Unstable weather delays summer walleye patterns on Bemidji area lakes
Unstable weather continues to plague anglers in the Bemidji area. Anglers have had to battle the elements, including rain, wind and the passing of multiple cold fronts.
Fishing has been rebounding quickly when there is a couple of days between storms, so once the conditions settle down, the lakes will continue to warm and summer fishing patterns will eventually begin to develop.
Surface water temperatures have been stuck in the mid 60s in most lakes, a good temperature range for walleyes but a range that keeps them spread out in a wide range of depths. Anglers may find walleyes anywhere from five to 30 feet and even deeper so there is a lot of water to check to find the active fish.
Anglers who know how to use their electronics have a big advantage when checking deep water for walleyes. Anglers seldom see all the fish when they go over a school of walleyes. It takes some experience to know what to look for when searching for fish with electronics.
Determining the size of fish and even the type of fish is possible with good electronics. Large fish are denser than small fish so larger fish should include some of the densest color on the color palate, which is red on most sonar.
The shape of fish can help determine what type of fish anglers see on sonar. Fish with blunt ends are more likely walleyes or suckers while pointy looking fish are usually pike.
Walleyes tend to be closer to the bottom and in groups that are spread out horizontally while suckers can stack vertically and can be further from the bottom and very tightly schooled.
Pike tend to be larger individual marks that are several feet off the bottom. Tulibees and whitefish are usually suspended further from the bottom and traveling in schools.
Crappies, bass and sunfish look round and stubby on sonar while perch look like small marks that tend to streak because perch are often moving.
One of the best ways for anglers to learn what things look like on sonar is to have another angler using an underwater camera at the same time so the people reading the sonar can have some visual feedback to what they are seeing.
Checking shallow water with electronics is more difficult than checking deep water. The sonar signal is funnel shaped and gets progressively larger as the water gets deeper so anglers can see more of the bottom in deep water than in shallow water.
Fish can spook away from the boat in shallow water and weeds can obscure the signal on sonar, making fish harder to see. Anglers often have to fish through shallow water to see if there are any active fish present.
Some high-end sonar units have side imaging that allows anglers to look out to the side of the boat without having to drive directly over the fish to see them. Learning how to read side imaging can be like trying to read an MRI in the doctor's office so it really helps to have someone who knows how to read the images point out what they are seeing.
Anglers have been catching walleyes in the weeds in most of the larger lakes using jigs and minnows. Jigs and plastics or live-bait rigs with a floating jig head or an air injected night crawler are other options for catching shallow walleyes.
Anglers fishing deep water for walleyes can use live-bait rigs with leeches, night crawlers or larger minnows. Anglers can also use bottom bouncers with spinners and live bait.
Anglers using spinners can use quick-change clevises on their spinner blades so they can switch colors, sizes and shapes of blades more easily. Anglers should also pay close attention to their speed when fishing with a bottom bouncer so they can match the speed when they get a bite. Anglers should use heavy enough bottom bouncers to be able to stay in good contact with the bottom and still stay close to the boat at the speed and depth they are fishing.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at email@example.com