Weather Forecast


Paul Nelson: Walleyes are on the move in Bemidji area lakes

Summer is finally here, with surface water temperatures reaching the mid 70s in most lakes in the Bemidji area.

Thunderstorms, heavy rain and strong winds were again part of the weather pattern this past week. Hopefully there won’t be a repeat of the storms around the Fourth of July in 2012.

The mayfly hatches began in earnest this past week as one of the smaller varieties started hatching in huge numbers.

There are several varieties of mayflies, each having its own life cycle and mating habits. Mayflies spend virtually all of their lives in the lakes. They only sprout wings for a very short time, just long enough to mate and lay their eggs back in the lakes.

Some species of mayflies hatch all at once, with millions hatching and mating on the same night. Other varieties of mayflies hatch over a longer period of time in smaller numbers.

Some varieties of mayflies spend most of their time burrowed into the mud while others are more free swimming as they feed on decaying plant matter.

Mayflies are not the only insects currently rising out of the lakes. There are dozens of varieties of dragonflies, which are like the attack helicopters of the insect world. Dragonflies eat many of the insects that are trying to bite the anglers when they get too close to shore.

It is common for anglers to have dragonflies swarming around their boat, especially when some of the more pesky insects are around.

A healthy insect base in the lakes is a critical part of the food chain. They provide minnows and smaller fish with a massive food source, which directly provides more prey for the gamefish and panfish anglers like to catch.

Aquatic insects improve water quality by eating the decaying plant matter that settles to the bottom. Insects are very sensitive to pollution, sediment and low oxygen levels in deep water so they only thrive in the healthiest lakes.

The mayflies provide an explosion of food in deep water so a portion of the fish in the lakes head for deeper water to take advantage of the plentiful food source.

This doesn’t mean all the biting fish are in deep water. Actually, fishing in deeper water can be tougher during the heavy mayfly hatches because there is too much food and many of the fish are suspended over deeper water in odd locations.

Most lakes have both a shallow and a deep walleye bite going on at the same time during the mayfly hatch. Many times the shallow walleyes are still easier to catch because they don’t have all the insects to eat in the shallows.

The jig and minnow bite is still working in the weeds but it gets tougher to move baits through weeds as the plants become taller and larger. Anglers can also try fishing jigs with night crawlers or leeches.

The reeds, bull rushes and wild rice beds are also starting to rise above the surface of the lakes. The tops of the cabbage weeds are also starting to become visible from the surface.

Anglers can fish the edges of the cabbage, with the walleyes often liking the outside edge and the perch often liking the inside edge.

Some anglers are starting to catch walleyes on spinner rigs with night crawlers or leeches. Anglers can use a spinning rod for spinners in shallow water. A 3/8 or ½-ounce sinker will compliment the presentation.

Anglers fishing spinners in deeper water are better off using a medium heavy rod with a line counter reel and a 1 to 3-ounce bottom bouncer which will help keep the spinner rigs closer to the boat at higher speeds.

The wind and the weather usually determine where the most active fish are likely to be. Anglers should try to fish structures where they can use the wind to their advantage.

Learning to use the wind instead of fighting the wind is one of the toughest lessons for most anglers to learn. Boat control is one of the most important aspects of walleye fishing, with the anglers doing the best job also usually the ones catching the most fish.

PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at

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