PAUL NELSON COLUMN: Strike zone shrinks as water cools in Bemidji area lakes
Most deep lakes in the Bemidji area “turned-over” recently, with surface water temperatures in the low to mid 40s.
Water is most dense around 39 degrees, so when the water in the lake cools below 39 degrees, it floats on the surface until it freezes.
If water was most dense at 33 degrees instead of 39 degrees the lakes would freeze from the bottom up and eventually freeze solid during the winter.
Docks at the public accesses will begin to be pulled from the lakes soon. Most docks will be out of the lakes before the rifle deer hunting season begins, which is Nov. 3.
There are several entities that control public accesses on the local lakes so it is hard to predict exactly when the docks are going to be removed. Anglers should be prepared to launch and trailer their boats without the aid of a dock for the rest of the season.
Anglers fishing during the cold water period are basically ice fishing out of a boat. Fish can still be aggressive in the cold water but it usually takes the right conditions at the right time of day to get a really hot bite.
The size of the strike zone for a fish is determined by how far the fish is willing to move to take the right presentation. Ideally, if anglers put their bait through the strike zone of a fish, they should have a good chance to get a bite.
The strike zone of most species shrinks when the water gets cold and gets even smaller when there is a cold front or some other weather related situation that negatively affects fishing.
Anglers need to pay attention to the little details even more when the bite is tough. Walleye anglers may have to abandon their usual jigging motion to get the fish to bite in the cold water.
Sometimes it takes longer pauses with the jig sitting still on the bottom to get a bite. Other times anglers may need to lift their jig a few inches off the bottom and just let it sit at the same level as the fish in order to get them to bite.
Anglers need to experiment with their presentations and remember what they are doing so they can repeat it if something suddenly works. If anglers are seeing fish and they won’t bite, it is pretty safe to assume that something they are doing is turning off the fish.
Crappies also may have to be coaxed into biting. The presentation often has to be at exactly the right depth and be something the crappies is willing to hit.
The position of a crappie’s eyes insures that it will see presentations at or slightly above eye level and things out to the side. Baits presented below the eye level of crappies are often ignored by the fish.
When crappies are suspended off the bottom, it is a huge advantage to be able to hover over the fish and be able to see both the fish and the lure on sonar.
The angler driving the boat and watching the sonar should communicate where the fish are located to other anglers in the boat to help them get their baits in the right zone.
Another way to get around the problem is for each angler to have his or her own sonar in the boat. A flasher unit rigged for winter fishing can also be used for fishing over the side of the boat when anglers are fishing suspended fish.
An ice fishing rod can be used to help anglers keep their lure closer to the boat and inside the cone of the sonar so they can see their bait and the fish on sonar.
Anglers have the chance to do some homework for the ice fishing season when they are on the water late in the season. Many of the same locations holding fish right now will still be holding fish once the lakes freeze.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org