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PAUL NELSON COLUMN: Summer fishing patterns starting to decline

Paul Nelson

September is here, with one last big weekend of summer before the unofficial beginning of fall in the Bemidji area.

A warm weekend would have meant a busy weekend on the lakes, but cooler temperatures will likely mean more people will stay off the lakes and concentrate on getting their cabins ready for winter.

Surface water temperatures dropped into the mid-60s on most lakes last week, but water temperatures were on the rise again this week with air temperatures in the mid- to upper 70s.

With cooler temperatures on the way again next week, the water temperatures will be on the decline again. Eventually the “real” decline will begin, but there is still time for another rebound in temperatures before that happens.

Anglers are having to relocate many of the fish, with the patterns changing for most species. Summer patterns are starting to fall apart, while fall patterns are beginning to develop. Walleyes have moved off the tops of shallow structure in most lakes and headed off the sides of structures and moved down into deeper water.

Water clarity and the proximity of the schools of baitfish are the major variables in fish location in the fall. Cooler water temperatures encourage the fish to stay closer to their food, while warmer temperatures allow fish to travel greater distances more easily.

Hunting seasons start right away in September, with crows, mourning doves, snipe, rails and bear hunting opening Friday, Sept. 1. Early goose season opens on Saturday, Sept. 2.

The days have been getting shorter since June. Sunset on Friday, Sept. 1 in the Bemidji area is set for 7:59 p.m. We are losing just under three minutes of sunlight per day, so the fall cool down on the lakes will likely begin to accelerate soon.

Leech Lake has been going through a lot of changes, some internal and some external in nature. Anglers have not had a very good summer of walleye fishing to this point in the season.

Leech Lake is in the early stages of zebra mussel infestation, but the amount of fishing pressure has increased dramatically with many anglers (and guides) that would usually fish Mille Lacs Lake moving north to fish and stay on Leech Lake.

The walleye population is supposed to be within normal ranges on Leech Lake, but anglers success rates are way down this summer for most anglers.

The night bite on Leech Lake has been improving with the clear water, so the full moon periods this fall could be spectacular if the weather cooperates. The next full moon is September 6th, with several days before and after the full moon the key times to be on the water.

Cass Lake is several years ahead of Leech Lake with zebra mussels, with a distinct shift in patterns for walleyes. Cass has been tough for walleyes during the bright calm days, with much of the fishing pressure shifting to after dark.

There is a flaw in the AIS inspections on many lakes, with most of the supervision during the day and most of the anglers fishing at night. Please clean your boat properly whether anyone is watching or not before going to another lake.

Lake Winnibigoshish usually has a great shallow walleye bite in the fall. Walleyes in past seasons will move into both the weed edges or the rocks searching for minnows and other forage.

The zebra mussels in Winnie are at about the same stage as Leech Lake, with an explosion in adult zebra mussels likely coming in the next two seasons on both lakes.

Lake Bemidji is one of the few remaining lakes without a diagnosed infestation of zebra mussels. Hopefully it stays that way, but it feels like it is only a matter of time with the most popular lakes that get the majority of fishing pressure.

The closing of a sporting goods store and a popular bait shop this fall along with increasing regulations from AIS are giving anglers fewer choices for minnows (especially shiners). Issues with bait are just going to get worse in the future, so get used to it.

Paul A. Nelson runs the “Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.” He can be reached at

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