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Paul Nelson: Perfect weather, cooperative walleyes greet anglers on Bemidji area lakes

Opening weekend of the 2014 fishing season in the Bemidji area had nearly perfect weather and pretty good fishing for most anglers.

Most of the successful walleye anglers were fishing in a river or close to a river inlet or outlet. Once the river walleyes are done spawning, they may head directly back to the lakes or they may feed their way back to the lake, depending on what feeding opportunities there are in the river.

Larger rivers can offer long stretches of fishable water with plenty of food to hold post spawn walleyes. Rivers tend to be warmer than lakes in the spring, so the fish may not be in a big hurry to get back to the colder water in the lake.

Walleyes spawning in smaller rivers and streams may not have the same feeding opportunities as the walleyes spawning in larger rivers, so they are less likely to stay in the rivers after they spawn.

Many anglers on the opener positioned their boats in high traffic areas or in bottlenecks where the migrating walleyes have to pass through to get back to their home lake.

Once the walleyes return to the lakes, they usually follow one shoreline or the other, depending on what direction they are heading.

The migrating walleyes usually cruise along the shoreline along their migrations routes rather than swimming the shortest route across open water. The walleyes may go past long stretches with very little cover and only a few baitfish, so they keep going.

Large flats and big shoreline-connected structures usually have multiple schools of baitfish living there. The areas with some standing weeds or rocks give the baitfish some cover at a time when cover is sparse in the lakes and tend to concentrate both baitfish and predator species.

The new hatches of minnows are just starting, so virtually all of the minnows in the lakes are at least one year old. Whenever a school of walleyes passes by an area with schools of baitfish or other potential feeding opportunities, some of the walleyes may stop and feed, while others may rest or even continue along to some unknown destination.

Walleyes often stack up at outlets on lakes, waiting until dark to run the shallow water in the rivers between lakes. Other anglers will be waiting on the other end of the river near the inlet on the next lake in the chain.

Anglers can look at a lake map and predict where migrating walleyes are likely to go. Then anglers can look for concentrations of baitfish along the migration routes where walleyes will likely stop and feed. The best areas usually replenish with new fish as some walleyes leave.

Jigs and minnows are usually the presentation of choice for most walleye anglers early in the season. Shiner minnows are in short supply, so anglers often have to take what they can get and deal with small scoops of minnows and high prices.

Many walleye anglers substitute large fatheads, rainbow chubs or small suckers to supplement a couple dozen shiners.

Jigs and plastics also work well for walleyes and should be carried by all anglers in case they run out of live bait. Sometimes plastics can out-fish live bait because it works better in the weeds and is less likely than a minnow to get pulled off the hook.

Plastics also run more truly through the water than minnows, which often spin and won’t run straight unless they are hooked perfectly.

Scented plastics often work better than unscented plastics for walleyes. Color and shape are also important for walleyes. Anglers need to experiment with colors and styles until they find some combination the walleyes will hit.

Upper Red Lake was one of the hottest lakes in the area on the opener and attracted huge numbers of anglers fishing out of boats and from shore. The bite on Upper Red Lake is usually best on the bright sunny days with light winds because of the stained water.

Walleye anglers have been catching walleyes in 5 to 8 feet of water in most lakes. Walleyes will move shallower under low-light conditions and move deeper with bright skies or heavy boat traffic.

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