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PAUL NELSON FISHING: The fish move deeper in the fall

Paul Nelson

With Labor Day weekend behind us, bear and early Canada goose hunting seasons are in full swing. Small game, grouse and archery deer season open Sept. 16.

Surface water temperatures in the lakes spiked again last week, which stalled the fall fishing patterns that were beginning to set up in the lakes.

Many species of fish begin to school tighter in the fall, with most of the forage species moving out of shallow cover and heading for deeper water to find new sources of food.

Fish tend to be much more spread out early in the summer, before the thermoclines set up in the lakes to limit the mobility of the fish.

Once the water in the lakes begins to cool, many of the fish begin to gather into larger schools. By the time the cold water period arrives, most species of fish will be concentrated into specific areas of the lakes that are close to their main food sources.

The deeper the fish move in the fall, the more electronics and boat control become important. Anglers that don't make good use of their electronics and have problems with boat control will usually have trouble catching fish late in the season.

The toughest conditions in the fall are strong winds because of the loss of boat control. If anglers can't get their baits to the level of the fish, especially when fishing for suspended panfish, then they are not going to have much success catching fish.

Anglers fishing for species like walleyes are usually better off using jigs or lures that are heavy enough to keep them vertical below the boat, so anglers can have good control of their presentations.

Boat control and depth control become even more important when fishing for suspended fish that are usually concentrated at a specific depth. Anglers need to keep their presentations close to the same level as the fish or they won't catch much.

Spooking the fish on clear lakes is becoming a much larger issue for anglers in the lakes with zebra mussels. Many of the fish will start to suspend over deep water during the day in the lakes with very clear water.

Anglers in the Great Lakes are used to dealing with spooky fish. Many anglers use planer boards when trolling, to spread out their baits at a specific depth. Planer boards allow anglers to get their lures outside the wake of the boat, where they are more likely to get some action.

Most anglers have at least seen someone using planer boards in one of the local lakes. Muskie anglers can take advantage of spreading out their lures when trolling too, especially when some muskies are suspended over the basin.

Walleyes were biting at night this past week during the September full moon. The ideal conditions for night fishing walleyes are light winds, clear skies, stable weather and a nearly full moon.

Walleyes will also be feeding on the edge of the break line during the day. They can be located anywhere from the outside weed edge all the way down to the edge of the basin, where the hard bottom turns to mud.

Most anglers like to use a jig and minnow in the fall, but the availability of decent sized jigging minnows is limited because of AIS regulations in transporting minnows and rules against trapping minnows in lakes with AIS.

Night crawlers and leeches will also work for walleyes late in the season, although the leech supply has pretty much run out in most areas.

Some anglers use winter jigging lures late in the season with good success on both spoons and jigging minnows. Anglers can tip the lures with part of a minnow or some other live bait or fish them without any bait.

Perch anglers are finding schools of larger perch on the shallow rocks or on the weed flats near the breakline. There are often smaller walleyes and northern pike in the same locations as the perch, with a ⅛-ounce jig and a fathead minnow an effective presentation for the perch.