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Summer patterns taking over in Bemidji area lakes

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outdoors Bemidji,Minnesota 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
Summer patterns taking over in Bemidji area lakes
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Surface water temperatures are approaching 70 degrees in most of the local lakes, which is the point when spring patterns begin to fall apart and summer patterns take over the lakes.


The weed beds are still way behind where they usually are by the third week in June. Emergent vegetation like reeds and bull rushes are just starting to poke their heads above the water.

Submergent vegetation like cabbage and coontail would normally be near the surface of the lakes, but this year the tops of the weeds are just becoming visible from the surface.

The slow development of the weeds is likely a result of the high water levels and the late spring. There was very little carry-over weed growth from the winter so the lakes were starting with no weeds when the ice finally went out on the lakes.

With relatively few areas in the lakes with weeds early in the year, the green weeds that did exist were usually full of baitfish and surrounded by predator species like walleyes, northern pike and perch.

Walleye fishing has been good in most of the larger lakes, although the bite has been slower on the days when the skies are bright and the winds are light.

Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods are both exceptions to the “walleye chop” rule. The stained shallow water in both lakes looks like weak coffee when the lake is calm but the sand and sediment get stirred-up and mixed into the water whenever the wind blows, which makes the water look like coffee with too much creamer.

The stained water acts like sunglasses to the light sensitive walleyes so they are much more likely to bite during the day when the water is clear enough for them to see.

Lakes with clear water like Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake act the opposite. They can be really tough to fish when the wind is calm but turn on as soon as the wind starts to blow.

The reason so many predators have been on the shoreline is because that is where the spottail shiners were spawning. The boom in food they represent disappears once the shiners are done spawning and head for the cooler water temperatures that can be found in deeper water.

At the same time the shiners are heading for deeper water, the insect hatches are beginning and millions of mayflies, dragonflies and other types of insects are hatching out of the mud.

Some of the walleyes, northern pike and perch will stay in the shallows but more of the fish will head toward deeper water and mid-lake structure where there are better feeding opportunities created by the insect hatches.

Anglers can catch fish shallow when the conditions are favorable but they should also work the bars and humps located in deeper water during the day in an attempt to find more active fish.

Spring patterns have most of the gamefish located along shore-connected structures but the percentages shift during the summer when more of the food is located in deeper water.

Once summer patterns begin, the shoreline bite slows and the bite in deeper water starts to build. Oxygen levels are good at all depths in the lakes so the fish are able to be as deep as they want to go to find enough food to eat.

Good numbers of walleyes and perch are already on some of the bars and humps and they will continue to spread out onto the more subtle structures further from shore as the summer progresses.

The best areas often have hard bottom that extends all the way to the base of the dropoff and feature a distinct edge between the hard bottom and the mud basin of the lake. This gives walleyes more options for food when they hunt along the edge of two bottom types.

Anglers should note that the slot limit on Upper Red Lake changed on June 15. Upper Red Lake now has a protected slot limit of 20 to 26 inches, with one walleye longer than 26 inches allowed in a four-fish limit.

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