day weekend. Most students will be going back to school soon, so parents with school-age children will be limited to weekend visits to the Bemidji area.
Summer weather may also be fleeting, with overnight lows dipping into the 40s again with increasing frequency. Most Bemidji area lakes reached the mid 70s for their high point this season, with the warmest weather of the summer occurring in August.
Walleyes in some lakes are abandoning some of the deeper mid-lake structure and moving back to the edges of large flats to feed in areas with cabbage weeds, or flats covered with chara or broken rock.
Lakes without a thermocline like Lake Winnibigoshish, the main body of Leech Lake and Upper Red Lake typically have a late summer move into the shoreline for walleyes after the lakes reach their peak temperatures for the summer.
The movement of walleyes toward the large shoreline flats is food related, with perch, crayfish and other baitfish using the shallow flats to feed late in the summer.
Tulibees will also move into the shore late in the season, so northern pike and muskies that have been feeding in deeper water will also make a movement toward the edges of shoreline or mid-lake flats.
Flats are actually food shelves for the fish and provide a variety of forage options for everything from baitfish to the largest fish in the system.
Certain areas on the flats will be used with higher frequency than other areas. Portions of the flats will usually be better than other areas because of what is on the bottom and where the spot is located on the flat.
Examples of desirable things on the flats are edges between weed types, rocks, depressions, rises, clean areas, areas close to the break or near deep water or even the presence of a school of baitfish may be all that is attracting feeding gamefish on a flat.
Flats are often used by several species of gamefish and panfish late in the summer, so anglers may find walleyes using a portion of the flat on one day and on another day find a group of feeding pike using the same area.
Perch love flats late in the summer because they can find both crayfish and minnows over chara or on areas of broken rock.
Sunfish will hold tight to the edges of tall weeds like cabbage, coontail or American milfoil. Anglers usually need to present baits tight into the cover to catch sunfish. Most sunfish are hesitant to expose themselves to predators by wandering too far from cover, so presentations too far from cover are less likely to get bit.
Crappies will use similar areas as sunfish on the deep edge of the weed beds, or they will suspend over deeper water during the day, moving into the edge of structure early in the mornings and late in the evenings.
Walleye anglers are using several different presentations to catch walleyes, depending on where the walleyes are located and what presentations anglers are most comfortable using.
Live bait rigs with leeches or night crawlers are still working for walleyes, but anglers need to use lighter sinkers and move at a faster pace to avoid constantly dragging their sinkers on the bottom and getting fouled by weeds.
Walleyes usually don't like areas covered with filamentous algae, so anglers may have to focus on areas with a cleaner bottom.
Anglers fishing for weed walleyes often have to get their baits in the right zone to get bites. If they get too close to the weeds, their baits get fouled. If they get too far from the weeds, they don't get many bites.
Boat control and a mental picture of the area are often big factors in being a consistent angler. Fish often prefer flats with more complex structure, with species like walleyes moving around the flats, based on the conditions of the day.
The best flats often have multiple locations for the fish to feed, with the fish moving around the flats, based on the wind direction and other factors including the location of the baitfish.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.