PAUL NELSON FISHING: Good boat control, taking it slow are keys to fall fishing
Another unseasonably warm week in the Bemidji area is holding surface water temperatures in the lakes to the low 50s, which is still pretty warm for this point in the season.
Anglers should be prepared to launch their boats without the aid of a dock. Most of the docks will be removed from the public accesses by early November, before the rifle deer season begins.
Leaves on the trees have changed color and have begun to blow off the trees with the strong winds. Area grouse hunters typically have their best luck the last half of October, when visibility is better in the woods.
Wind has been the biggest issue for anglers on the lakes recently, with the the air temperatures still in the 60s most of this past week.
Anglers need to maintain good boat control despite the wind in the fall, with many of the fish tightly schooled in deeper water. Anglers also need to slow down their drifts, with most of the fish responding best to slower presentations.
Walleyes have been anywhere from the outside edge of the weeds all the way down to where the hard bottom turns into mud. This edge of the basin is often referred to as the hard to soft breakline in angling terms.
Anglers can see bottom hardness on sonar, with the wide strong bright red echo coming from harder bottom and the thin weak signal on sonar coming from a soft bottom. Hard bottom reflects more of the sonar signal, while soft bottom absorbs some of the sonar signal and returns a weaker echo.
The "edge" between hard and soft bottom is usually a productive location for anglers to fish walleyes in the fall. There are turns, corners and points along with many other features along the hard to soft breakline that are very similar to turns and corners on a weedline.
Electronics are more effective when fish are in deep water and schooled together more tightly, which is why many anglers look for fish on sonar before stopping to fish in the fall.
The cone angle on sonar expands as the water gets deeper, with the standard 20-degree cone showing a circle on the bottom that has a diameter roughly one third of the depth. This means anglers fishing in 30 feet are looking at a 10-foot diameter circle on the bottom with their sonar.
Baitfish are a critical element to fish location late in the season. The cold water slows down the fish and makes them want to stay closer to their food to shorten up the distance they have to travel on their feeding movements.
If anglers are seeing tons of baitfish in the right type of locations, there will almost always be some predator species nearby, even if they aren't feeding at the moment.
Jigs and minnows are the bait of choice for most walleye anglers in the fall, with local anglers having to search for bait after the closing of the main bait store in town.
There are other presentations that will work for walleyes other than minnows, including artificials like jigging minnows and jigging spoons in the larger sizes.
Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River have been hot for walleyes, with most anglers anchoring and fishing vertically below their boats.
The emerald shiner run into the Rainy River has started, with the fishing just getting better later in the fall. Walleyes follow the shiners in and out of the river, with Four Mile Bay and the south shore along Pine Island also being good areas to fish.
All of the larger lakes in the Bemidji area have been good for walleyes recently, with good catches coming from Bemidji, Cass, Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake. There are also plenty of decent size perch in all of those lakes.
Crappie action continues to be good in many of the smaller lakes. Anglers have been using sonar to locate the schools of crappies and then anchoring or trying to hover over the fish with a trolling motor.
Paul A. Nelson runs the “Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.