It has been another good week of ice fishing in the Bemidji area. Unseasonably warm temperatures and good ice conditions are allowing anglers to spread out and go just about anywhere they want on the lakes, as long as there isn't an ice heave or current area in their way.
February is a transition month between the mid-winter blues of January and the hot late ice fishing in March. When the transition occurs depends on the weather and when the cold temperatures of January give way to the warmer temperatures of March.
Fishing typically stays slow in February until the temperatures begin to rise and some of the snow begins to melt off the lakes. Each time there is a measurable snow, it sets the fishing back until the snow starts melting again.
Fishing typically improves after the coldest part of the winter is over and the lakes come out of the deep freeze and begin to melt during the day and refreeze again at night.
The ideal conditions may already be in place for fishing to improve early this year, especially if it stays warm without having significant amounts of additional snow.
One of the disadvantages of the good ice conditions is the number of stationary fish houses on the lakes this winter.
The boom in popularity of the wheeled fish houses has taken the stationary fish house to a new level in portability. The wheeled houses are easy to move and can be pulled from spot to spot with a four-wheel drive vehicle, especially this year with the lack of snow cover on the lakes.
Many anglers fish for walleyes until the gamefish season ends, or at least until the walleye fishing slows, and anglers begin to switch species to crappies, sunfish or perch.
It is usually easier to find spots without much angling pressure for panfish because they tend to be on flats or in more general locations where there isn't a specific "spot on the spot" where the fish are most likely to be when active.
The best locations to put a fish house for walleyes are often on "contact points" or specific spots on structure where the walleyes are likely to be when they get active.
Walleye anglers often put their fish houses on the tips of points, the crown of small humps or on specific features of larger structures that lead most directly to deep water or have rocks or some other feature that makes them unique.
Anglers don't usually expect walleyes to bite all day long when they put their stationary fish houses on a spot. Most anglers are willing to wait for prime time, as long as the fish move through the area in the mornings and evenings or after dark.
Locations for panfish are often harder to pinpoint so a run-and-gun approach with anglers drilling more holes and moving more frequently to try and find a hot hole may work better.
February is also the month when many anglers head for Canada to do some ice fishing. The lakes in Canada are usually deeper and larger than lakes in Minnesota and have less organized roads or trails for anglers to utilize.
Ice conditions in Canada can also be very unpredictable with current areas, ice heaves and slush often major issues for anglers. Snowmobiles are the preferred mode of travel on lakes in Canada, with anglers often traveling many miles over the ice to reach their destinations.
Lake trout are a popular species during the winter in Canada. Lake trout live in lakes that are less fertile and deeper than the lakes around Bemidji, which means food is more limited and fish are more likely to be actively feeding for longer periods of the day.
Lake trout are also unique in their ability to change depths quickly without getting the bends. They can burp up the air in their air bladder and come racing up out of very deep water to hit a bait right under the ice, so anglers have to fish the entire water column when fishing for lake trout.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org