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Paul Nelson: water temperatures continue to climb in Bemidji area lakes

Labor Day Weekend is the last big weekend of the summer tourist season in the Bemidji area. Some seasonal residents will already be taking out their docks and getting their cabins ready for another winter. Docks, boat lifts and boats that are left in the water for an extended period of time are prime areas for zebra mussels to attach themselves so many new infestations are discovered in the fall as these items are removed from the lakes. There will likely be a noticeable drop in fishing pressure on most lakes after Labor Day Weekend. With school, sports, hunting and other outdoor activities competing for time with fishing in the fall, it usually translates into fewer boats on the lakes. If the weather is nice, the weekends can still be busy in the fall, especially if there is a hot walleye bite to bring out the anglers. This year has been full of surprises when it comes to the weather. After a false start to the fall in early August, the month is finishing with the some of the hottest weather of the summer. Lakes in the Bemidji area typically reach their peak surface water temperatures in late July but this year the peak surface water temperatures are happening right now, with most lakes in the upper 70s to low 80s. There are still walleyes and other fish using shallow water but most of the shallow fish are relating to the weed beds for the high oxygen levels and the shade they provide. The hot weather has been pushing walleyes into deeper water in many lakes, with walleyes using the sides of structure in 16 to 24 feet of water all the way down to the edge of the thermocline. Walleyes will move up and down on structure as they feed. Walleyes usually head up the structure as they become active and head back down the structure when they finish feeding or get spooked off the spot by anglers or other large predators like muskies or pike. Once anglers make contact with a school of walleyes and get them marked on GPS, they can watch the fish move up or down the breakline as they make several passes over the spot. Walleyes and other species have to feed more often in the heat because of their elevated metabolism. Fish may have to feed longer to get enough to eat and may also be less likely to pass on an easy meal of a preferred food if anglers can put their baits right in front of the fish’s nose. Walleyes often have a distinct preference for one particular kind of bait at this time of year so anglers should try different baits until a pattern is established. Sometimes a red-tail chub is the most irresistible bait for walleyes but other times a leech or an inflated night crawler will get more bites. Anglers should bring an assortment of live bait to be sure they have what the walleyes want. Several anglers fishing out of the same boat can put on different bait while anglers fishing by themselves can make multiple passes through a school of walleyes and switch baits when one bait stops getting bites. The color of the hook can also make a big difference. Some anglers like a plain black hook but sometimes a fluorescent colored hook will get more bites, especially in stained water or water colored by algae. Speed is usually another big factor in warm water. Speed doesn’t necessarily mean fast or slow, many times changes in speed can be what triggers the bites. One method that helps cover more water and triggers fish to bite is to burn along at a faster speed when there are no fish on sonar but when a fish is seen on sonar, cut the speed and try to drop the live-bait rig right into the fish. This is a great time for anglers to experiment with different presentations for whatever species they are trying to catch. Metabolism is at the high point for the season and there are more different presentations capable of triggering bites right now than at any other time of year, so use your imagination. PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at panelson@paulbunyan.net

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