Fish are on the move as water temperatures fall into the 50s
Surface water temperatures have dipped below 60 degrees in most lakes, which has helped fall fishing patterns develop in the Bemidji area.
The cooling water temperatures have moved warm water loving species like bass, crappies and sunfish out of the shallows and into deeper water.
Algae in the lakes continues to die each night and collect on the surface each morning. The water clarity in the lakes increases as the algae dies, which helps push light sensitive species of fish into deeper water.
The cooling water temperatures cause most gamefish species to feed more aggressively as they go through a growth spurt and try to put on weight before winter arrives.
Baitfish and young-of-the-year have to find new food sources as their microscopic prey starts to diminish.
Most small fish need to switch to larger forage in the winter to survive. This moves them away from the safety of shallow water and puts them in harms way as they move towards deeper water.
The presence of schools of baitfish and minnows will attract larger fish, which are looking for an easy meal as they prepare for winter.
Anglers can key on the areas with the most food, knowing that there will be hungry gamefish nearby any location with plenty of forage.
The baitfish will suspend further off bottom on days with cloudy skies, moving closer to bottom on days with bright sunlight, which can make gamefish easier to catch on fall sunny days.
Schools of baitfish should be visible to anglers on sonar, so anglers should be wary of fishing too long in areas where they are not seeing baitfish on sonar.
Likewise, anglers should fish areas with plentiful food longer, assuming there are gamefish somewhere nearby. Any concentration of food in a healthy lake is going to get utilized by something sooner or later.
Walleyes have been feeding in deep water in most of the lakes in the Bemidji area. Winnibigoshish, Upper Red Lake and the shallow main lake portion of Leech Lake are the exceptions, with good walleye action along of much of the shoreline structure.
Many species of fish are on the move as water temperatures drop through the 50s. Any fish migrations are likely to occur before water temperatures get any colder, so the fish can move when their metabolism is still reasonably high.
Shiner migrations into the major rivers begin in the 50s, with walleyes and other gamefish species following the shiners into the rivers to feed.
Walleyes in Lake of the Woods will move into the Rainy River in the fall to follow the emerald shiner migrations. Similar migrations of shiners and walleyes occur on the Red River and Winnipeg River in Manitoba, which are connected to Lake Winnipeg.
Many of the Great Lakes also have migrations of walleyes in the fall, as well as most of the major rivers in Canada.
Radio tracking studies on muskies indicate that muskies are most mobile when water temperatures are in the 50s, which is one of the reasons anglers are more successful with trolling patterns for muskies in October.
Crappies will stage up for winter in October, moving into bays with mud bottom on many of the larger lakes like Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake.
Crappies on smaller lakes will move into areas with deep rocks in the fall, before they move on to deep mud flats to feed on zooplankton and insects during the winter.
Sunfish will also move out of the weeds as the weeds die off in the fall and move on to mid-depth flats with mud to feed on microscopic prey during the winter.
Perch will stay on the shallow flats late into the fall, feeding on minnows and crayfish until the water cools and the insects in deep water grow large enough for them to become more viable prey.
Northern pike and muskies will follow the schools of tulibees into the shallows as the tulibees prepare to spawn in the fall.
There is still good opportunities to catch most species of fish in the fall if anglers are able to follow the fish as they move into position for winter.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.