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PAUL NELSON COLUMN: So many lakes, so many fish

Paul Nelson

When you have as many distinctly different types of lakes as the Bemidji Area, anglers have an almost an unlimited playing field if they want to learn how to fish different bodies of water for different species of fish.

Most of the lakes with zebra mussels are the larger lakes with the most fishing pressure, mostly from walleye anglers. Any smaller lakes infested with zebra mussels are usually on a chain of lakes downstream from one of the larger, infested walleye lakes.

The free-swimming stage of zebra mussels are called veligers, but they are weak swimmers and do not go upriver against the current very well.

When smaller lakes upriver are hit with zebra mussels, they usually get there from boat traffic traveling up river from the infested lakes and carrying the veligers in their live wells.

Anglers have many different smaller lakes that do not have zebra mussels to fish. There are also many small to medium sized walleye lakes such as Bemidji, Plantagenet, Blackduck and others to fish for walleyes that do not currently have zebra mussels.

There are also a few large lakes such as Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods that do not have zebra mussels, so anglers are still able to fish a lot of good lakes and avoid the zebra mussels.

The lakes with invasive species add another whole category of lakes. Some anglers embrace the challenge and learn to adapt.

Many anglers are avoiding the lakes with zebra mussels, so anglers willing to fish the lakes and are able to put some effective patterns together have a lot of empty space to fish.  

Bottom bouncers are one of the most popular summer baits for walleyes and they are very versatile for different uses on most types of walleye lakes.

The weight of the bottom bouncer depends on what anglers are trying to do and how much weight it takes to stay at the proper angle in the depth of water and speed anglers are fishing.

Most situations in the Bemidji area require a bottom bouncer between 1 and 2½ ounces. The 1 ounce or sometimes less wire sinkers are more of a live bait rig sinker for deeper water or for fishing spinners in 15 feet or less.

Heavier bottom bouncers heavier than one ounce are the workhorses for fishing most types of spinner rigs.

There are many excellent pre-packaged spinner rigs that are fast and easy to use. Just open the package and clip a new spinner rig to the sinker and go.

There is always going to be a group of anglers that aren’t satisfied with standard anything if they have the chance to go custom. They buy their own components and make their own rigs, which gives them a plethora of options.

There are tricks to fishing bottom bouncers, like any other type of fishing. One big key is the amount of line anglers let out. Many guides use line counter reels so they can tell their clients how much line to let out.

If anglers are fishing walleyes in a standard lake with no zebra mussels, they will usually want to let out just enough line to touch the bottom and then take a little line back in, so they bounce the bottom occasionally, instead of constantly dragging on the bottom.

One of the worst casting scenarios is the angler who keeps letting out line because he can’t feel anything and is worried about being on the bottom.

Instead of bottom bouncer and spinner rig acting like a finely tuned instrument tipped with a tasty morsel of live bait, the whole rig is dragging on its side, flat on the bottom. The chances of catching a fish are almost nil.

It is a bad idea for most anglers to hang onto their rods when using a bottom bouncer. It has been demonstrated over and over that a bottom bouncer set at the perfect depth and placed in a rod holder will out fish most anglers holding onto the rod. Bottom bouncers can also be used to suspend baits in some situations.

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