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Paul Nelson column for May 15: Cold and windy start to the fishing season

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The first week of the fishing season has been cold and windy in the Bemidji area. There hasn't been much warm weather since the ice went out on the lakes, so water temperatures have been slow to rise this spring.

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Surface water temps in most lakes are still in the upper 40s to low 50s, which is very cold for this point in the season.

There were reports of a few anglers catching male walleyes that hadn't spawned yet on the opener, so some walleyes have not had a chance to recover from the spawn.

The lakes with water temperatures warmer than 50 degrees had better action than lakes with water temperatures still in the 40s. The good news is anglers didn't miss much of the good spring walleye fishing waiting for the season to open.

The best walleye action in the spring usually starts when surface water temps reach the mid 50s and peaks when surface water temperatures hit 60 degrees.

The best time to measure surface water temperatures is in the morning, before the sun has had a chance to warm the water.

The hottest lake in the Bemidji area for walleyes on the opener was Upper Red Lake. Most anglers on Upper Red were able to catch their 4 walleye limit on the opener, when the winds were still manageable.

The best depth for most anglers on Upper Red Lake was 4-7 feet of water along the shoreline break. Most anglers were using jigs minnows for walleyes, with shiner and fathead minnows both working well.

Upper Red Lake is a big oval shaped lake with very shallow water, so the waves can get huge with only a moderate amount of wind.

A little less than half of Upper Red is open to the public for fishing, with anglers fishing the east side of the lake. Any wind stronger than 20 mph from a direction that includes the word "west" can be a problem for anglers and keep most people off of the lake.

Anglers' have some good shore fishing opportunities on the tributary rivers connected to Upper Red Lake, so there is an option for anglers on the windy days. The same regulations for Upper Red also apply to the tributary rivers.

Leech Lake was another good lake for walleyes on the opener, but heavy winds also hampered anglers efforts much of the first week of the season.

Walleyes were biting well in both Portage and Sucker Bay of Leech Lake as well as on some of the larger points like Ottertail and Pine Point in the main lake. Most of the walleyes were biting in 8-12 feet of water on either rocks or on the edges of the emergent cabbage weed beds.

Walleye fishing also was good on Lake Winnibigoshish on the opener. The best action was in Big and Little Cutfoot and the north end of Lake Winnie. There were also some walleyes caught near the inlet of the Mississippi and in Sugar Lake.

The bite on Winnibigoshish was mainly a jig and minnow bite, with both shiners and fathead minnows producing fish. The best action was in 5-8 feet of water in Winnie and 8-12 feet in Big Cutfoot.

Lake Bemidji had surface water temperatures in the upper 40s the first week of the season, so walleye fishing has been a little slow. Lake Irving has water temperatures several degrees warmer than Lake Bemidji, so the walleyes have been a little more active there, especially in the evenings.

Cass Lake and Pike's Bay both still have water temperatures in the upper 40s, so the walleye fishing has been slow there too. Most anglers have had better success on the smaller lakes in the Cass Lake Chain, like Andrusia, Kitchi and Wolf Lake.

Anglers on the Cass Lake Chain were fishing in 8-14 feet of water using mostly jigs and shiner minnows for bait. Anglers should experiment with different color jigs to find out which one the fish like best.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.

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