PAUL NELSON FISHING: 'When fish can see, the baitfish can see too'

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Surface water temperatures in most lakes have been hovering in the mid to upper 60s for a couple of weeks, with air temperatures staying cool in the Bemidji area.

There have been hatches of the smaller greyish colored mayflies, but the larger green-tinted mayflies have not shown up yet in most lakes.

Walleye fishing has been good at times if anglers are able to locate the fish. The supply of spottail shiners is gone at the bait stores, so anglers have been trying to find other presentations that are working for walleyes.

It is still early for using spinners for walleyes. Some anglers start with smaller spinners on live bait rigs early and then increase the size of the blades as surface water temperatures increase.

Many walleye anglers use bottom bouncers and spinner rigs for walleyes during much of the summer. The spinner bite is usually best after the algae blooms enough to reduce visibility in the lakes and surface water temperatures exceed 70 degrees.


Walleyes need heat and lowered visibility before they are going to chase faster moving baits. There is no point in chasing things from a distance or have reflex strikes when fish are able to see clearly.

Fish are more likely to have a reflex bite at anglers presentations when things appear and disappear too quickly for the fish to take their time reacting. Anglers force the fish to make a quick decision or they lose the chance to feed.

When fish can see, the baitfish can see too. Walleyes wait until they can use their sight advantage to feed, so it takes less effort to catch enough to eat.

Early in the season, most anglers try to give walleyes something that is easy to catch. Natural selection causes predators to key on things that act differently or appear injured. The last thing baitfish want to do is draw attention to themselves when predators are near.

Minnows travel in schools to help them blend in and avoid sticking out and drawing predators attention. Anglers want the opposite, they want the fish to notice them as often as possible, so they get more bites.

When lake water is clear, fish don’t need much help seeing the bait. Anglers can use natural presentations and not overdo it when it comes to trying to draw the fishes’ attention.

When visibility is reduced, anglers need to turn up the speed, cover more water and add vibration and flash to help their bait get noticed by more fish.

Zebra mussels are changing the environment in many lakes. Each adult zebra mussel filters the phytoplankton out of about one liter of water per day. This keeps the lakes clear and prevents an overabundance of algae (phytoplankton) in the lakes.


Lake Bemidji has always had a good algae bloom during the summer. This gives walleyes and perch the opportunity to move on top of structures to feed.

When lakes become infested with zebra mussels, the lake water becomes progressively more clear and summer fishing patterns are going to change. One result is usually less fish in shallow water during the heat of summer.

Anglers fishing clear lakes like Cass Lake and Leech Lake already know how tough the walleye bite can be during the day when the winds are light and the skies are clear.

Fish see the shadow of anglers boats and can become very spooky. Fish can shy away from boats as anglers drive over shallow water.

The side imaging feature on some electronics gives anglers the chance to look for fish and structure with their electronics, without actually driving over the top of the fish.

Anglers need to find ways to be more stealthy when fishing walleyes in clear water lakes. Approaching structures more slowly and slowing down further away rather than blasting into areas at full throttle is a good start.

Anglers should also slow down when looking at areas with their electronics and be more conscious of being quiet on the water, especially in areas you plan to fish.

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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