Paul Nelson column for Sept. 4: Last big weekend of the summer has arrived
Labor Day weekend should be a busy time on the lakes in the Bemidji area with the sunny forecast and many people feeling shortchanged after a cool summer.
This weekend is also the unofficial end of the summer tourist season. Some seasonal residents will already be pulling out their docks and closing up their cabins for the summer.
Generally speaking, walleye fishing was pretty good on most lakes this past week. Walleyes are starting to bite better during the day and fishing has also been good for bass, pike, muskies and panfish.
Cold-water loving species like tulibees, whitefish and suckers had low mortality rates this summer because of the cool water temperatures and good oxygen levels in most lakes.
Gamefish were able to go anywhere in the lakes this summer in their search for food. They had nothing limiting their movements, which scattered many of the fish and made them harder for anglers to pattern.
Most lakes in the Bemidji area currently have surface water temperatures in the upper 60s and the fall fishing patterns are already starting to show up in many lakes.
The thermocline didn't get well established in most lakes this summer and it is already starting to break down.
Anglers are starting to find walleyes in deep water again and have started to catch them on jigs and minnows. There are also many other presentations that will catch walleyes right now.
Anglers using deep water trolling techniques finally started to catch some walleyes recently, although the pattern may be short-lived if water temperatures begin to cool soon.
Then again, a warm fall would extend the effectiveness of many artificial presentations for walleyes that are usually more effective in warm water.
When walleyes are biting, there is a large group of anglers who concentrate solely on walleyes.
Many muskie anglers have also been pounding the water hard recently, trying to take advantage of the spike in muskie activity levels that usually occurs in September.
Muskies are dominant predators and will feed wherever they can find suitable prey. Most muskie lures are best suited for fishing in shallow water, so that is where most muskie anglers fish.
Any type of cover is potential muskie habitat. Muskies can use reed beds, deep weeds, shallow weeds, rocks or they can cruise the huge flats searching for prey.
Muskies can also suspend over deeper water, so muskie anglers need to break the lakes into zones and fish each zone until they figure out what type of habitat muskies are using in each lake.
There is another group of anglers in the Bemidji area who fish almost exclusively for bass in the summer.
Most bass spend most of their summer in the heaviest cover in the lakes, but they can be located anywhere from the shoreline to the outside edge of the weedline.
Bass tend to be more scattered when they shallow water and more concentrated into schools when they are in deep water.
Perch have been biting on the shallow weed flats in many of the larger lakes like Leech, Winnibigoshish, Cass and Bemidji. Most anglers use small jigs and fathead minnows for perch.
Crappies have been moving off shallow structure and moving into hard bottomed areas in deeper water. Anglers can use small jigs and minnows or plastics to catch crappies in most situations.
Sunfish have been biting on the deep weed edge. Anglers can use bobber rigs with small jigs tipped with leeches, pieces of nightcrawlers or wax worms for sunfish.
With so many lakes and so many different species to fish, anglers can enjoy the lakes in the Bemidji area in many different ways this Labor Day weekend.
Taber's Bait is hosting an invitational walleye tournament on Lake Bemidji and Lake Irving on Sept. 12.
The entry fee for a two-person team is $500 and the first-place prize of $10,000 is guaranteed regardless of whether the tournament field of 50 boats is filled. There are a few opening left, so anglers interested should stop at Taber's Bait in Bemidji for details.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218.759.2235.