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PAUL NELSON FISHING: Good numbers for walleyes in the region

Paul Nelson

Another angler lost their life after falling through the ice on Grace Lake near Bemidji recently and a second angler near Cohasset also died after their ATV broke through the ice.

The inconsistent ice conditions this year have proven to be very dangerous for anglers. Now more anglers are beginning to drive their vehicles on the lakes, so colder temperatures forecast for this week come at a time when the lakes really need to add more ice to make the ice conditions more consistent and safer for anglers.

The longest night of the year was Thursday, Dec. 21, which is also the official beginning of winter. The days will begin to get longer from this point on, until the summer solstice in June.

Most resorts on Lake of the Woods are open for business just in time for the Christmas break, which is usually one of the busiest times of the winter for ice fishing.

Good numbers of walleyes and sauger are staged up all along the south shore of Lake of the Woods and along Pine Island, which is loaded with emerald shiners and should help hold the predator fish in the area most of the winter.

Anglers in LOW have been catching good numbers of walleyes along the shoreline break in 18-23 feet of water in the mornings and evenings, with many of the walleyes suspending out in deeper water during the day.

Anglers can move into 26-28 feet of water during the day to fish for sauger and also have a chance to catch suspended walleyes.

Many walleyes will just swim away from shore at roughly the same depth when they are done feeding in the morning and will suspend between 4 and 10 feet off of the bottom during the day.

Anglers can watch for suspended walleyes on sonar when they are fishing sauger and try to put a dead stick close to the level where they are seeing the suspended walleyes coming through on sonar.

It usually works better to have the bait suspended at the right level before the walleyes come through, rather than trying to raise the lure to the fish after seeing them on sonar, which often spooks the fish.

Walleyes in Lake of the Woods like to suspend because the stained water filters out much of the sunlight and they don’t have to go as deep during the day to find darker water.

The main forage minnow in LOW are emerald shiners and they prefer to locate in the middle third of the water column, where is where much of the zooplankton is located.

Upper Red Lake is another hot lake for walleyes, with anglers now able to drive out their vehicles out of the resorts for a fee.

Baitfish are a huge factor in walleye location in URL. Anglers should watch for areas holding baitfish on their sonar and try to stay away from the large groups of anglers because of the noise.

There is very little structure in URL compared to most lakes, with the shoreline break from 5 to 8 feet and the secondary break from 10 to 13 feet as the two main structural features.

The baitfish are the most important structure in URL because the walleyes are able to use the entire lake because of the shallow water.

Baitfish are most likely to be located near structure, even if it is only a slight change in depth. Rocks are another important structure in Upper Red Lake, with the patch of rocks giving baitfish some of the only cover available in the lake.

Many anglers in URL are using a combination of a jigging rod and a dead stick with live bait for the two lines they are allowed during the winter.

Sometimes jigging lures work best, while other times a lively minnow on a plain hook and a split shot will outfish most other presentations.

Anglers have been using jigging spoons, small lipless crankbaits and jigging minnows with good success, so anglers should experiment with different lures and vary their jigging patterns until they find out what is working best.

Paul A. Nelson runs the “Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.” He can be contacted at panelsonbemidji@gmail.com.

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