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Paul Nelson: Anglers must be aware of high water on Bemidji area lakes

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High water levels on the lakes and flooding in many parts of Minnesota are typically a spring phenomena but this year the flooding is happening in June because of near-record amounts of rain.

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There are many buzz words that get thrown around about the weather, with topics like global warming and climate change discussed ad nauseam.

Still, it is difficult not to wonder what is going on with the weather, especially when looking at the extreme weather conditions the last few years in the Bemidji area.

High water levels in lakes also can result in debris being dislodged from shore and becoming a hazard to boating traffic.

There is also a tendency for some of the old timber logs resting on the bottom to dislodge during high water and turn into dead heads where anglers experienced with the lake or don't expect to find them.

The logs often come out of deep water and float just below the surface until they snag on the bottom as they drift into structure.

The kill switch on a boat involves putting a chord around the driver's wrist that will kill the motor if the boat suddenly stops and the driver gets knocked out of the seat.

When the water is high anglers can adopt the same rules that are used in fishing tournaments, including wearing the life jacket when the boat is above idle speed.

Once anglers reach their destination, the life jacket can come off. There are also the inflatable life vests that are so small anglers can forget they have them on.

Anglers can also reduce their risk when traveling across the lakes by using the GPS unit as a guide to stay over deep water when traveling at high speeds. Once the boat approaches the breakline, the driver should reduce speed.

Most lakes in the Bemidji area still have surface water temperatures in the high 60s so summer patterns for walleyes have been slow to develop.

Anglers are finding walleyes spread across a wide range of depths. There are still walleyes feeding in the weeds or shallow rocks and feeding on the breakline on the sides of structure. The walleyes usually move up the breakline when they are feeding and back down the breakline when they are finished.

There is a third group of walleyes working the edges of the mud, feeding on a mixture of insects, smaller perch and other baitfish.

After a big hatch of mayflies anglers can see the insect casings floating on the surface of the lakes. Mayflies provide food either directly or indirectly for most species of fish as well as many birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Anglers are still catching a few walleyes on jigs and minnows in shallow water but anglers fishing in deeper water are switching to live-bait rigs with leeches or night crawlers.

Upper Red Lake continues to have a good shoreline bite for walleyes, with anglers fishing 5 to 7 feet of water using several different presentations.

The walleyes in Upper Red Lake usually hold on the shoreline structure until water temperatures rise above 70 degrees.

Leech Lake has been good for walleyes and the fish have begun to spread into the main lake. Anglers can fish the abundant weeds or rocks.

Winnibigoshish have been better for slot fish but the "keeper" size walleyes less than 17 inches have been tougher to find. Fortunately, there are also a good number of perch and northern pike in Winnibigoshish so anglers can get enough fish for a fish fry.

A group goal for anglers this year should be to learn how to take the bones out of northern pike. Anglers who know how to remove the bones should show their buddies how to do it.

Pike are very edible if there are no bones. The smaller pike that are overpopulating many lakes are especially tasty but it takes a sharp knife and some talent in micro-surgery to get the job done without bones.

Anglers should release the larger pike and eat the smaller pike to help out the lakes and get some guilt-free boneless fillets in the process.

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Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.
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