Warmer weather brings mayfly hatches to Bemidji area
Summer arrives today at 6:59 p.m. The weather has also appeared more like summer this past week in the Bemidji area.
Surface water temperatures are finally more than 60 degrees in most of the area lakes. Spottail shiner minnows are finishing spawning and will soon move off the shoreline and head towards deeper water.
The midge and dragonfly hatches are in full bloom. The mayfly hatches are just starting, with the smaller mayflies hatching first. The last mayflies to hatch are also the largest. They are the ones with the long antenna and the yellow/green tinted color.
Walleyes in most lakes will follow at least a couple of different patterns once the spottail shiners finish spawning. Some walleyes will stay in the weeds, while other walleyes will move to deeper water, where they will inhabit the mid-lake structure.
Insect hatches give walleyes something to feed on when they migrate over deeper water. Walleyes eat some insects directly, especially the larvae from the largest mayflies. They also key on smaller fish that are eating the insects, which includes yearling perch and young tulibees that hatched last fall.
Bass and other members of the sunfish family are finishing spawning in many of the deeper lakes. Most fish species in the Bemidji area will be done spawning soon and will start shifting into their summer patterns.
Years with late spawns like this one may initially produce good numbers of young fish. However, the true measure of any age class of fish is how many of them survive their first winter. After their first year of life, mortality rates drop significantly and more of the surviving fish are able to reach maturity.
Some age classes of fish start out looking strong, but if they don't grow large enough by the end of the summer to be able to switch their diet to larger prey, they won't be able to survive the winter.
Walleye fishing has been good in many of the lakes in the Bemidji area. Anglers are catching good numbers of walleyes in Winnibigoshish, Leech and Upper Red Lake, but a high percentage of the fish are inside the protected slot limit and must be released.
Many anglers shy away from lakes with slot limits, thinking they will be able to keep more fish in lakes with less restrictive regulations. The idea of catching lots of big fish and still going home with a meal of perfect eating size fish should not be viewed as a bad thing.
Many anglers fishing the larger lakes are focusing on the wind blown shorelines using a jig and shiner minnow. The keeper size walleyes tend to be more on the shoreline structure, while the larger fish are more prevalent on the mid-lake structure.
Upper Red Lake is the exception to the rule, with the best walleye fishing on days with calm winds. The water is stained enough in Upper Red to allow walleyes to feed comfortably during the day.
Big winds stir-up the water in Upper Red and make it look like strong coffee with extra cream. The shallow water and the size of the lake creates a shorter distance between the waves and even moderate winds from any direction including the word "west" can make the big lake difficult to fish.
Cass Lake and Lake Bemidji got off to slower starts for walleyes this spring because of the cold weather. The walleye fishing in both lakes is starting to improve, with walleyes getting more active in the warmer water.
Anglers have been fishing a range of depths in most lakes, with jigs and minnows working for the shallow walleyes and live bait rigs with minnows, leeches or night crawlers working better for fishing deeper water off the sides of structure.
The warmer water is starting to turn on the muskies, with anglers seeing more muskies working the baitfish as they are fishing for walleyes. The muskie fishing should continue to improve as the weed beds develop and the water temperatures continue to rise.
Paul Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.