Paul Nelson column for June 26: Walleyes spread out as summer arrives
The hot weather this past week caused a spike in surface water temperatures in Bemidji area lakes, which quickly moved bass, crappies and sunfish into the shallows to spawn.
The walleye bite has slowed down in most lakes, especially during the day. Walleyes spread out and use most of the lake during the summer, so there are fish located in a wide range of depths.
There is an explosion of food in deep water right now because of the insect hatches. Most of the minnows in shallow water are the young-of-the-year hatches, which continue to grow larger.
Walleyes and other species of fish have many choices for food during the summer, so fish can be using both deep and shallow water at the same time.
Walleyes in deep, clear lakes have been biting best in the mornings and evenings in depths ranging from the upper teens through the 20s, with a few walleyes feeding at night.
The most consistent walleye bite has been on the big shallow lakes like Winnibigoshish, Leech and Upper Red.
Jigs and minnows almost always work well on walleyes in shallow water, but some anglers have switched to live bait rigs with light sinkers, tipped with leeches or inflated night crawlers.
Crankbaits or bottom bouncers with a night crawler harness are good search baits to find schools of feeding walleyes.
Walleyes in lakes like Upper Red can be almost anywhere in the lake because of the shallow water. Most anglers fish the shoreline break in 6-9 feet of water. Walleyes in Lake Winnibigoshish are using both the shoreline cabbage and the mid-lake humps.
The shoreline walleyes in Winnie will stay close to the weeds when the winds are light and spread out on the flats when there is wind or cloud cover.
Walleyes on the humps and larger bars in Winnibigoshish can be either on top of the humps or on the sides, depending on the depth. Humps with depths in the 20s and deeper usually have fish on top, while with humps topping out at less than 20 feet usually have more fish on the sides and corners of the bar.
Walleyes in Leech Lake have been spreading out into the main lake, where most walleyes relate to rock humps and bars. Leech Lake also has a shallow walleye bite, with walleyes in the cabbage weeds in Sucker and Portage Bays.
Fishing in the rocks can be frustrating for many anglers because of the snags. It takes a light touch to feel the rocks and be able to snap the sinker free without pulling it into the rocks.
Some sinkers are more snag-free than others and there are some tricks to avoiding snags. Staying more vertical or swimming lighter baits over the top of the rocks are two ways to help avoid getting snagged.
Leech Lake is an excellent multi-species lake, with good fishing for walleyes, bass, muskies, northern pike, perch, sunfish and big crappies.
With walleye fishing slowing down, many anglers start to fish for other species. Bass fishing should improve as the weed beds continue to develop and the bass have had time to recover from the spawn.
Bass use some of the shallowest and heaviest cover in the lakes, with most of the bass in 3-6 feet of water most of the summer.
Muskie anglers have had a slow start to the season, but fishing should improve with the warmer water temperatures. If the water is too clear, muskies see anglers' baits too well and are less likely to make a mistake.
The peak muskie fishing of the season is often at the point when the first algae blooms of the summer begin to color the water, which is often mid-July.
Muskies are long lived fish and may get conditioned to certain baits if they see them too often or get caught on one. Anglers using unique baits, doctored lures and unusual presentations may have better success in heavily pressured waters than anglers using more popular lures.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.