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Paul Nelson: Annual fall cool-down of Bemidji area lakes is under way

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Cooler weather has arrived in the Bemidji area and the fall cool-down is in progress. Surface water temperatures have been dropping all week and most lakes now are in the upper 60s.

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Walleye fishing continues to improve in most lakes but there are several patterns working right now so anglers may have to do some searching to figure out which pattern is the most productive.

Anglers may find walleyes using shallow water in the mornings and evenings and then dropping off the sides of structure during the day. There are also walleyes using deeper water in most lakes that are totally separate from the schools of walleyes using the shallows to feed.

Walleyes feeding in shallow water are using many of the same areas as the perch and northern pike. Anglers may not be able to graph many of the larger fish in shallow water but they should be able to see the schools of baitfish.

Baitfish often looks like rain coming down from the surface on sonar. Most gamefish want to stay close to the food so it is rare to find schools of perch and walleyes in shallow water without also seeing schools of baitfish.

Anglers may be able to see the schools of baitfish dimpling on the surface around their boat. Flocks of birds like Arctic terns feed almost exclusively on live minnows so flocks of terns dipping down into the water can also give anglers a clue to where the baitfish are located.

Many anglers may misidentify or have trouble identifying what they are seeing on sonar. What anglers might think are schools of walleyes can actually be suckers, tulibees, perch or maybe even a tightly packed school of baitfish.

One way to help anglers learn how to identify what they are seeing on sonar is to have a second angler using an underwater camera to confirm what the sonar is indicating.

Tulibees tend to stack vertically and are usually higher in the water column than walleyes. Suckers can look similar to walleyes but suckers are usually further off the bottom than walleyes and the sonar reading from suckers often looks more short and stubby than the readings for walleyes.

Tightly packed schools of baitfish, weeds, rocks and other things on the bottom can also look like walleyes because walleyes often lay right on the bottom, with little separation visible on sonar.

Bass, northern pike and even muskies can also be seen on sonar, with each fish making a slightly different signal.

Northern pike usually look long and pointy and are usually higher off the bottom not tightly schooled with other fish. Muskies look huge and are often alone. Smallmouth bass look shorter and more round than walleyes.

Once anglers have found some fish they think are walleyes, the challenge is to find a presentation that the walleyes are willing to bite.

Anglers often make the mistake of making a pass or two through a school of fish and if they won't bite, they give up and move to another area rather than changing the presentation to see if they can find something that will trigger a bite.

If the presentation is the problem, moving to another area is not likely going to help anglers get more bites as long as they continue to use the same presentation.

Walleyes often have plenty of minnows in the water around them so they may not be impressed with another minnow on the end of an angler's line. Anglers may have to give the fish another option or use some other triggering mechanism to get the fish to eat, especially when they are not actively feeding.

With so many variables in fishing, finding out what is triggering the fish to bite can take some imagination and some experimentation.

That's why most walleye pros bring several different kinds of live bait and have so many rods rigged for different presentations.

They want to be able to make quick changes while they fine-tune their presentations until they find something that will work. Then they can move around the lake and apply what they learned to different schools of fish.

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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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