A cool week in the Bemidji area has dropped surface water temperatures into the low to mid 50s in most lakes.
The majority of anglers on the larger lakes are fishing for either muskies or walleyes. Anglers fishing smaller lakes usually have the entire lake to themselves, especially during the week.
Grouse hunters are having more success as the leaves begin to drop from the trees. Visibility is a big issue for grouse hunters, who are often hunting in heavy cover.
Deer hunters are in the woods scouting for the rifle deer hunting season and checking old stands to be sure they are ready for another season.
Fall is a busy time of year. There is a limited amount of time to finish all of the outdoor projects before winter and still have time to go hunting and fishing.
No one knows how many days are left with decent weather before winter arrives. Most people want to be able to drop what they are doing and take in the last days of summer, regardless of what activity they like to do best.
Anglers like the overcast days with some "walleye chop" during the summer, but in the fall, the best fishing days are often have bright skies and light winds.
Anglers fishing walleyes in deep cold water want to slow down their presentations and fish vertically below the boat, which is difficult to do in heavy winds.
Good electronics are very important for locating fish in the fall. The long drifts anglers make during the summer searching for fish are impractical when fishing deep water with a slow presentation.
Finding fish on sonar before stopping to fish is a huge advantage in cold water. However, anglers need to know what they are looking for on sonar, because fish tight to the bottom can be difficult to recognize.
The presence of baitfish is another huge key to fish location in the fall. Most fish won't be far from their food. If anglers see baitfish, there will likely be gamefish nearby even if anglers can't see them on sonar.
Walleyes usually make feeding movements when they get active, so the most active fish may still be in moderate depths. The depth of the fish can also determined by where the hard to soft breakline is located.
The hard to soft breakline is the point where hard bottom transitions into the soft basin in the lakes. The more distinct the edge, the more attractive the location.
This transition zone between hard and soft bottom often occurs at different depths in different lakes and also between different locations in the same lake.
The hard to soft breakline will usually be close to the limit of how deep active walleyes will be on that particular spot. Active walleyes seldom wander too far into the soft bottom while looking for food.
The main lake portion of Leech Lake, Upper Red Lake, Lake of the Woods and Winnibigoshish are all examples of lakes with walleyes still using shallow water to feed. Anglers can use a jig and minnow on these lakes.
There will also be perch, northern pike and even muskies in many of the same areas as the walleyes in the shallow lakes.
Anglers can find active fish in shallow water by fishing points, areas with rock or chara on the bottom and depressions or rises in the shallow flats.
The Rainy River between Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake is the closest place with a migration of big walleyes in the fall.
There are similar migrations on the Red River of the North and the Winnipeg River in Manitoba.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.