NELSON COLUMN: Summer patterns on hold because of high, cool water
The Fourth of July is probably the busiest weekend of the summer in the Bemidji area. The campgrounds and resorts are full, the roads are busy and the lakes are buzzing with both anglers and pleasure boaters.
The persistent rains made it all the way through June and are continuing into early July. With near record amounts of rain in many areas, water levels in the lakes continue to rise.
Docks at many of the public accesses are touching the water or partially underwater due to the heavy rains. Most personal docks on the lakes have had to be adjusted to the highest level to try and keep them out of the water.
Docks that are too close to the water are vulnerable to being dislodged during high winds, with the waves lifting the docks off their moorings.
Some cabin owners have returned to their cabins after a brief absence only to find the dock dislodged or drifted away from their waterfront.
Surface water temperatures in the lakes have been stuck in the mid 60s. The overnight temperatures on July 1 were in the mid 40s so it’s hard to imagine the lakes warming very quickly in the near future.
Summer fishing patterns are on hold until the water temperatures exceed 70 degrees. Oxygen levels are still good at all depths so the fish can be as shallow or as deep as they want to be, as long as they can find enough food.
All species of fish follow their food and the colder the water, the closer the fish want to be to a dependable food source. Anglers should watch their sonar for fish but they should also be on the watch for schools of baitfish.
If there is enough of the right kind of baitfish in an area, there will be something there to take advantage of the feeding opportunity, even if anglers don’t immediately see the larger fish on sonar when they drive through the area.
When all else fails, feeding loons can give anglers a big clue to where the baitfish are located. Anglers should always avoid feeding loons but they can get information from where the loons are feeding and apply it to other areas.
Loons like to feed on the same things that walleyes like to eat so anglers can see how deep the baitfish are located and know about what depth they should be looking for walleyes by how deep the loons are feeding.
There are still many fish in shallow water in many lakes, whether the fish are feeding in the cabbage weeds, the thicker beds of chara or near the shallow patches of rocks.
The reed beds have finally poked their heads out of the water and are taking on their summer appearance.
The developing cabbage weed beds are deeper this summer in most lakes because of the high water levels. Most types of aquatic vegetation must reach the surface of the lake to be pollinated so there should be some tall weeds this year and the weed edge could be as deep as 12 to 14 feet on some lakes.
There are also walleyes feeding in deeper water, especially the larger fish. Big walleyes want larger prey, whether it is shiners, perch, suckers or even young-of-the-year tulibees.
Actually, last fall’s hatch of tulibees are some of the most desirable big fish forage in the lakes, whether it is for walleyes, northern pike, muskies, largemouth bass or smallmouth bass.
Fall hatched tulibees have about a six-month head start on the spring spawning fish. They are the perfect size during the summer and offer big fish of all species a high calorie, high fat content forage when the rest of the minnows are still too small to be viable.
Most of the larger lakes in the area have had decent walleye bites recently.
Two of the better walleye bites have been on Leech Lake and Upper Red Lake. Both lakes have a four-walleye limit, with a 20 to 26 inch protected slot limit, which may be a good model for all lakes in Minnesota.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org