Paul Nelson: Surface water temperatures continue to drop in area lakes
The fall cool-down continues this week in the Bemidji area, with most lakes now having surface water temperatures in the low 60s.
When the best fall fishing occurs is debatable. If it had to be put into a 10-degree range, the best fall fishing usually occurs as surface water temperatures drop from 60 to 50 degrees. That would mean the next couple of weeks should provide some of the best fishing of the season.
Walleyes in shallow lakes that do not develop a thermocline during the summer usually move toward shallow structure to feed as surface water temperatures begin to drop in the fall.
This type of shallow lake includes Winnibigoshish, the shallow bays of Leech Lake, Upper Red Lake and Big Traverse Bay of Lake of the Woods.
At the same time, walleyes in deep lakes that develop a thermocline during the summer usually head in the opposite direction towards deeper water in the fall as the thermocline breaks down.
Lakes in this category include Bemidji, Cass Lake including Pike Bay, Plantagenet, the deep bays of Leech Lake and Lake of the Woods and any other lake that has a thermocline during the summer.
Most species of fish are active in the fall. They are beginning to form eggs and have an instinctual need to try put on weight before winter arrives.
All fish species are more likely to feed during the day in the fall, with the best bite often occurring later in the day when air temperatures are near their peak.
Walleyes usually need a little “walleye chop” on the water for a good day-bite to occur during the summer, but the best daytime conditions in the fall are typically on the bright sunny days with less wind.
Anglers often need to slow their presentations to catch fish in deep water in the fall, which means going vertical and hovering over the fish rather than making the long drifts that are typical for walleye anglers during most of the spring and summer.
Many different presentations will catch walleyes in the fall but the default presentation goes back to a jig and minnow. A live-bait rig with a larger minnow is another great way to catch walleyes as the lakes cool.
Leeches will also work well in cold water but the supply of leeches at the bait shops are usually depleted late in the season so they are hard to find and usually very expensive and smaller than anglers are accostomed to using.
Night crawlers can also be good for walleyes in some lakes during the fall so anglers still should experiment with different baits, especially if they are seeing fish on sonar that won’t bite.
Walleyes aren’t the only fish that are active in the fall. Crappies usually bite best at dusk and dawn in the summer but once fall arrives, crappies become much easier to locate and catch during the day. Crappies will often move into deep water in the fall and may be located on deep rocks, brush piles or suspended over deep water.
Perch fishing can be fantastic in the fall, with the larger perch moving to shallow chara covered sand flats, feeding on crayfish, smaller perch and minnows.
Sunfish will hold on the standing green weeds until they start to turn brown. Once that happens the sunfish usually move to moderate depth mud flats to feed on bloodworms and other insects.
Fall is also the best time of the year to catch big pike and muskies. The tulibee is one of the favorite forage species of both pike and muskies and when the tulibees move into the shallows to spawn in the fall the large predators are close behind them.
Bass can also become easier to catch in the fall. Bass in the Bemidji area typically spend their summers in heavy cover in extremely shallow water. Once the shallows begin to cool, bass will move out of the extreme shallows toward the outside edge of the deeper weeds and begin to gather in schools.
Once anglers catch a bass in the fall, they should slow down and fish the area more thoroughly because there will usually be more bass located in the same area.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org