Paul Nelson column for May 22: Anglers looking forward to a busy weekend on Bemidji area lakes
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial beginning of the summer tourist season in the Bemidji area. Many seasonal residents will return to their cabins for the first time since last fall and will spend the weekend putting in docks, opening up the cabin and doing various tasks around the yard.
This will also be a busy weekend on the lakes, which is historically one of the best fishing weekends of the summer. Walleye action has been steadily improving as the water temperatures warm, with more female walleyes showing up in the shallows ready to feed.
Most anglers have been catching mostly smaller male walleyes on jigs and minnows, with shiner minnows working best in most lakes. A few anglers have made the switch to live bait rigs with leeches or larger minnows. Night crawlers will catch walleyes in any water temperature, but most anglers wait until water temperatures are warmer before using nightcrawlers for walleyes.
The best lakes for walleyes so far this season have been the large shallow lakes like Upper Red, Leech and Winnibigoshish. Most walleyes that migrated up the river systems to spawn have made their way back to their home lake, so deeper lakes like Cass and Bemidji should start to turn on soon.
Walleyes in most lakes have been concentrated on shoreline structure. Walleyes usually stay on shoreline structure until the shiner minnows have spawned and then move to deeper water for the insect hatches out of the mud basin.
The "fish-fly" hatches have already begun, with a heavy midge hatch on many lakes this past week. Midges look a little like mosquitoes without stingers and they are the adult phase of the blood worm.
Many dragonfly and mayfly hatches occur in a predictable order, with the smaller varieties hatching first and the larger varieties hatching later. Most insect hatches come out of the mud in deep water, which attracts both baitfish and gamefish.
Most species of fish will be at peak activity levels this holiday weekend. Crappies and sunfish are in the shallows feeding as they get ready to spawn in the coming weeks. Both species can be found in protected areas with warmer water on the edges of old reed beds, bog and cane edges and any wood in the water like beaver lodges and fallen trees.
A bobber rig tipped with a light jig and a small minnow works well for crappies and the same rig tipped with worms or small leeches will work well for sunfish.
Bass season opens Saturday. Surface water temperatures are still too cold for bass to spawn, with most lakes in the mid to upper 50s. Virtually all of the bass in the Bemidji area will be pre-spawn when the season opens. Bass spawn when water temperatures reach the mid 60s.
Anglers practicing catch and release for bass should handle the fish carefully and return them to the area where they were caught as quickly as possible to avoid disrupting their spawning activities.
If that wasn't enough to do for one weekend, morel mushrooms have emerged in the woods and are ready to pick. Morel hunters should bring a compass or a handheld GPS and know which direction they need go to get back out of the woods to avoid getting lost.
Morels grow in shaded areas with stumps and dead hardwood trees, because the nutrients they need to grow flow back into the ground from the dead timber.
Morels are hollow with an attached cap and they have a distinct look. Good pictures of morel mushrooms are available on the internet. There is a fake morel in the woods that looks very similar to morels, but the fake morels have an unattached cap and the stem is filled with a cotton-like substance.
If morel hunters cut their morels in half lengthwise before rinsing them in water, they can see if they are hollow and know they have the right variety for eating.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.