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Paul Nelson column for April 30: 2009 fishing licenses expire today

The 2009 Minnesota fishing licenses expire today, so anglers will need to purchase 2010 Minnesota fishing licenses to fish starting on Saturday.

Anglers have the option of purchasing a walleye stamp with their fishing license. The walleye stamp is not required to fish for walleyes, but the funds are used to stock walleyes in Minnesota lakes, so the proceeds go for a good cause.

Anglers can also purchase lifetime fishing licenses or give them as gifts. The cost of the lifetime fishing license varies, depending on the age of the angler, with younger anglers getting the best deal.

Surface water temperatures have been stuck in the 50s in the Bemidji area this week. The coldest lakes have surface temperatures in the low 50s, while the warmest lakes have had surface water temperatures in the upper 50s. Even the darkest, shallowest bays of the warmest lakes have struggled to rise above 60 degrees this spring.

Wind and rain this past week actually dropped the water temperatures in many lakes, which moved some of the fish out of the shallows.

The best crappie bite of the spring in the Bemidji area is still ahead of us. The next warm spell should really get the crappies moving into the shallows in big numbers.

Crappies have been biting in flurries in the late afternoon or evenings, with a better chance for a mid-day bite on days with cloudy skies.

Wind is another negative factor for crappie fishing in the shallows. The best bite is usually in calm areas that are out of the wind or in protected bays or backwaters.

Water temperatures can vary greatly among lakes and within the same lake. Anglers can stay on the most active fish by going to the warmest lakes and by fishing the warmest water in the lakes.

Crappies get more active as surface water temperatures in each part of the lake rises above 60 degrees, so anglers can jump around among lakes and on individual lakes to follow the peak bite.

Many lakes have both bluegills and crappies sharing the same locations in the spring. Anglers can adjust their presentations based on what they want to catch, to target more crappies or target more sunfish.

Crappies usually bite best on small jigs tipped with minnows or plastics. Crappies are visual feeders, so how baits look is more important than how they smell.

Anglers usually have to "work" plastics more aggressively than live baits, which can be cast out and allowed to sit, to give more reluctant biters a longer look at the bait.

Anglers wanting to catch more bluegills need to switch to smaller jigs tipped with wax worms, night crawlers or leeches. Sunfish have advanced senses of smell and can see tiny details up close, so smell and size are more important to sunfish than crappies.

Anglers can try different jig combinations to see which is working best. It could be hair jigs, feather jigs, plain jigs or small plastics.

If anglers want to get as many bites as possible and catch both sunfish and crappies, the best approach is usually to use bait that resembles insects rather than minnows.

Wax worms or night crawlers are usually the best choice for catching both sunfish and crappies, because they smell like insects and look like bugs.

Crappies will usually take baits directed at sunfish more often than sunfish will take minnows or plastics without bait. Crappies also are less picky about the size of the bait than sunfish.

Anglers need to adjust their presentations based on what they want to catch.

Perch action has been improving in most of the larger lakes. Anglers have been catching most of the perch in shallow water. The key areas usually have emerging cabbage weeds or some other type of cover.

A 1/16th-ounce jig on 4-pound test line, tipped with a medium-size fathead minnow on an ultra light spinning rod is usually the best combination for perch fishing. Anglers may be able to avoid some of the smaller perch by using plastics.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at