Brad Laabs: Predators going after baitfish as fall pattern starts
We are at the end of September and we are just now starting to see the signs of fall. Up until now the weather has been unseasonably warm for the most part, and water temperatures are still above 60 degrees. We have not really started the typical fall fishing we are accustomed to at this time of the calendar. The trees are just starting to turn, we are getting the high wind, front on top of front, and inconsistent weather that is September and it is almost October. Days are shorter, nights should start getting cooler, and the water temperatures will start dropping more quickly now. Many years we have already had lake turnover by now.
We should start our fall pattern soon. With the fall change, we will start to notice the weed line diminishing and fish moving more shallow for a period of time (until after turn over). Weed lines have already thinned down some and receded. Most of the deep weed lines that are at about the 18ft level at peak summer period you will find to be more shallow by several feet. As we progress further into fall the weed lines will diminish even more. The healthy weed growth you find in the fall will almost always hold fish.
Most fish are still foraging on young of the year perch and pan fish. As water temperatures cool, bigger minnows will come into play as bait fish mature. After turn over, many fish will relate to deep water, and some fish will remain shallow. Fish can be in any part of the system they chose as water temperatures and oxygen levels are more consistent throughout the whole system.
Larger baits can rule the bite at this time as fish start “putting the feedbag on” in preparation for winter. The musky (or muskie…it can be spelled both ways) anglers will use sucker minnows up to 18 inches long as bait under bobbers during this time!
Fish will relate to the schools of baitfish. When the water is calm, you can sometimes see the baitfish breaking the surface as predator fish are chasing them. These disturbances can be great clues for locations to concentrate your fishing efforts. Loons and diving ducks will also feed on the available baitfish. When you see large groups of birds gathered for feeding, game fish will also be in the area feeding on the same baitfish population. Use your locator not only to attempt to see fish on the graph, but also locate schools of baitfish. If you fish in these schools, you will more than likely have game fish present also. If they aren’t around the baitfish you are graphing, they will be soon.
Being on the lake this time of year can just be awesome for those that enjoy watching nature in action. You will see ducks, geese, loons, eagles, and osprey all out getting ready for migration and taking advantage of what the lakes have to offer them. The sights, sounds, and smells of the fall on the water are hard to describe. They need to be experienced. The color change that can be seen and experienced from the water is unmatched in beauty.
There is a lot more to our outdoor experiences than setting hooks or pulling triggers. Practice good sportsmanship and be a good steward to our natural resources. If everything goes well, we should have another four to six weeks of open water to enjoy. Get out and take advantage.
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)