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Bemidji area lakes finally open and walleye fishing can begin

The 2013 fishing opener in the Bemidji area was a non-event for most anglers. Virtually all of the best walleye lakes in the Bemidji area were still covered with ice when the season opened so many anglers decided to just stay home.

The most successful anglers on the opener were much more likely to be fishing from shore or out of a 12 foot johnboat than they were to be fishing out of a $50,000 walleye boat.

Fortunately, the summer is long and most anglers will have plenty of chances to go fishing. Many of the local lakes had ice-out occur on Tuesday, with high temperatures in the 80s and the winds gusting to 40 mph.

Many anglers will be treating this coming weekend as their opening weekend, although most businesses won’t recover the single day sales they lost on the opener.

Surface water temperatures in most lakes started out at 39 degrees this past week and have been slowly warming into the mid 40s.

The preferred water temperature range for spawning walleyes in northern climates is between 44 and 48 degrees. The river spawning walleyes were actively spawning this week, with some of the spawned-out fish exiting the rivers and re-entering the lakes.

Lake spawning walleyes were still in pre-spawn mode this week and some larger walleyes full of eggs were caught. The lake spawning fish will just be starting to spawn in the next week while the river spawning should be finishing any day.

Anglers have been finding post-spawn walleyes along their migration routes between lakes as they head back to their home lake. Anglers can look for walleyes along shoreline-connected flats that are along the migration routes.

Each lake in a chain of lakes will have a resident population of most of species of fish but the distribution of the species can vary greatly among lakes.

The largest lake in a chain usually has the most acres of deep water, the largest variety of habitat and the most diverse forage base of all the lakes in the chain.

This usually means the largest lake in a chain is the home lake to most of the walleyes, muskies, big pike, jumbo perch, tulibees, whitefish and eelpout.

Smaller lakes in a chain of lakes tend to be shallower, more fertile lakes. The schools of walleyes are usually fewer in number. There also tends to be fewer muskies per acre, smaller average size northern pike and fewer big perch in the smaller lakes.

The smaller lakes in a chain of lakes do tend to have higher numbers of bass, sunfish and crappies than the larger lakes, mostly because of the differences in fertility and the types of habitat in the smaller lakes.

The bait supply has been improving since the ice went out on the lakes, with more bait shops having shiners and leeches. Now that the ice is off the lakes, the supply of bait should continue to improve as the season progresses.

Anglers in Minnesota are going to have to adjust to fishing in colder water temperatures early this season, with the lakes at least two weeks behind their usual patterns. Memorial Day weekend is usually close to the spring peak for walleye fishing but that may occur later in June this season.

It is still hard to beat a jig and spot-tail shiner early in the season. The new hatches of minnows haven’t started yet, so the walleyes are keying on the adult shiners and the perch that are at least one year old.

Anglers have been finding most of the active walleyes near the inlets or outlets on the lakes, with many of the walleyes in 8 to 14 feet of water.

Casting jigs and minnows is often more productive than drifting or trolling the jigs and minnows. One of the reasons casting is more productive is anglers are checking their minnows constantly and taking off the weeds after each cast.

Some anglers seem to have weeds on their jigs nearly every time they reel in their line when drifting or trolling, so casting helps anglers keep fresher minnows and fewer weeds on the line, which should help them catch more fish.

PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at

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