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Once deer hunting is over, fishing opportunities loom

Many of the people reading this column will be sitting in a tree in the middle of the woods before sunrise on Saturday morning.

The rifle deer hunting opener is huge in Minnesota, with approximately 500,000 deer hunters participating each season.

Several consecutive mild winters have created a boom in the whitetail deer population in Minnesota, with an estimated population of more than 1 million animals.

Hunters are allowed to purchase bonus antlerless deer tags in most areas, with the emphasis on harvesting more does and fawns to help control the deer population.

Hunters in Minnesota are expected to harvest more than 200,000 whitetail deer this season. More than half of the deer harvested are usually taken by hunters on the opening weekend of the season.

With mild temperatures in the forecast, hunters will want to take extra precautions with their deer to avoid spoilage.

Filling the body cavity with bags of ice is a good way to cool down a deer. Outdoor temperatures should be colder than 40 degrees to safely hang a deer outside without refrigeration.

When temperatures are too warm, hunters are forced to get their deer into a cold locker quickly or process the deer themselves right away.

Once the deer hunt is over, there are still many good fishing opportunities in the Bemidji area.

Late fall is the best time of year for anglers to catch a big muskie. The fish are at their heaviest weights late in the season and they will feed aggressively right up until the lakes freeze.

A Twin Cities angler caught a 50-pound class muskie out of Mille Lacs this past week. Several lakes in the Bemidji area have produced similar sized muskies in the past.

The first or second generations of muskies in a stocked lake often have higher growth potential than subsequent stockings of muskies.

The lakes chosen for stocking are usually larger lakes with a gap in the population base for larger predators.

The tulibee populations in these lakes go virtually unchecked without enough large predators in the lake to keep the tulibee population in check.

When muskies are stocked in these lakes, they quickly fill the void in the food chain and the first couple generations of muskies have easier pickings with the abundance of tulibees.

Tulibees are high in fat and calories and muskies have the potential to grow larger in lakes where tulibees are more readily available.

Lakes that have had muskies for several generations or longer will lose some of their top-end growth potential and won't grow muskies to abnormally large sizes because the tulibee population is held in check by the long-term presence of large predators.

Lake Bemidji and Lake Plantagenet went through their big fish phase several years ago when the first muskie stockings went through the system.

Mille Lacs and Lake Vermillion were stocked with muskies several years later than Bemidji and Plantagenet, so they are going through their big fish phase right now.

If someone is going to break the state record for muskies, it will likely happen in the next year or two from Mille Lacs or Lake Vermillion.

Walleye anglers are still finding a few cooperative fish in most lakes. The walleyes are still feeding, but their metabolism has slowed down in the colder water and most of the fish have full stomachs when they get caught.

Walleye anglers need to be able to coax the fish to bite, with vertical presentations often being the most effective.

It is much easier to hover over fish on days with calm winds. Anglers may need to use an anchor to hold on the fish on days with more wind.

Who knows how many more days there will be with decent weather before the lakes start to freeze. Anglers who haven't gotten rid of the fishing bug yet will have to pick their days to be on the water for the rest of the open water season.

Good luck to all the deer hunters and have a safe opener.

Paul A. Nelson is a multi-species fishing guide living in the Bemidji area. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.