PAUL NELSON FISHING: Fall cool down in the lakes has begun

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Surface water temperatures in the local lakes continue to go up and down between the low to mid 70s. The Bemidji area is heading into a cooler weather pattern this week, so it looks like the actual fall cool down in the lakes has begun. No more false starts.

Those cold, soaking rains really accelerate the cool down in the lakes, which is exactly what has happened this week.

Wind is another big factor in the fall cool down. Strong winds bring the cold water deeper into the water column and also helps return some of the warmer water back to the surface.

Once the surface water temperatures in the lakes drop below 70 degrees, fishing typically gets better for most species of fish, including walleyes, perch, crappies and muskies.

Lake of the Woods has had a good day bite for walleyes the last couple of weeks, both for larger walleyes and for the smaller eating size “keeper” walleyes.


Anglers have been getting many of the larger walleyes on snap weights, leadcore or downriggers with crankbaits or spinners and nightcrawlers.

The schools of walleyes can be mixed together or the bigger fish can be in one group of fish and most smaller walleyes can be located in separate schools of fish.

Using electronics to spot the baitfish and schools of walleyes is a tremendous help. Many anglers look for the groups of boats and then start watching their electronics when they get close. The schools of walleyes can be huge.

Most of the trollers have been fishing the basin on Lake of the Woods in 28-36 feet of water. Most of the anglers jig fishing for walleyes have been fishing closer to Pine Island in water as shallow as 14 feet deep.

Anglers fishing jigs often fish from an anchored position or by using the Spot-Lock feature on a trolling motor to hold their position.

Unstable weather often makes fishing for walleyes and other species more difficult. Anglers on most lakes are still finding walleyes in a range of depths, using several different kinds of structures.

Most walleye anglers are spending time looking at their electronics for schools of baitfish with larger marks below the schools of minnows.

Depending on the depth, anglers can use either jigs and minnows or use live bait rigs with larger minnows. Some anglers will even use slip bobbers. So, there are lots of ways to catch walleyes on most lakes.


Most walleye anglers look forward to fall fishing so they can use jigs and minnows for bait. Jigs and minnows are many anglers' favorite way to catch walleyes.

Jigs and minnows are also some of the easiest ways to catch walleyes. Anglers simply feel the bite, or even just a change in pressure on the line, and then set the hook.

If anglers are fishing deeper or in windy conditions, they can use a heavier jig. If anglers are fishing shallow water in light wind, they can get by with a lighter weight jig.

Lakes close to Bemidji have been picking up too. Many of the walleyes getting caught are the smaller age classes of walleyes between 11 and 13 inches, so anglers often have to search for some larger fish.

The smaller walleyes seem to be on many of the structures on most of the lakes. Please release the smaller walleyes quickly, so we can all enjoy them in the next few years as their age classes move through the lakes.

Some anglers have started to harvest some of the smaller walleyes when they catch them larger than 12 inches. Culling these smaller walleyes is not a good practice and bad for the lakes. If you put them in the box, you should be taking them home.

Schools of crappies and sunfish will be moving away from the weed beds soon and heading for deeper water.

Sunfish often like moderate depth flats in the fall, while crappies often like to suspend over the basin. The fish separate in some lakes, while they school together in other lakes


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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