Paul Nelson column for Oct. 2: Fish move into fall patterns as water cools
The Bemidji area was hit with its first hard frost this past week and the leaves on the trees are turning color fast.
There should be good viewing for fall colors for at least the next couple of weeks in the Bemidji area.
The waterfowl season opens Saturday across Minnesota. Anglers should watch for duck and goose hunters on the lakes and steer clear of areas where the hunters are located.
The surface water temperatures in the lakes plummeted this week, dropping from the high 60s to the low 60s in a matter of days.
Most species of fish reacted quickly to the cooling water temperatures by switching into their fall patterns.
Walleyes in the deep lakes have moved off the sides of structure, often utilizing the sharpest breaks into the deepest water, with hard bottom going all the way down the drop-off.
Anglers can see the bottom hardness by reading the intensity of the signal on their sonar. Black and white sonar will have a wider, more pronounced signal when the bottom is hard and a thin line when the bottom is soft.
Multi-color sonar units usually use red as the color for the strongest signal, so the wider and more red the bottom signal is, the harder the bottom.
Abrupt or distinct edges of the hard bottom are usually more attractive to walleyes than edges than turn into soft bottom more gradually.
Walleyes can be located all the way down the breakline under certain conditions, regardless of the depth. Walleyes like edges between hard and soft bottom because they have access to a wider variety of forage on the edges of two different types of habitat.
Crappies also like the hard to soft breakline in the fall, which often puts walleyes and crappies in competition for similar structure late in the season.
Most species of fish have started to form eggs and gonads for next spring's spawn, so the fish are feeding more aggressively to get the extra nutrients they need. They are also trying to store fat before winter arrives.
Muskies and pike are both active in the fall, often feeding aggressively right up until the lakes begin to ice over.
Tulibees and whitefish are preferred forage of the largest predators in the lakes and some of the only fish other than trout to spawn in the fall.
Tulibees and whitefish spend much of the year in the coldest portion of the lakes feeding on insects. Once they are in their pre-spawn mode, their diet switches more to minnows and most will move into the shallows to feed.
Muskies and the largest pike will follow the tulibees into the shallows. There may be good numbers of large predators concentrated into the same areas with the feeding tulibees.
Muskies and pike often give their presence away in the fall by the big boils or swirls in the water that they create when chasing larger forage in shallow water.
Anglers can use jerk baits or crankbaits that imitate tulibees in the fall with good results. Most silver/black or gold/black lures are a good imitation of tulibees.
Bass anglers can catch some of the biggest bass of the year in the fall. Most of the bass in the lakes have spent their summer in the shallowest, heaviest cover. Once the shallows begin to cool in the fall, bass will move out to the deep edge of the weed beds and gather in larger schools.
Perch anglers are finding perch both in the shallows and deep water, depending on the lake. Anglers can find perch in shallow water in lakes like Winnibigoshish and Leech, while perch in lakes like Bemidji and Cass have been more active in deeper water.
Sunfish will hold to the edges of the healthiest patches of weeds late into the fall before moving onto moderate depth mud flats for the winter.
Many lakes have cabbage, coontail and even American Milfoil weed beds. Usually one type of weed will hold more sunfish than the others late in the season.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.