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Paul Nelson: Rain, high water dominate Bemidji area fishing scene

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outdoors Bemidji,Minnesota 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
Paul Nelson: Rain, high water dominate Bemidji area fishing scene
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Rain has been a common theme for the last couple of weeks in the Bemidji area and water levels in the lakes are high in much of Minnesota after the heavy rains.


Smaller lakes are often more vulnerable to water level fluctuations because the outlets on the lakes can’t get rid of the water fast enough during an extended heavy rain.

Many lakes in the Bemidji area are part of the Upper Mississippi River, which is controlled by a series of dams below most of the larger lakes and the dams make the lakes less vulnerable to flooding.

Unfortunately, what flows out of the Upper Mississippi can often cause trouble further south, where the combined water flow from all the Headwaters lakes bottleneck into the actual Mississippi River.

Surface water temperatures in the Bemidji area have been holding steady in the mid to upper 60s, so the fish have been stuck between spring and summer fishing patterns.

Many walleyes have been feeding on the sides of structure in 12 to 16 feet of water, both along shoreline and mid-lake structure.

The midge and dragonfly hatches have begun over the mud and masses of mayflies are visible on anglers’ sonar. The mayflies often look like huge billowing clouds coming out of the bottom when anglers drive over deep water.

There will be insect hatches for the next couple of weeks nearly every warm night and during the day on bright sunny days with little wind.

Jigs and minnows are becoming less productive for walleyes as the fish are moving deeper and the weed beds are growing larger. It has become very difficult to work a jig and minnow through the weeds without tearing off the minnow.

Many walleye anglers have switched to leeches or night crawlers on live bait rigs. Live bait rigs work well on most lakes with a 5 to 8 foot fluorocarbon leader but sometimes heavily pressed walleyes want an even longer leader before they will bite.

Leeches work best with octopus or live bait rig style hooks, either plain or colored in sizes #4, #6 or #8. Many anglers drop down a hook size with each drop in pound test, using a #4 hook with 8 pound test, a #6 hook with six pound test and a #8 hook with a four pound test fluorocarbon leader.

Anglers using night crawlers on live bait rigs often like to fish the whole night crawler and inflate it with air to keep it off the bottom. Usually a #4 hook in the nose of the night crawler works best but some anglers like to use a smaller hook.

Anglers preferring to use “slow-death” hooks usually thread the night crawler up the hook until it touches the line and then break off the tail portion of the night crawler to give a compact presentation with a tighter spin.

Leeches are easy to care for with cold water in an insulated container. Aeration is nice but not necessary if the water is kept fresh. A small cooler or aerated bait container works fine to keep up to a pound of leeches lively and healthy in the boat.

Night crawlers are also easy to care for in the boat but the main difference is that they can make a horrible mess on the bottom of the boat. Many anglers keep too much worm bedding in the container so their fellow anglers end up digging to the bottom of the container to find a night crawler and end up spilling hands full of worm bedding into the boat carpet.

Some guys hate the dirt from night crawlers so much they will take a plastic container with a tight lid and put a couple dozen night crawlers in ice cubes with a little water…but no dirt, to avoid the mess in the boat.

Upper Red Lake continues to be the hottest lake for walleyes in Minnesota. Anglers are fishing the shoreline break in 5 to 7 feet of water with several different presentations.

The protected slot limit changed on Upper Red Lake on June 15 to 20 to 26 inches. Anglers on the public portion of Upper Red Lake can keep four walleyes under 20 inches, with one over 26 inches allowed in a limit.

Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.