Paul Nelson: Walleye action picks up on Bemidji area lakes
Surface water temperatures are now in the mid to upper 50s in most lakes in the Bemidji area, which is still at least a couple of weeks behind where the lakes would normally be at this time of year.
The weed beds are also way behind this year, with the heavy snow and long winter killing virtually all of the weeds in the lakes .
Most winters are mild enough to allow some carryover of weeds, with new weed growth present right away on the walleye opener. The cabbage weed beds are finally starting to sprout, with the new growth looking like little stalks of corn.
The reeds and other emergent weed beds are also way behind this spring. The reed beds would normally be sticking out of the water by the first week of June, but this year the tops of the reed beds are still under water.
Walleye action has slowly been picking up on most of the larger lakes, with most of the walleyes still using primarily shoreline connected structure.
Walleyes will continue to feed along the shorelines of the larger lakes until the spottail shiner minnows have finished spawning. Then many of the walleyes will head for deeper water and begin to spread out onto mid-lake structure.
The fish fly hatches have started in the lakes, with millions of midges swarming out of the mud bottom. Midges are the adult phase of the blood worms and look like misquotes without stingers.
The insect hatches generally begin with the smallest insect species, with progressively larger insects hatching later in June. Fish flies or mayflies provide walleyes with a food source as they leave the shoreline and search for the next best feeding opportunity after the shiner minnows are done spawning.
Walleyes can feed directly on the insect larvae or they can feed on the baitfish and smaller perch that are also feeding on the insects as they emerge from the mud basin.
The larger female walleyes are starting to show up on structure ready to feed. Fishing should continue to improve as the lakes reach the 60-degree mark.
Most of the walleye action has been in 7 to 14 feet of water, depending on the lake. Some of the walleyes will move even shallower if the conditions allow it and also deeper, especially during cold front conditions.
Jigs and spottail shiners are the bait of choice for most anglers early in the season. Shortages of shiner minnows in the bait stores this spring have caused many anglers to use fathead minnows or make the switch to live bait rigs with leeches or night crawlers.
The warmer the water, the more different presentations will work for walleyes. Anglers should start to try more aggressive presentations if what they are doing isn’t working.
The peak spring walleye bite usually happens about the same time the lakes are able to hold 60 degrees overnight for the first time. It is also the time when many of the larger female walleyes will feed more aggressively, after eating very little while they recovered from the spawn.
Crappies and sunfish have been moving into the shallows to feed as they get ready to spawn when surface temperatures reach the mid 60s.
Crappies and sunfish are very sensitive to cold fronts and may back out of the shallows during a cold front and suspend in deeper water. When the cold front passes, the panfish will move back into the shallows to resume feeding.
Muskie anglers started the season slowly, with many of the muskies still spawning when the season opened. Muskies need time to recover from the spawn just like walleyes, so muskie fishing should improve as more time passes and the water continues to warm.
Bass also spawn in the low to mid 60s, so they are starting to move into the shallows to spawn in some of the shallow lakes. Anglers should return bass close to where they were caught quickly during the spawn so they can get back to their beds quickly.
Bass protect their young, so even a few minutes off of their bed may be enough time for sunfish, crappies or perch to dart in and eat the young.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org