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Winter patterns emerging as lakes cool

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This is the time of year when even serious anglers are keeping an eye on the extended forecast. At some point in the near future the weather is going to take a sharp turn south and the open water fishing season will be over.

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Surface water temperatures in most lakes in the Bemidji area are in the upper 40s. Fish will be in their cold water patterns as the lakes cool through the 40s, with the lakes ready to freeze when surface temperatures reach 40 degrees.

Water temperatures under the ice rarely get below 39 degrees in lakes, but they can cool into the mid 30s in rivers, where the current keeps sweeping the warm water downstream.

If they have the option, many river fish will enter lakes during the winter, where the water is slightly warmer and they don't have to fight the current.

A warm water discharge in a river is another story. Fish may enter the river out of the lakes to reach the warmest water available to them during the winter.

Winter patterns for fish emerge before ice covers the lakes. Metabolism in fish slows down in the winter, so they want direct access to a plentiful food source, some type of cover and deep water all in close proximity, so they don't have to make long runs to find food or cover.

Some species are more active than others in cold water. Northern pike, eelpout, walleyes and trout all like cold water and will be more active in the winter than other species.

Bass are at the opposite end of the spectrum and are quite dormant during the cold water months. Muskies are also less active during the winter cold than their cold water loving cousins, the northern pike.

Perch, crappies and sunfish all have to feed more actively during the winter because of their relatively smaller size.

Panfish have less fat reserves in their bodies and must eat more often because a significant portion of their diet in the winter is insects.

Avid ice anglers might want to consider one more visit to their favorite lakes to do some scouting for the ice fishing season.

Many of the locations fish are using right now will be the same locations they will be using on early ice when the lakes freeze.

Anglers can look for potential areas to set their fish house during the winter, pinpointing the "spot on the spot" and other key contact points.

Anglers can use their electronics and even under water cameras to find the most direct access points between deep water and structure. Walleyes like to make feeding movements when they get active, so anglers set up between resting areas and feeding areas will have more action as the walleyes move on and off structure when they feed.

Other types of areas anglers may want to have marked on GPS in the winter include inside turns, points or other structural elements like rocks, distinct edges between hard and soft bottom and depressions or humps on flats.

There are still a few anglers out on the lakes. Muskie anglers are some of the hardiest anglers and will often fish right up until the point where they can't get their boats in the water.

Tulibees and whitefish will be spawning soon and are already in the shallows in their prespawn feeding mode. Anglers looking for muskies and big pike will want to concentrate on areas close to current or other potential spawning areas for tulibees and whitefish.

Swampy areas next to lakes are another possible hot zone for several different predators late in the season. Frogs are a tasty treat for many big fish species and a frog migration into the lakes late in the season is another event that can concentrate predators into specific locations.

Walleye have been changing locations as the lakes continue to cool. The shallow bite in lakes like Leech and Winnibigoshish has been moving into deeper water as many of the baitfish move out of the weeds.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.

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