Summer fishing patterns are emerging on all of the lakes in the Bemidji area as surface water temperatures exceed 70 degrees.
Water in the deeper lakes will begin to stratify and a thermocline will set up, with the warmest water on the surface and the coldest water on the bottom.
Some lakes are shallow enough that high winds periodically turn over the lake and mix the water from the surface to the bottom of the lake. The wave action breaks down stratification in the water, making the entire water column uniform in temperature and oxygen content.
The waves in large shallow lakes can get enough momentum traveling over the surface of the lake to create an undertow, much like in the ocean, which draws water off the bottom of the lake and forces it to the surface.
Summer fishing patterns start out gradually and continue to develop as surface water temperatures remain warmer than 70 degrees.
The long days of summer give most fish more time than they need to feed, so they can afford to be more picky about when they feed, waiting for the conditions to be in their favor before actively feeding.
Fish can also be opportunistic. If a preferred food presents itself at a non-feeding time of day, many fish will take the opportunity for an easy meal.
Anglers begin the season when the days are shorter and food is more scarce, so they have to feed longer to get enough to eat.
Actively feeding gamefish are usually looking for minnows to eat as their main course. When fish are in a neutral or negative feeding mood, they may accept something they can't readily find to eat, while ignoring a minnow or something else they have in relative abundance.
Walleye anglers can try to appeal to negative or neutral walleyes by offering them night crawlers, leeches or select minnows like redtail chubs or creek chubs. They can also come back to the negative or neutral fish at peak feeding times, to see if their attitude has changed.
Actively feeding fish are much more receptive to a wider range of presentations and choices of bait. Negative or neutral fish are much more selective about what and when they eat.
They may take something they really like dropped right on their lap, but they may also reject the bait or pick it up and drop it without eating it.
Anglers can try to get reflex bite out of fish in negative or neutral feeding moods by aggressively presenting artificial baits or using spinners or other flashy attractors with live bait to force the fish to strike quickly or lose the opportunity to feed.
Reflex bites are usually more common when there are more algae in the water and visibility is more limited. Algae blooms are usually greatest when water temperatures are rising.
Anglers are starting to find walleyes using several different patterns, with some fish on the shoreline and others using mid-lake structure.
The best bite for walleyes using shallow water is usually in the mornings and evenings or on the windward portions of structure, which helps filter out some of the sunlight in the water.
Fish using deep water tend to be more active later in the day, with the depth of the water limiting the amount of sunlight that is able to reach them.
Northern pike, bass, sunfish and perch are day feeders and will be more active during peak sunlight.
Walleyes, muskies and crappies are able to feed in the dark, so they usually wait until sunlight is reduced before they actively feed. Water clarity and wave action also contribute to the equation on when deep fish are likely to feed.
The Twin Cities Chapter of Muskies Inc. will be holding its Musky Mania tournament on more than 20 different lakes Sept. 5-7, including many of the top muskie lakes in the Bemidji area.
Every angler who catches a muskie longer than 40 inches is eligible to win the Muskie Mania truck, which can be seen parked in the Bluewater Bait and Sports parking lot this week. Interested anglers can get entry forms or more information at Bluewater Bait.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lake Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.