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Shallow-water walleye bite has been slow to develop

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The hot weather continues in the Bemidji area, with surface water temperatures in the upper 70s in most lakes. The fishing has been good at times and tough at other times, depending on the conditions and the lake anglers are fishing.

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Walleye anglers are catching fish when the conditions are favorable but most anglers are having a tough time catching fish after cold fronts and during the middle of the day when the lakes are flat and the sun is bright in the sky.

There is usually a good walleye and perch bite going in shallow water by this time of the year but the typical summer patterns have been slow to develop this year. Anglers looking for fish on top of mid-lake bars and humps have been finding more fish off the sides of structure, especially when there are schools of baitfish in the area.

Walleyes and perch typically move back into the shallows to feed when the young-of-the-year hatches have grown up enough to become a viable food source. The cold spring this year may have had a negative impact on both growth rates and survival rates of this year's hatches of fish.

Both walleyes and perch need a plentiful food source for the fish to become concentrated in certain areas. If there is not enough food in the shallows the walleyes and perch will scatter and form smaller schools to search for what suitable food sources they can find.

It may be a combination of slower growth rates and smaller hatches that are delaying the movement of perch and walleyes into the shallows this summer. Hopefully, the shallow bite will improve in the next week or two.

Lake Winnibigoshish has had the most consistent walleye bite in the area recently, with anglers finding walleyes on the numerous mid-lake bars and humps. Anglers can look at the humps with sonar and if they don't see any fish, they can move to another hump until they find one with fish.

Most of the active walleyes in Lake Winnibigoshish have been in 18 to 24 feet of water when they are on the humps. There is also a shallow weed and rock bite on Winnibigoshish that is usually best on windy days or on days with overcast skies because of the clear water.

Anglers can predict how active the walleyes are likely to be by how far up the breakline they are located. If the walleyes are up the breakline towards the top of the structure they tend to be more active. When the walleyes are located down the breakline closer to the base of the drop-off they tend to be more neutral or inactive.

Anglers are catching walleyes on a variety of presentations. A bottom-bouncer and spinner rig is good for locating active walleyes and allows anglers to move faster and cover more water. Most anglers use night crawlers on the spinner rigs but leeches and minnows will also work.

When the walleyes are on top of structure anglers often use a safety pin spinner with a white or glow twister tail or a "Lake Bemidji Rig", which is a bait holder hook and a white twister tail on a spinner rig with a 1/8-ounce or lighter sinker.

Anglers should work the safety pin spinners or Lake Bemidji Rigs fast enough to stay off the bottom but slow enough to get bites. Anglers have to find the right combination of speed and the amount of line they let out and be able to match the presentation once they find the right combination and start catching fish.

Anglers can also fish jigs and minnows or leeches or even thread a night crawler on the jig to catch walleyes in deeper water or fish a heavier jig and plastic fluke or paddle tail to rip through the weeds.

Live-bait rigs tipped with leeches, night crawlers or select larger minnows will also work well for walleyes, especially when a school of active walleyes has been located.

Muskie anglers have been catching a few fish, but like walleyes, muskies feed when they want to feed and can be tough to catch when the conditions are less than favorable.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at panelson@paulbunyan.net.

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