There's still a lot of cooling left before lakes can begin to freeze
October is nearly over and the open water fishing season is operating on borrowed time. Most anglers will have put their boats away for the season by the time the rifle deer hunting season begins one week from Saturday.
Surface water temperatures in the lakes around Bemidji are in the upper 40s to low 50s, so there is a considerable amount of cooling left before the lakes can begin to freeze.
Tulibees and whitefish will begin to spawn when surface water temperatures reach the mid 40s, so most of them are in the shallows right now in their prespawn feeding mode.
A portion of the muskie population in each lake will stay in deep water all summer as they follow the schools of tulibees. Muskies are on the move late in the season as they follow schools of tulibees into shore.
Few anglers are able to present baits effectively to muskies when they are suspended in deep water. The muskies that follow the schools of tulibees all summer have not been exposed to very many lures before they come into shore late in the season.
This "fresh" batch of muskies coming into shore gives anglers the opportunity to catch some of the largest fish in the lake.
Casting large lures is usually the best way for anglers to catch a muskie most of the season, but late in the fall, anglers have a chance to do some trolling for muskies in the areas that are holding prespawn tulibees.
The weed beds are knocked down late in the season, so trolling big baits that only dive a few feet below the surface can be very effective for muskies when trolled in the 8- to 15-foot depth range.
Muskies are curious by nature, which partially explains why they will follow baits right up to a boat, with little regard for the anglers or the boat.
Anglers can take advantage of this curious nature of muskies by trolling baits just behind the prop wash of the boat in the fall. Muskies appear to see the boat as it passes and will be attracted to lures following close behind the boat.
The "uneducated" muskies that have spent the summer suspended over deep water are usually more vulnerable to anglers' presentations than the muskies that have spent the summer feeding in shallow water, where they may see anglers' lures several times a day.
Trolling also helps anglers find the areas where the tulibees have come into shore. There should be some surface action in the key areas, as feeding northern pike and muskies break the surface as they chase the tulibees.
Once the areas with the tulibees have been identified, anglers can work through the areas by casting, taking "trolling breaks" when their hands get too cold for casting.
Muskie anglers are used to fishing in tough conditions, but there are also a few anglers on the lakes fishing for walleyes and panfish.
During the summer, the reeds and bull rushes are a haven for young-of-the-year gamefish and baitfish. When the water starts to cool in the fall, the schools of baitfish vacate the shallows and head for deeper water.
Anglers can search the edges of large patches of reeds for schools of baitfish suspended off of the deep edge of the reeds. Large shallow flats may also have schools of baitfish suspended off of the deep edge of structure.
Crappies, sunfish and perch are all likely to be using the same areas late in the open water season as they will use under early ice.
Under some conditions, anglers may want to anchor on key areas to be able to slow down their presentations and be able to hold on top of the fish.
Getting small baits into deep water is often the key to catching panfish late in the open water season. Anglers may want to try tipping their jigs with wax worms, eurolarve, or small pieces of night crawlers to catch panfish late in the season.
Don't forget to buy your deer hunting licenses early, to avoid the inevitable long lines at the bait stores the night before the season opens.
Paul A. Nelson is a multi-species fishing guide living in the Bemidji area. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.