Paul Nelson: Warmer water will mean better walleye bite in area lakes
Lakes in the Bemidji area continue their slow warming this spring, trying to recover from the late ice-out that still had ice on a few lakes when the spring fishing season opened.
Cold temperatures and frequent rains have kept the lakes cold, with most lakes still having surface water temperatures in the mid to upper 40s.
The hot bite for walleyes typically gets going when surface water temperatures exceed 50 degrees, so the best walleye fishing of the spring is still ahead of us.
The cold water temperatures delay everything in the lakes. Memorial Day Weekend is often the peak walleye fishing of the spring, but conditions this year are at least two weeks behind.
Most lakes have more male walleyes than female walleyes, so at the end of the spawn there are still some males hanging around the spawning sites long after the last female walleye has spawned.
Anglers typically catch more male walleyes than females early in the spring. Female walleyes will bite, but they are not usually as aggressive as males and are often located in different areas than the males.
Jigs and shiners have been the most productive presentations for walleyes in most lakes but anglers can also use fatheads, chubs or small suckers to catch walleyes when shiners are unavailable.
Smaller minnows usually work better on jigs while larger minnow usually work better on live-bait rigs.
Anglers may have to hook larger minnows differently than smaller minnows when they use them on jigs to be sure enough of the hook tip is showing to hook the walleyes when they bite.
The walleye bite should continue to improve on most lakes as surface water temperatures increase. Other species like crappies and sunfish will also begin to move into the shallows to feed as surface water temperatures exceed 50 degrees.
The long winter and heavy snow killed most of the weeds in the lakes so any new weed growth is particularly attractive to both baitfish and gamefish.
When cover is limited, anglers need to figure out what types of cover the fish are using. Sometimes there will be areas with old standing weeds that attract fish, while other times rocks and gravel offer some of the best cover in the lakes.
Chara or sand grass is another type of vegetation that stays green all winter. Chara has no roots, so it gathers on the bottom in mats that are held together by the rigid stalks of the plants.
Chara can be similar to tumble weeds, with the smaller mats of chara getting blown around the bottom by the waves until they run into other mats of chara and lock together into larger mats.
Chara can hold insects, crayfish and even minnows, with the thickest and largest mats of chara offering the best cover.
Fish species like perch and walleyes like to feed over the top of the chara beds, especially early in the season when other types of cover are limited.
Walleye anglers have been finding most of the active walleyes in 5 to 8 feet of water. A good indicator for anglers is to look over the side of the boat with a pair of polarized sunglasses and see if the bottom is visible.
If anglers can see the bottom, move a little deeper. If they can’t see the bottom, maybe move a little shallower. Walleyes usually like to feed along the edge of where the bottom disappears from sight.
One of the hottest lakes so far this season has been Upper Red Lake. Walleyes have been spread along the shoreline break and the areas around the Tamarac River and Shotley Brook have been among the top producers.
Walleyes will continue to spread in the lakes as more time passes after the spawn. Some lakes are still so cold that many of the lake-spawning walleyes have just finished spawning, so they need a little more time before they are ready to bite.
Other lakes with improving walleye bites include Andrusia, Blackduck, Bowstring, Cut Foot Sioux, Lake Irving, Kitchi, Leech Lake, Plantagenet and Winnibigoshish.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org