PAUL NELSON FISHING: Area lakes are warming as temperatures climb

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Lakes in the Bemidji area have surface water temperatures above 60 degrees and rising. Warmer air temperatures forecast for this week should accelerate warming of the lakes.

Members of the sunfish family, which includes bass, crappies and sunfish, are either in the process of spawning or getting ready to spawn.

Muskies may still be spawning in some lakes and just finishing in others. Muskies are more successful spawners in lakes with fewer pike or in large lakes where the pike and the muskies can spawn in different locations.

Muskies rely on stocking in many lakes, but there are still populations like Cass Lake, Leech Lake and Winnibigoshish where muskies survive on natural reproduction alone.

Spottail shiners have finished spawning, so the supply of spottails in the bait store will begin to run out soon.


Anglers need to change to other types: minnows, leeches, night crawlers, plastics and artificial lures, can all be good choices for walleyes in the early summer patterns.

Insect hatches are the next big thing on the outdoor calendar for the lakes. Generally speaking, the smaller "fish flies" hatch before the larger varieties, all hatching out of the mud bottomed areas in the lakes.

Midges are the first major insect hatch in the spring. Blood worms are the juvenile form of midges and live by the millions in the mud basin of many large lakes.

There are also many varieties of dragonflies, mayflies and many other aquatic insects that hatch out of the lakes every year. The typical life cycles for aquatic insects can vary from one to four years.

The main purpose of the adult phase of aquatic insects is to reproduce and die. Many don’t feed and don’t even have a mouth, so their adult phase only lasts a few days until they reproduce.

Walleyes continue to spread out into the lakes as the water warms and the season progresses. Walleyes will occupy most of a small lake very quickly, but in larger lakes, walleyes usually occupy shoreline structure first and then expand to mid-lake structures after the minnow spawns are completed.

Walleyes are efficient predators and nomadic feeders in the lakes. Walleyes are always looking for the next “best thing” in the lakes and are driven by their search for food.

Walleyes start out on shoreline connected structures after they spawn. They key in on spawning minnows, with spottail shiners the favorite minnow of walleyes in most of the large walleye lakes in the Bemidji area.


Once the spottails and other minnows are done spawning and begin to leave the shoreline, walleyes also begin to leave and look for other plentiful feeding opportunities in other parts of the lakes.

The major insect hatches occur in the mud bottomed basin. This gives walleyes a food source in deep water as they leave the shoreline and head through the basin to mid-lake structures.

All of the hard bottomed mid-lake structures are surrounded by the mud basin, which becomes a key “edge” for feeding walleyes much of the year.

Walleyes are picky eaters and like a varied diet with several choices. Walleyes like to feed on the edge between hard and soft bottom, so they have a chance to feed on forage attracted to both the mud and the hard bottom.

Walleyes occupy more of the lake early in the summer than at any other point in the season. This is because oxygen levels are still good at all depths, so walleyes can be as deep or as shallow as they want, as long as they find a suitable food source.

Big walleyes can target last fall’s hatch of tulibees, which are on the edges of the mud in deep water. Walleyes can also feed on perch, insects, crayfish and suckers around mid lake structures.

Walleyes can head into the developing cabbage weed beds and feed on perch, crayfish and other minnows.

Anglers need to establish a pattern and keep an open mind on where walleyes might be to find fish in the early summer patterns.


Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips for 2020 can be booked by calling or texting (218) 760-7751 or by email at

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