Paul Nelson column for Nov. 27: Anglers still able to fish in open water
Thanksgiving weekend is usually when anglers are first able to get out on the ice in the Bemidji area.
This year there is barely any ice on the swamps and small ponds, with only some crust ice along the shoreline of the shallowest lakes.
The deep lakes are still wide open and a long ways from freezing, unless a severe cold snap arrives unexpectedly sometime soon.
The extended forecast is predicting high temperatures that are below freezing later this coming week, but nothing that would freeze the lakes in any kind of a hurry.
There were still a few boats on the lakes this past week, with most of the activity later in the day, when daily temperatures are close to their highs.
The lack of fishing pressure gives the fish a break and usually means pretty good action for anglers if they are willing to brave the elements.
The weather has been pretty stable recently, which usually makes the fish more active and willing to bite. Anglers still need to find the fish and get their baits to the right depth at the right speed.
Cold water slows down the aggressiveness of fish, at least when it comes to chasing baits, so presentations must be precise to get bites in most situations.
If the fish are suspended, like they often are in deep water, it is easy to slide baits below the fish and not get many bites. Anglers really need to watch their electronics and try to keep their baits at or above eye level of the fish to get more bites.
This can be most easily be accomplished when anglers hover over the fish, so they can lift their baits up off the bottom and let them slowly drop through the strike zone of the fish.
The person operating the boat can have a distinct advantage over other anglers in the boat, because they can see both the fish and their baits on sonar.
Fishing from a boat late in the season can be very similar to ice fishing. The biggest difference is ease of mobility, with anglers in a boat not having to drill holes to search for fish with sonar.
Trolling or making long drifts while searching for fish isn't really practical in cold water. Most of the fish are in deeper water, which usually makes them visible on sonar. It makes more sense to find the fish first, before dropping baits into the water.
The exception is muskies and northern pike, which can still be in shallower water, especially in areas that are holding post-spawn tulibees and whitefish.
Much of the season, anglers fishing for muskies and pike like to keep their baits moving at higher speeds to cover more water and prevent the fish from getting too good a look at their bait.
During the cold water period, slow lumbering jerk baits are often the most effective presentation for muskies and big pike. Weighted baits that don't rise to the surface when paused are often ideal, with many of the strikes coming during the pause portion of the presentation.
Bass fishing can also be good late in the season. Most bass have left shallow water and are often schooled in larger groups on the outside edge of the weedline.
Tips of points or inside turns are usually the key areas for bass late in the season, with anglers able to use plastics or jigs and minnows to catch the bass.
Most of the walleye action has been along steep breaks leading into deep water. The walleyes can be almost anywhere along the drop-off, from the top to the bottom, depending on the conditions. The larger perch have often been located in similar areas as the walleyes.
Crappies continue to be suspended over deep water in most lakes. Anglers can usually see the schools of crappies on sonar. Crappies will usually bite under most conditions, if anglers can get their baits at the same level as the crappies.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.