Walleyes are heading back toward shore
Labor Day weekend is generally regarded as the last weekend of summer in the Bemidji area. There will usually be a noticeable drop in tourist traffic after this weekend, with most high schools and colleges beginning their fall schedules.
Surface water temperatures are beginning to fall in most lakes, with the highs for the summer occurring in mid-August. Once surface water temperatures start to drop, algae growth slows down and the lake water begins to clear.
Walleyes head away from the shoreline in the spring when water temperatures go through the 60s, but as the water temperatures drop through the 60s in the fall, walleyes will head back toward shore in many lakes.
Shallow lakes like Winnibigoshish, the main lake portion of Leech Lake, Traverse Bay of Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake will have a walleye movement toward the shoreline as the water cools in the fall.
Anglers will find walleyes feeding along the outside edges of the cabbage weed beds and also in areas with broken rock and gravel on the bottom. These areas offer a variety of forage for walleyes, who like a diet with lots of options.
Anglers can troll crankbaits to search for schools of active walleyes in the larger lakes and then slow down and switch to live bait rigs or jigs when active fish are located.
Deep lakes act differently from shallow lakes in the fall, with walleyes moving away from shallow water as the algae dies and visibility improves.
Walleyes using the tops of mid-lake structure will move off the sides of the structure and walleyes on the shallow shoreline flats will move off toward the edges of the flats as the water cools.
Live bait rigs will catch fish all fall, but at some point most anglers switch back to jigs and minnows. Leeches are in short supply in the fall and most anglers regard night crawlers as warm water bait, so most anglers switch back to minnows.
Nightcrawlers can actually work well in cold water, but anglers fishing night crawlers have to identify bites sooner, release line quicker and feed more line to avoid missing bites, especially when using a single hook rig.
Minnows are the preferred bait of most anglers in the fall, partly because they are the more readily available than other baits in the fall.
Walleyes and other gamefish species are usually more receptive to larger minnows in the fall because most of their natural prey is also larger in the fall.
Most fish go through a growth spurt late in the season as they try to put on fat for winter. Fish also need to feed more heavily in the fall because they begin to form eggs for next spring.
Muskie anglers usually have a short window of opportunity for good muskie action in the fall as the algae begins to die. There is a sort of "sweet spot" where the water is clear enough for muskies to see bait at a greater distance, but not so clear that they get too good a look at the baits and notice something wrong.
Panfish action can be good in the late summer, with the weed beds fully developed and many of the crappies and sunfish concentrated on the edges of the heaviest cover.
Perch anglers have been having success in some of the larger lakes on the tops of flats with the right depth and bottom content on top. Perch like a varied diet much like their walleye cousins, so areas with both baitfish and crayfish are ideal.
Bass will begin to move out of the shallows as the water cools. By the time water temperatures hit the 50s, many bass will be traveling in schools on the outside edge of the weed beds.
Many anglers favorite time to be on the lakes is in the fall, when the lakes are not as busy and most species of fish are actively feeding.
Hunting seasons will begin to open in September, with bear hunting, morning doves, rail and snipe hunting opening on Monday.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.