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Paul Nelson: Slower presentations are effective as summer turns to fall

Labor Day Weekend signals the end of the summer tourist season in the Bemidji area. Students are already in school in many parts of the country and the rest will be attending their first classes of fall semester very soon.

Many seasonal residents will also be leaving soon. Cabin owners traditionally remove their docks, shut their refrigerators and winterize the cabins on or shortly after Labor Day Weekend.

Fall was certainly in the air this past week in the Bemidji area. Surface water temperatures on the lakes have already started to drop, with many lakes falling into the upper 60s after the recent cool nights

Summer fishing patterns begin to fall apart as the surface water temperatures fall below 70 degrees. Many anglers will begin to abandon faster presentations such as spinner rigs and crankbaits and return to jigs and live bait rigs to catch walleyes.

Spinner rigs and faster moving presentations, including trolling crankbaits, will still catch fish in the fall but walleyes and many other species are less likely to chase fast moving presentations once the lakes begin to cool into the 60s.

Changes are usually gradual in the lakes rather than everything happening all at once. Anglers can slow their spinner rigs and crankbaits enough to allow the fish more time to decide whether to strike or let them pass by.

Spinners and crankbaits can be fished fast or slow, as long as the spinners are moving fast enough to turn the blades and the lures have the proper action.

A leech can be a very effective bait for walleyes late in the season. Walleyes almost seem to sense when leeches become tough to find at the bait store and get a craving for them.

Night crawlers fished on a "slow-death" or "crawler hauler" style hook can also be effective. Anglers can also fish night crawlers hooked in the tip of the nose and injected with air on a plain hook. Larger minnows like red tails, creek chubs and suckers are also a great option in the fall as most predator species are keying on larger prey.

Anglers can add a single colored bead to their presentations in front of the live bait to add some color to the presentation and give the fish something to help them target the bait instead of the natural bait that may also be in the area.

The cool weather really puts the brakes on the algae bloom in the lakes. The cool nights will kill some of the algae and at times the dead algae can create a green slick on the surface of the lakes in the mornings.

Algae begin to break down quickly after they die. The dead algae also mixes into the water by the waves and eventually settles to the bottom where it becomes food for the many types of insect larvae living in the mud basin.

Shallow lakes like Winnibigoshish, Upper Red Lake and the shallow bays of Leech Lake and Lake of the Woods will have a movement of walleyes toward shallow water in the fall. Most of these lakes will have a good bite for walleyes on the shoreline break, much like there is in the spring.

Deep lakes that have a thermocline during the summer, like Bemidji, Cass, Pike Bay and the deep bays of Leech Lake and Lake of the Woods, often have a movement of walleyes in the opposite direction. Walleyes in deep lakes often leave the shallows when the water cools in the fall and head for deeper water as the thermocline breaks down in the lakes.

The increase in water clarity as the algae die in the fall will force most of this year's hatch of minnows out of the reed beds and extreme shallows and into the deeper water.

The small minnows have been growing all summer and will become viable forage for larger fish by the time they leave the shallows in the fall.

Anglers cleaning walleyes and perch late in the season often see dozens of little minnows in the stomachs of the fish they clean, with small perch one of the more common species being eaten like popcorn by the larger fish.

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