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Water temperatures on area lakes continue to climb

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Surface water temperatures continue to rise, with most lakes in the Bemidji area now in the low to mid 50s. The daily high temperatures have stayed on the cool side but the nightly lows haven't been as cold recently, which is helping the lakes retain more of their warmth overnight.

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The walleye opener is about a week away so it is crunch time for getting boats and fishing gear ready to open the season.

The docks are in at most of the public accesses so anglers fishing alone should be able to get their boats in the water much easier. It is a good idea to give the boat and gear a test run before the opener to avoid potential problems.

The 2011 Minnesota fishing licenses expired on May 1 so anglers will need to purchase a 2012 Minnesota fishing license before they can go fishing. Anglers also need to pick up an invasive species sticker for their boat and boat trailer. Other types of watercraft also require a sticker so it can displayed upon request.

Anglers are encouraged to consider purchasing an optional walleye stamp when they purchase their fishing licenses. The funds raised by the walleye stamps are strictly earmarked for stocking more walleyes into Minnesota lakes. It gives walleye anglers the chance to say they are part of the solution when it comes to improving walleye fishing in Minnesota.

The effects of the record early ice-out on this year's walleye opener should be minimal. Cool weather after ice-out dramatically increased the amount of time it usually takes walleyes to finish spawning.

Walleyes in most lakes should be in similar locations as previous walleye openers. Anglers should be able to find active walleyes in the lakes with the warmest water. Any food shelf close to spawning areas or along the pathway of migrating post-spawn walleyes will attract some walleyes that stop to feed.

Walleyes will be searching for larger prey on the opener, with most of the minnows and baitfish at least a year old. Spot-tail shiner minnows and small perch usually make up a good portion of the early-season walleye diet.

Many anglers use jigs and minnows early in the season and then switch to leeches and night crawlers on live-bait rigs as the water gets warmer.

Lakes with good populations of spot-tail shiners usually have good shoreline bites for walleyes until the spot-tails finish spawning.

Lakes without a good population of spot-tail shiners will have walleyes moving to mid-lake structure earlier in the year as the walleyes search for a more plentiful food sources.

Leeches, night crawlers, plastics and artificial baits will all work in some situations on the opener so anglers should keep an open mind when it comes to presentations.

Some anglers don't wait for the walleye opener and have been on the lakes fishing for panfish. A few crappies and sunfish have been moving into the shallows, with the best activity usually later in the day when the sun has had a chance to warm the water.

Crappies and sunfish on many lakes have been moving into the shallows to feed at these water temperatures. Bass, crappies and sunfish wait until water temperatures reach between 68 and 72 degrees to they spawn.

Crappie anglers interested in selective harvest can learn to predict which crappies are male and which are female with a high degree of certainty so anglers can release some of the larger female crappies to spawn.

Generally speaking, male black crappies are darker than female black crappies. The differences increase as the spawn approaches but they are still recognizable all year.

Specifically, male crappies will have dark scales on their cheeks and dense black spots on their sides that go all the way down to the bottom of the fish. Female crappies have light colored cheek plates and their black spots are less dense and diminish towards the bottom of the fish.

If anglers want to practice telling the difference between male and female crappies, they can guess which ones are males and which are females while they clean the fish.

PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at panelson@paulbunyan.net

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