Paul Nelson: Fish are moving to winter locations in Bemidji area lakes
Most of the leaves have turned to their fall colors and the wind has been blowing them off the trees until they cover the ground.
The same strong winds have been mixing the water column in the lakes. The surface water temperatures have cooled into the upper 50s in most lakes, with the wind mixing the cooling surface water into the warmer water below.
If the wind blows hard enough, the lakes can mix down 30 to 35 feet, which is usually enough to flip the entire water column in most shallow lakes like Upper Red Lake, Winnibigoshish and the shallow bays of Leech Lake.
The water in the deep lakes also mixes in the strong winds, which has helped the thermocline disappear in most of the deep lakes this past week. Once the thermocline is gone, the fish once again have access to the deepest portions of the lakes.
Fish are on the move to their winter locations as surface water temperatures fall through the 50s. Fish in smaller lakes may make short moves to be closer to the deep holes while fish in large lakes or chains of lakes may move many miles to an entirely different part of the lake for the winter.
A portion of the population of muskies and large pike follow the tulibees and whitefish as they move out of the basin and into the shallows to feed and get ready to spawn.
Tulibees and whitefish are among the few species to spawn in the fall. They will use many of the same areas to spawn as the walleyes and suckers used in the spring.
Tulibees and whitefish spend most of the year suspending over deep water, feeding on insects. Their diet changes in the fall to include more minnows to give them the nutritional boost they need to ripen their eggs and spawn.
Tulibees provide a high calorie, high fat content forage for the large predators. Muskies and large pike that have avoided the shoreline most of the season will move into shore along with the tulibees and whitefish.
Muskie anglers will see a fresh batch of fish come into shore in the fall, especially on larger lakes. Many of the muskies that have been following the tulibees in deep water all summer are some of the largest and healthiest fish in the system.
The predators that come to shore in the fall following the schools of tulibees haven’t seen very many lures during the summer so they can be more vulnerable to anglers’ presentations, especially those that mimic tulibees.
Fish of all species tend to be more concentrated and less spread out in the fall than they are during the summer. This means many areas will have only a few fish while other areas may be loaded.
The locations of the tulibees and large predators can be exposed by the big swirls in the water from the muskies and big pike chasing tulibees in shallow water. Anglers should watch for the boils in the water to help them locate areas with pre-spawn tulibees.
Walleye fishing can be both good and bad in the fall. If the conditions are wrong, anglers may see fish on sonar that are reluctant to bite.
Anglers have several options when the walleyes are not cooperating. They can stay on the fish and keep trying. They can keep moving, hoping another school of fish will be more willing to bite or they can come back to the fish later in the day when the attitude of the fish may have changed.
Anglers have the option of switching species when the walleyes are not cooperating. Perch are willing biters in the fall and many people think they taste just as good as walleyes.
There are usually both walleyes and northern pike mixed in with the perch so anglers usually have more action and catch a mixed bag of fish when targeting perch instead of walleyes.
Bass are another good option for anglers during the middle of the day. Bass evacuate the shallows in the fall and school on the outside edge of the weeds. This gives anglers a chance to catch numbers of bass once a school of bass is located.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org