Paul Nelson column for July 17: Cool temps, winds keep anglers off lakes
The midway point of July has passed in what is turning out to be a cold summer.
Surface water temperatures in the Bemidji area have exceeded 70 degrees twice this year, but it only lasted several days each time.
Surface water temperatures dropped back into the mid 60s again this week after another stretch of colder than normal temperatures.
Anglers struggled to get on the lakes this past week, with rain and high winds. Boat control is a big issue in high winds, making fishing difficult even if the fish are biting.
Walleye fishing has slowed down on most lakes. Anglers usually have a better chance to find active fish on the larger lakes, just because of the math. The larger lakes have more water, so they have more walleyes and larger schools of walleyes.
This gives anglers with knowledge of the lake a better chance to find active fish if they have enough time to search for them, because they can picture the whole lake in their heads when they try to figure out where the fish might be.
Anglers still learning a large body of water may be better off taking a section of the lake and breaking that down first, rather than trying to learn the whole lake at one time.
For example, anglers learning Leech Lake may be better off taking one bay at a time, trying to learn the lake in pieces. Anglers could spend the whole summer trying to learn just Portage Bay of Leech Lake and catch plenty of fish in the process.
Anglers can use paper maps of lakes to help them visualize the lake and look for new areas to fish. Some of the best anglers love to stare at lake maps, especially on larger bodies of water like many of the lakes in Canada.
The Canadian sides of Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods are close to Bemidji and offer nearly unlimited possibilities for walleyes, northern pike, muskies and smallmouth bass. There are new map chips available for both lakes, too, so anglers can use a GPS to help them navigate the big water.
Fishing in the Bemidji area has been spotty for many anglers, depending on what species and lake they are fishing.
Walleye fishing has been especially tough on Lake Bemidji this season. A good illustration of how tough Lake Bemidji has been can be seen from the results of the recent FLW Walleye League Tournament.
There were 60 boats total in the tournament. Twenty-four boats caught no walleyes. Seventeen boats caught only one walleye. Twelve boats caught two walleyes, including the first-place team. Three boats caught three walleyes and three more boats caught four walleyes. Only two boats out of 60 were able to catch the tournament limit of five walleyes.
Anglers fishing for species other than walleyes and muskies have been finding the fish more cooperative.
Bass fishing has been excellent on many of the smaller lakes. Bass usually use the shallowest, heaviest cover in the lakes. The edges between weed types or the inside edge of cabbage and coontail beds can often be the key areas for bass. Wild rice and deeper reeds will also hold bass most of the summer.
Northern pike action has been improving, with some of the larger pike moving into the cabbage weed edges. Anglers can use smaller muskie baits for pike or they can use sucker minnows on bobber rigs or on larger jigs.
Muskies have been getting more active, but the peak fishing won't be until the lakes "green up" a little and reduce some of the visibility in the water. Warmer water temperatures are needed to really get the algae blooming and the muskies feeding.
Perch fishing will improve when the mayfly hatches end. There were still mayflies hatching this past week on many lakes. Many perch will move shallow after the bug hatches slow down, which usually makes them easier to catch.
Crappie fishing has been best on the weed edges in the mornings and evenings, while bluegills use many of the same areas to feed during the day.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.