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Paul Nelson: Water temperatures remain cool in Bemidji area lakes

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Several nights with lows in the 40s were enough to drop the surface water temperatures in the lakes back into the mid to high 60s, which is pretty cool for the middle of July.

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There was a late mayfly hatch in a few lakes when the surface temperatures reached the low 70s. Then a strong cold front brought more rain and high winds, which mixed the water column in the shallow lakes and dropped the surface water temperatures several degrees.

July is almost always the hottest month of the year in the Bemidji area. August can start out hot, but it usually finishes more like September.

It will be interesting to see what other surprises the weather has in store for the rest of the summer. Surface water temperatures have been over 70 degrees twice this year, but on both occasions the temperatures quickly dropped back into the 60s

Cold water species in the lakes are enjoying the break. There have been no problems with low oxygen levels or excessively high water temperatures so far this summer.

The water in the lakes is still pretty clear, causing many walleyes to move deeper to avoid the bright sun, especially on the calm days and after cold fronts.

Walleyes will still move shallow to feed when the wind blows and churns the water enough to reduce the visibility. Walleyes have superior eyesight compared to their prey and they prefer to feed when they can best use that advantage.

Walleyes are also opportunists, even when they are resting. Anglers may be able to coax neutral or inactive walleyes to bite if they can put the right bait close enough to the right fish.

Anglers can see the fish move on and off key pieces of structure when they become spooked and the best fishing option may be to give them a chance to regroup before making more passes through the fish.

Anglers really need to learn how to read their sonar so they know what they are seeing. Sometimes the fish are almost painted to the bottom and look like bumps on the sonar with just a tiny bit of separation visible under the fish.

Other times walleyes can be several feet off the bottom, which is usually a sign the fish are actively feeding. Most species see out to the sides and above them better than they see things below them so anglers need to be sure their baits are at the same level as the fish.

Schools of baitfish typically suspend high in the water column than predator species roam so the predators usually attack the schools of baitfish from below when they feed.

Many walleyes in the lakes in the Bemidji area have moved to mid-lake structures or bars that are further from shore. But there can be fish in almost any location in the lakes because oxygen levels are still good just about everywhere in the lakes.

The presence of baitfish on structure is critical if the predator species are going to be using that particular piece of structure and the availability of walleyes can differ in different winds. Anglers may have good success on one piece of structure when there is a south wind but the fish could be gone when the wind blows from a different direction

Shallow fish will follow the food and move in and out of the shallows when they feed. Most fish want to tuck under some weeds or hide in deeper water when they are between feeding movements.

Some areas are natural locations for fish to move up and down the breakline when they feed. Other flats, however may be so large that some of the best feeding areas may be a long distance away from deep water.

Walleyes will move way up on a flat when the conditions are right but they usually have areas, such as a thick patch of weeds, a pile of larger rocks or a depression on the flat with slightly deeper water, to take refuge when necessary.

The cool water temperatures will keep the fish between spring and summer patterns until there’s an extended period of hot weather to push the water temperatures into the 70s.

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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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