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It is time to make the switch to summer fishing patterns

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Summer weather finally arrived in the Bemidji area. This past week was warm and mild, with the surface water temperatures in the lakes spiking into the upper 60s to low 70s in most lakes.

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Summer fishing patterns usually get started when surface water temperatures in the lakes exceed 70 degrees. This is also the point in the season when algae begins to bloom and other things like "swimmers' itch" start to become a factor in the shallows of many lakes.

The fish fly hatches intensified in the mud basins of most lakes this past week, with midges, mayflies and dragonflies hatching in large numbers.

The fish fly hatches in deep water combined with the spot-tail shiners finishing spawning along the shoreline of many lakes to move walleyes off shoreline structure and onto mid-lake structure.

Walleyes will feed directly on the mayflies and other insect hatches but they will also feed on the baitfish and other smaller fish feeding on the insects emerging from the mud.

Walleye anglers are still catching fish on jigs and minnows on the cabbage flats and also on the shallow rocks. Most lakes will have walleyes both in shallow water and in deep water much of the summer.

Many walleye anglers have been switching to live-bait rigs with larger minnows, leeches or night crawlers. Some anglers have also started to use jigs and plastics, crankbaits and spinner rigs for walleyes and are having some success.

Bass, crappies and sunfish are finishing spawning in the shallows. Hopefully anglers will leave the fish alone while they spawn so they can produce more fish for the future.

Male sunfish and bass guard their nests from predators after their fry hatch. When anglers take fish off the beds, it leaves the fry unprotected from predators that are often lurking just off the sides of the nests.

Sunfish are different than most other species of fish. Sunfish do most of their growth in the juvenile stage and grow very slowly once they mature.

Sunfish only get as large as they have to before they mature. They need to be able to compete with the largest sunfish in the lake for spawning sites, so if the population is stunted the subsequent hatches of sunfish will mature earlier and lose much of their potential for growth.

Once a lake has stunted sunfish there is little chance to rehabilitate the lake without reintroducing some larger sunfish back into the lake, which is too labor intensive and expensive to be a viable option.

The only way to have big sunfish is to protect the lakes that already have big sunfish. Fishing pressure is the cause of stunted sunfish so the anglers must restrain themselves and release sunfish larger than 8 inches. If anglers are satisfied with cleaning smaller sunfish, then fish the stunted lakes and help yourself.

Anglers are finding muskies close to the areas where there are concentrations of perch and walleyes. There are also muskies in deep water following the suckers and tulibees but most of the fishing pressure on muskies occurs in shallow water.

The cabbage weeds are maturing fast in most lakes. Muskie anglers can use baits like bucktail spinners and surface baits to fish over the tops of the weed beds before they are fully developed and reach all the way to the surface of the lakes.

Anglers are fishing more seriously for muskies earlier every year. The growing popularity of muskie fishing means there is more competition for the fish among a growing number of anglers.

The best areas for muskies can get fished many times each day so it doesn't take long for a muskie to see baits, especially in shallow water. Many of the larger fish are being caught on secondary locations and in the smaller lakes connected to the best muskie waters because there is less pressure there.

The Bemidji area also has lakes stocked with rainbow trout, which are very active most of the summer. Anglers are reminded they need to purchase a trout stamp along with their regular fishing license to legally fish for trout.

PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at panelson@paulbunyan.net

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