Weather Forecast


Paul Nelson: When the walleyes aren't biting, pursue other options

Walleye fishing has been tough in most lakes when the conditions are not primed for walleyes. The days with bright skies, hot temperatures, little wind and no cloud cover can be brutal on the lakes with clear water.

Anglers can always grind a few walleyes out of the weeds with jigs and minnows or jigs and plastics. It is not an especially fun way to fish, with the jig needing to be cleaned of weeds after nearly every cast and also frequent bite-offs from northern pike.

Walleyes have been biting better in the mornings and evenings, but the action is often short lived unless there is some wind to break-up the sun.

Most lakes are still very clear, with the first algae blooms of the season just starting to be visible in the water. The insect hatches have also wreaked havoc on the walleyes, with many suspended fish and ridiculous amounts of food from the mayflies and baitfish.

The largest varieties of mayflies have started to hatch, so the fish fly hatches are nearing the end. There are sporadic bug hatches all summer long, but the peak mayfly hatch is by far the largest insect hatch of the summer.

Once the mayfly hatch is done, many fish will be looking for the next best food source they can find. For some walleyes, this can mean going back into shallow water to feed on perch and other minnows.

Walleyes may also move tighter to structure in deep water, to feed on larger perch, shiners and whatever else they can find to eat.

One of the best walleye bites in the area has been on Lake Winnibigoshish. There are still smaller "keeper-size" walleyes using the shoreline cabbage, but they need some wind to bite.

There are increasing numbers of both keeper walleyes and slot walleyes showing up on the numerous large bars and small to medium size humps scattered all around Lake Winnibigoshish.

The water in Winnie is very clear and is probably going to get even clearer in the future with zebra mussels being found in the lake.

Winnibigoshish has several very large bars that run for miles and literally hundreds of smaller humps, all capable of holding walleyes. With so much structure to check, anglers need to keep moving from hump to hump until they find one holding fish.

Leeches or night crawlers on live bait rigs have been working best on the bars and humps in Winnie, while most anglers fishing the shoreline cabbage weeds have been using jigs and minnows or jigs and plastics.

Upper Red Lake is usually better than most lakes under calm conditions, although many of the walleyes have moved further from shore into slightly deeper water.

Walleyes in Upper Red Lake usually relate to schools of baitfish rather than relating to structure, so anglers need to search for schools of walleyes somewhat randomly scattered around the shallow basin.

Anglers can cover more water faster when searching for walleyes in Upper Red Lake by trolling with bottom bouncers and spinners or by trolling crankbaits to search for scattered schools of walleyes. Once anglers find a school of walleyes, then they can slow down and fish the area more thoroughly.

Perch have been a good backup plan in many lakes when the walleyes are not biting. Perch are usually active during the day and like to feed in bright sun so they can see the predators coming and take evasive measures.

Many of the perch have been feeding in 5 to 8 feet of water in the cabbage weeds, with anglers able to use jigs and minnows for perch in most situations.

Lakes in the Bemidji area continue to be impacted from the late spring. The algae blooms are also behind this year, but once the lakes begin to "green-up" and the insect hatches slow down, then fishing should improve for all species of fish, including walleyes.

Switching species can save a trip when the walleyes are not biting. Anglers can always go back to walleye fishing after they have a few perch and maybe even a pike or two in the livewell, to insure there will be a fish fry at the end of the day.

Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.