Paul Nelson column for Oct. 9: Weather better for duck hunting than fishing
Cold, rain and wind kept most anglers off Bemidji area lakes this past week. The extended forecast for this weekend includes lots of cold and wind, with a possibility of snow, which will likely be better for duck hunting than fishing.
The best days for fishing in the fall are usually the warmest, calmest days with bright sun, which is different than the rest of the year.
Walleye chop is not necessary to break up the sunlight when most of the fish are in deep water. Staying vertical over the fish is easier with little or no wind.
Windy days make it more difficult for anglers to control their boats and slow down enough to stay vertical over the fish.
Anglers often must back troll into the wind to go slow enough to be able to hover over the fish. The boat usually goes too fast when drifting and it is much more difficult to hold the boat tight to structure.
A good approach for fishing walleyes in deep water is to move more quickly when there are no fish on the sonar and then slow down and hover when there are fish present under the boat.
Walleyes like to stay close to the baitfish in the fall, so anglers are often fishing for walleyes that are surrounded by huge schools of baitfish.
Jigs and minnows are usually the bait of choice for late-season walleye anglers, but minnows can lose some of their appeal if walleyes are not actively feeding.
Live bait rigs with select larger minnows can help, but nightcrawlers or leeches may work better because they offer the walleyes something different when they are in a neutral or negative feeding mood.
The fishing for all species has been best when the weather is stable. Sometimes the weather has been so bad that it doesn't matter how good the fish are biting.
Most walleyes in deep lakes have been feeding in water between 20 and 35 feet deep. Anglers need to watch where the edge between hard and soft bottom is located, because it is usually close to the deepest point where walleyes will be located on that piece of structure.
The depth where hard bottom turns to soft bottom (mud) can vary greatly between lakes and also between spots located in the same lake.
Generally speaking, the best areas for walleyes in the fall are usually directly connected to one of the deep holes in the lake and will have hard bottom extending well down the breakline into deep water.
Spots where hard bottom turns to soft bottom in shallower water are usually not as good for walleyes in the fall as the spots where hard bottom goes into deep water.
Walleye fishing has been picking up in the shallow lakes like Winnibigoshish and Leech. Anglers have been catching fish both on areas with broken rock and gravel, but also in areas that still have green weeds.
Most of the walleyes in Winnie and the main basin of Leech Lake have been biting in 6-12 feet of water. There has also been a good bite for walleyes in Portage and Sucker Bay of Leech Lake and in the Cutfoot Sioux connected to Lake Winnibigoshish.
Most anglers on the lakes are fishing for either walleyes or muskies. Some lakes may have more duck hunters than anglers.
Muskies fishing is popular right up until the lakes freeze. Some of the largest muskies of the season are caught in the fall.
Muskie anglers use bucktail spinners early in the season, surface baits and large plastics in the summer and jerk baits and crankbaits late in the season.
Many muskie anglers like to troll big baits in the fall, especially when their hands get cold.
There are also a few anglers on the lakes that like to fish for panfish. Crappies have been tightly schooled in deep water, while perch have been active in many of the same areas as walleyes, especially in Winnibigoshish and Leech.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235).