Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial beginning of summer and the start of the tourist season in the Bemidji area. Unfortunately, summer weather still feels like it is somewhere on the distant horizon.
Most of the deeper lakes in the Bemidji area have surface water temperatures in the mid 40s, while most shallow lakes have surface temperatures closer to 50 degrees.
The sun heats the lake water during the day, so the most accurate surface temperature readings are done in the morning, before direct sunlight hits the water.
Surface water temperatures in excess of 60 degrees would not be unusual for Memorial Day weekend in a typical year. Water temperatures this weekend will be more like what anglers would expect to see on opening weekend of the season.
The bass season opens Saturday, even though virtually none of the bass in northern Minnesota have had the chance to spawn.
Bass and other members of the sunfish family typically spawn when water temperatures reach around 65 degrees.
This might actually turn out to be a good spawning year for members of the sunfish family, which includes largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappies, bluegills and pumpkinseed sunfish.
Members of the sunfish family are most successful spawning when water temperatures warm up gradually, without a cold snap delaying the rise in temperature.
If there is a prolonged interruption in the rise of water temperatures, some fish might not spawn and will reabsorb their eggs.
The weather this spring has stayed cold. When warmer weather finally does arrive, it will likely happen suddenly and then stay warm through the summer.
This scenario would mean all members of the sunfish family would have a good chance to put in strong age class this year.
Crappies are especially sensitive to drops in water temperatures during the critical time period. This creates a boom and bust pattern for crappie spawning success in many lakes near the north end of their geographical home range.
This tendency can be illustrated by the crappies in Upper Red Lake, which have not pulled off a successful spawn since the mother of all age classes in 1995.
Bass spend most of their lives in shallow water in the Bemidji area, where most lakes have several different species of gamefish competing for habitat.
There likely won't be any bass on their spawning beds on the opener, but there should be bass in the shallows feeding, along with some crappies and sunfish.
Anglers will be able to use floating or suspending minnow baits or plastic jerk baits for bass early in the season. These baits can be fished very slowly, with anglers pausing between movements of the bait to give bass a good chance to react in the cold water.
Walleye anglers in the Bemidji area have been having mixed success catching walleyes on most lakes in 6-12 feet of water, depending on the weather conditions. Most anglers are also catching northern pike and perch while fishing walleyes in shallow water.
A jig and spotail shiner minnow is many anglers bait of choice for walleyes early in the season. Many walleyes have been located in areas with some emergent weed growth or rocks.
Some anglers have started to use live bait rigs tipped with leeches or larger shiner minnows for walleyes. Bobber rigs with minnows or leeches can also be effective for walleyes if anglers have some fish pinpointed.
The best lake for walleyes this season has been Upper Red Lake, with most anglers having no problem catching their 3 fish limit under the protected slot of 17 to 26 inches.
Anglers are also starting to catch crappies in Upper Red Lake, as well as in many of the other smaller crappie lakes in the Bemidji area.
Some of the other hot lakes for walleyes this season include Winnibigoshish, Cutfoot Sioux, Leech, Irving, Andrusia, Blackduck and Kitchi.
Fishing for walleyes should continue to improve as water temperatures increase. The peak walleye fishing in the spring typically occurs when water temperatures are between 55 and 65 degrees.
Paul Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He may be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.