Paul Nelson column for Sept. 25: Fall fishing patterns beginning to develop in Bemidji area
Fall has arrived on the calendar and it is starting to feel more like autumn in the Bemidji area, especially in the mornings.
Surface water temperatures remain in the high 60s in most lakes, so the fish are still in the transition zone between summer and fall patterns.
There hasn't been a killing frost yet in the Bemidji area, so the leaves on the trees are still predominantly green. Only the maples and a few of the aspen leaves are beginning to turn color, with the rest of the leaves on the trees waiting for frost before changing.
Walleyes usually head in two different directions in the fall, depending on what type of lake they live in.
Walleyes living in deep lakes with a thermocline usually head deeper in the fall, while walleyes living in shallow lakes without a thermocline will head toward shallow water in the fall.
Deep lakes develop a thermocline in the summer, so the deepest portion of the lake is usually off limits for fish during the hottest portion of the summer. Once the thermocline begins to break down in the fall, walleyes are quick to break through and head towards the portion of the lake below the thermocline.
Walleyes in shallow lakes spend the hottest portion of the summer in the deepest parts of the lake, trying to stay as cool as possible. When the shallows begin to cool down in the fall, walleyes quickly head toward shallower water to feed.
Walleyes and other species of fish know the shorter days mean winter is coming. The have started to feed more heavily to try and put on some fat for the winter, even though the water temperatures in the lakes are telling the fish it is still summer.
The fish are getting mixed signals from the weather and the amount of sunlight, but they are waiting for more seasonable weather patterns to arrive before heading into their fall patterns.
Anglers have been finding most of the walleyes in the deep lakes in more moderate depths, with most of the fish in the 20-30 foot range.
Walleyes in the big shallow lakes like Winnibigoshish, Upper Red, the main basin of Leech and Big Traverse Bay of Lake of the Woods have been in 6-18 feet of water, depending on the lake and the conditions of the day.
Jigs and minnows have been the bait of choice for most walleye anglers recently, with anglers using lighter jigs in the shallow lakes and heavier jigs in the deep lakes. Most walleye anglers prefer to use lighter jigs in shallow water to get their baits farther from the boat, where the fish are less likely to be spooked by the shadow of the boat.
Most walleye anglers fishing in deep water prefer to use heavier jigs to keep their baits more vertical under the boat, so they can have better control of their baits.
Live bait rigs with larger minnows can be very effective in the fall, when most of the baitfish have grown-up and the fish are tending to prefer larger baits.
Muskie fishing is steadily growing in popularity and is no longer the last fish to conquer for the most seasoned anglers. More "entry-level" anglers are now fishing for muskies, with anglers of limited experience going right for the top predators as soon as they hit the lakes.
The huge increase in fishing pressure on muskies educates the fish and can make them more difficult to catch. This can reward the anglers who do things a little differently than the rest of the anglers.
Perch anglers are finding fish on the big flats in the larger lakes. Most are fishing with jigs and fathead minnows.
Crappie anglers are finding crappies moving towards hard bottomed areas in deeper water, although most of the schools of crappies are still small and have not started grouping together into larger schools yet.
Sunfish are still on the edges of the thickest, greenest weed beds in the lakes. Sunfish begin to lose interest in the weeds when they start to die off and turn brown.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.