Brad Laabs column: Even catch-and-release gets tricky this time of year
We are into a fall bite pattern for all gamefish species now. Water temps have dropped to the high 50s and topping out during the daytime at 60 degrees.
Water temps will continue to drop with cold evenings, lower daytime temperatures, shortened daylight hours, and the cold fronts that are typical for this time of year.
The jets stream will set up to keep driving colder temps our way. Dress for the weather, as wind sweeping across cooler water makes it feel much cooler on the water than on shore.
Temperatures drop fast as the sun sets, and mornings will be cold as we don't get to peak daytime temperatures until the early afternoon now.
Even though we have had rain, it does not keep up with the amount of evaporation we have had to this point, so water levels are low. Be aware of this fact when launching and loading, as it can be a high-risk time for prop damage.
On the deeper basin lakes in the area, the majority of the walleyes have been holding in deep water off sharp breaks. Depth depends on the lake, with some holding in the 19- to 25-foot range, some lakes holding fish in the 25- to 32-foot range and some anglers have caught fish out of 40 feet.
Atmosphere changes at about 30 feet of water and fish at that depth are under significant pressure. Fish caught in deep water released immediately can return to deep water and comfort. If held in a live well, they tend to "roll" and struggle as they have an expanded air bladder. The air bladder can be "fizzed" (air let out with a needle) to help them stay alive in the live well.
The arguments continue about fizzed fish mortality rates when released. Bass anglers were the first to get onto this practice. Tournament anglers used this for success in full credit for limits at weigh in without penalty, and walleye tournament anglers also got onto this practice many years ago.
Fish can also be clipped with weights on bottom fins to help keep them upright and adjust to new pressure.
If you commit a fish to your live well that comes from deep water, keep that fish. If you want to fizz it or clip it to keep it alive until the end of the day to keep them fresh, go for it. I know it is the DNR regulation recommendation to keep committed fish, but I also know that some anglers don't always follow the rule/suggested rule, and cull that fish out to upgrade a fish later for their limit. Please don't do that now, as research is pretty clear about the diminished probability of survival if that is done.
There are fish shallower and up feeding higher on the breaks, particularly early in the morning, later in the evening, or at night, and those fish that don't come out of 35-40 feet are no problem for catch and release.
Fish will come up shallower as water temps drop even more over the next week or two. When the lakes turn over they will be scattered throughout the system, and you can focus on less deep schools, especially if catching and releasing.
Walleyes on the shallow basin lakes will be relating to some of the structure close to deepest water available. Weed lines are diminishing and fish will get shallow as they hold tight to those edges for food and cover. Bass and northern will use these shallow edges, and the musky anglers get excited now as that becomes predictable feeding areas for a predator fish that will start feeding up more from now until ice up.
We will still have very pleasant days to enjoy the lakes, but sometimes this time of year some of the more challenging days to be on the water weather-wise, will be the most rewarding for quality catches.
Balance your schedule and make time for some fall fishing.
(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)