Anglers continue wait for improved ice conditions
The Bemidji area is still looking more brown than white, with Christmas a little more than one week away.
The ice conditions continue to slowly improve but the ice thickness varies greatly among the lakes, depending on how long each lake has been frozen.
The late freeze-up caused many lakes to freeze in sections, with the ice often thicker near shore than it is over deep water in the middle of the lakes.
The lack of snow on the lakes has helped create good strong ice but temperatures have been too warm to make ice quickly, with some melting and re-freezing on the lakes this past week.
Strong winds can also have a negative effect on the ice conditions, with ice heaves and cracks forming on the larger lakes when strong winds blow.
A night or two with temperatures near or below zero could help add a couple more inches of ice quickly, which would give anglers better access to more lakes over the holidays.
Until there is some colder weather the ice on the lakes will continue to be suspect and anglers need to constantly assess the ice conditions, even while they are out on the lakes fishing.
There are many stories of anglers going onto the ice in the morning and then having something happen to the ice while they are fishing that separates them from shore. It has already happened three times this year on Upper Red Lake.
Many anglers get a break from school or work between Christmas and New Years Day, which makes the Christmas holiday break one of the busiest times of the year for ice fishing.
Resorts on many of the larger lakes are anxious to get their sleeper houses and other rental houses onto the ice so they don't miss out on any potential revenue over the holidays.
The east half of Upper Red Lake and the south end of Lake of the Woods both have between nine and 11 inches of ice, with lakes closer to Bemidji only having four to eight inches of ice in most areas.
Anglers can call ahead to the resorts where they plan to access the lakes or check on their websites for the most current fishing reports and ice condition updates.
Bait store employees hear all the talk among anglers on their way to the lakes, so they are another good resource for questions about the ice conditions on specific lakes.
Walleye fishing has been good along the shoreline break on Upper Red Lake in six to nine feet of water. Most anglers are having the best action in the mornings and evenings, with the best day bite on cloudy days because of the clear ice.
Upper Red Lake receives heavy fishing pressure early in the season because of the high numbers of walleyes, thicker ice and many good accesses to the lake.
Anglers have been using ATVs and snowmobiles to access Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods but, hopefully, there will be enough ice for vehicles by Christmas.
While there have been anglers on many of the shallow lakes in the Bemidji area, most anglers are avoiding the deep lakes like Bemidji, Cass and Walker Bay of Leech Lake because of the thin ice.
Anglers planning to fish one of the deep lakes need to personally check the ice conditions and stick to the shoreline dropoff until the ice is thicker.
Anglers using ATVs and snowmobiles to access some of the shallow lakes should make sure they have a safe path to their favorite spots before driving on the ice. It takes at least six inches of good ice to support an ATV or snowmobile, so there is little margin for error on most lakes.
A good idea for a stocking stuffer for an avid ice angler is a set of ice picks to help anglers pull themselves out of the ice in an emergency. Another good gift idea is a set of ice cleats that fit over a pair of boots to help anglers avoid a nasty fall on the ice.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.