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Dock Talk: Change up for summer success

Mary Thorson caught this massive Fish Hook lake crappie this past week after abandoning walleye fishing in the afternoon. Anglers can catch big panfish all day long despite the idea that they only bite before sunset. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

By Jason Durham / For the Enterprise

A high number of people visiting the Park Rapids area are interested in landing Minnesota’s state fish the walleye.

Currently, the walleye fishing has been a little trickier than, well, usual.

Every season is different and due to the many environmental factors that affect fish, anglers won’t know what the fish are doing until they actually get out on the water.

We are approaching or already intertwined in what some anglers call “the dog days of summer.”

This label is given to a period when water temperature peaks, high pressure prevails, vegetative growth including both weeds and algae are at their prime and fish have a negative attitude for a few days or weeks.

But the dog days this year have less to do with the traditional characteristics of the late summer transition period.

Think about it. With cool nights and even temperature days that aren’t expanding beyond the surface temperature of the lakes, we’re probably close to the height of how the lakes peak.

If the surface temperature is 75-degrees and the high temperature for the day is 75, with lows at night in the 50-degree range, the surface temps will either remain stable or drop slightly. Surface temperature is what you see displayed on your sonar but there is greater impact with water temperature far below the surface. Oxygen level plays an additional role.

As the water stratifies into layers, large fish traditionally suspend in the middle layer, the thermocline, to prey upon a concentration of baitfish.

This usually occurs during the dog days when the air temperature is consistently high, wind is non-existent and the upper and lower layer of water squeeze the middle section into a concentrated band that makes it easier to target fish.

This year’s season started late in the spring and although we’ve had a stretch of warm air temperatures, the middle layer of water isn’t getting “squeezed” like normal.

This means that predator species like walleye, northern pike and walleye are spread out in various areas of the lake. In essence, you could feasibly catch walleye in very shallow water, 8 feet or so, or in 35 feet of water. The acceptable water temperature and oxygen levels to accommodate walleye throughout the lake offer numerous areas where walleye can thrive.

With these conditions, each day can be drastically different. Walleye will still school, but the pattern you discover one day can be dry the next.

Last week I had a pair of clients on the water fishing for walleye. But no matter what we did, the walleye didn’t want to cooperate. I finally turned to the married couple and asked, “Are you two ready to have some fun?”

We switched up the approach and abandoned walleye. At 2 p.m. we decided to fish for crappie, a species that many people believe only bite before dark. After landing numerous crappies, including one of the largest I’ve ever seen and more importantly, constant bites, we figured the choice to switch was a wise one.