The Labor Day weekend is the last big hurrah of the summer tourist season in Minnesota. High school and college students will be heading back to school next week and most non-retired individuals will only be able to head "up-north" to areas like Bemidji on the weekends.
Fortunately for those of us who live in the Bemidji area, the fishing will likely stay good most of the fall, with fewer people on the lakes sharing the best spots.
The choices facing those who love the outdoors will become more difficult as the fall progresses. Along with fishing and hunting, there are also fall sporting events that many people like to enjoy.
Bear hunting season opens Saturday, along with dove, rail and snipe hunting. Other hunting seasons will open later in the fall, including grouse, archery deer, and small game hunting on Sept. 15.
Fishing in the Bemidji area has been good this past week for most species of fish. Anglers continue to have good success walleye fishing in most of the larger lakes. Some of the smaller lakes in the area also have a good walleye bite in the fall.
Anglers are making the switch from more aggressive presentations like trolling crankbaits or spinner rigs for walleyes to fishing for walleyes with jigs and minnows or live bait rigs with larger minnows or night crawlers.
Leeches are also good bait for walleyes in the fall, but big leeches are difficult to find late in the season. Leeches have a two year life cycle and the large leeches die in the ponds after they spawn.
Once summer arrives, leech trappers are only able to get smaller leeches out of the leech ponds, so most bait dealers' supply of large and jumbo leeches run out long before the end of the open water season.
Anglers using smaller leeches for walleyes need to be sure to match the size of their hooks to the size of the leech. Anglers can also fish two small leeches on one hook and hope they don't get tangled before a walleye can eat them.
Walleyes have been moving out of the shallows on many of the deeper lakes. Anglers can start their search along the edges of structure that was holding walleyes most of the summer.
The thermocline in many deep lakes has started to deteriorate from the top down, so there is now oxygen in deeper water than there was during the hottest part of the summer.
Shallow lakes like Winnibigoshish, Leech and Upper Red Lake will have walleyes moving in the opposite direction, with more fish moving towards shallow water.
Jigs and minnows are the fall bait of choice for many walleye anglers, whether they are fishing vertically in deep lakes or casting for walleyes in the shallows in the non-thermocline lakes.
Muskie anglers will continue to see improving action most of the fall, with muskies feeding heavily as the cold water portion of the season approaches.
Muskies put on a growth spurt in the fall and many of the fish that have been suspended in deeper water will move into the shallows to feed on soft-finned prey like tulibees and suckers.
Northern pike have a similar spike in activity levels in the fall, with many of the larger pike using the deep edge of the weeds.
Bass anglers are still finding bass in shallow cover, but once the weather turns cold, bass will quickly move towards deeper water and the outside edges of the weeds.
Crappie fishing has started to improve, with more crappies relating to the bottom and holding on the edge of the "hard-to-soft" breakline.
Sunfish action continues to be good in many of the smaller lakes. Bluegills will hold on the edges of the greenest, healthiest weed beds in the lakes as long as they can.
Anglers often need to put their baits in the proper zone to catch bluegills, with the fish holding tight to the edges of cover.
Congratulations to Sam McSharry and his partner Kirk Willberg for winning the Professional Muskie Tournament Trail on Cass Lake this past weekend. The pair caught three legal size muskies during the two day tournament, which netted them a first-place finish worth more than $17,000.
Paul A. Nelson is a multi-species fishing guide living in the Bemidji area. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.