Lakes begin summer 'green-up'
Lakes in the Bemidji area continue to "green-up" from the normal algae bloom that happens during the warmest part of the summer.
Surface water temperatures have been holding in the mid-70s in most lakes, which is still in the tolerable range for most cold-water species living in the lakes around Bemidji.
Fish like suckers, tulibees and whitefish become stressed when surface water temperatures reach the high 70s to low 80s, which can ultimately result in a "summer-kill". Warmer water also makes any fish that is injured or in poor health more susceptible to death.
Algae blooms in many lakes have already colored the water enough to allow walleyes to feed on top of bars, points and humps during the day. Perch, northern pike and muskies often use many of the same areas to feed.
Anglers can gauge how colored the water is by seeing how deep it is when the bottom disappears from sight when leaving the boat access.
If the bottom disappears from sight in less than four feet of water, there should be walleyes somewhere in the lake using the tops of humps, bars and points to feed during the day.
There are many different presentations for summer walleyes in shallow water.
Anglers can use a single-hook spinner rig tipped with a plastic tail (most anglers use white, glow or yellow curly tails). Anglers need to experiment with speed, sinker weight and the amount of line to let out to avoid dragging on the bottom, but get the spinner deep enough to attract some bites.
Anglers can also use safety-pin spinners with a jig and plastic tail. Anglers can fish them plain or tip them with a small minnow, leech or piece of night crawler.
Jigs and plastics are another option for fishing summer walleyes on shallow flats. Some anglers like to use fluke style plastics, while others like plastics that imitate a minnow.
Jigs and plastics can be trolled around 1.5 mph, or anglers can cast and retrieve them, using a combination of hopping and swimming motion on the baits.
Lake Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake still have the best walleye bite in the area when the conditions are right, but anglers can get blown off the water when the winds are too strong.
Muskie anglers may see a flurry of activity from larger muskies in the next week or two. The water in most lakes has been pretty clear all summer, but now the lakes are beginning to get some color, which should mean more larger muskies getting caught.
Large northern pike have also become more active in the warmer water. Many of the large northerns have moved out of deep water and into the cabbage weed beds to feed.
Musky anglers often catch a few northern pike on their muskie baits, but anglers can increase the number of pike they catch by down-sizing to smaller jerk baits, which usually catch more northern pike but still give anglers a decent chance to catch a muskie.
Anglers can also use bobber rigs with large suckers or chubs for northern pike. Trolling larger jigs tipped with a medium-sized sucker works well when pike are on the outside edge of the weeds.
Spoons can also be effective for pike and can be trolled or cast to cover lots of water. Spoons have a hard wobbling action that makes it easy to tell if the lure is working properly or fouled by weeds.
Many larger perch were in deep water feeding on mayfly larvae, but now they are moving back into the shallows to feed on minnows, crawfish and smaller perch.
Sunfish have been active on the outside edges of cabbage and coontail weed beds. Sunfish like to tuck under the tall weeds, so anglers often have to make spot-on casts to get their bait in the right zone.
Anglers should consider releasing larger bluegills and keeping the fish under eight inches for eating. Bluegills over a pound are extremely rare and may be as old as a 10-pound walleye, which makes them very susceptible to over-harvest.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.