Two nights in a row with temperatures close to zero earlier this week helped add more ice to the lakes but temperatures rebounded quickly later in the week, just in time for another weekend with above average temperatures.
The average daily high temperatures in the Bemidji area for early January are around 16 degrees and the average lows are around -2 degrees.
Instead of suffering through the coldest part of the winter, Bemidji area residents were treated to near-record high temperatures again this week.
Many anglers were headed north to Upper Red Lake over the New Year's weekend. There were literally thousands of anglers lining almost the entire south and east shores of Upper Red Lake, with more anglers in the basin further from shore.
Upper Red Lake has at least 16 inches of good ice in most areas, so it is one of the few lakes in Minnesota with enough ice for vehicle travel.
The walleye bite in Upper Red Lake has been good all winter. The combination of good ice and a good walleye bite has anglers coming from long distances to fish walleyes.
Most anglers on Upper Red Lake have been fishing along the shoreline break in nine to 11 feet of water. There have also been a few anglers fishing out on the flats or on the rock hump near the reservation boundary line.
Many anglers have been using small jigging spoons with half a minnow for walleyes. Most anglers have been using fatheads, emerald shiners or rainbow chubs with similar results.
The best colors for jigs and spoons in the stained water of URL have been anything that glows red, green or metallic gold. Glow colors help the walleyes see the bait from greater distances.
Walleyes in Upper Red Lake have been pretty hungry so anglers need to find a spot holding fish and figure out what they need to do to trigger the fish to bite.
The protected slot limit for walleyes on URL is 17 to 26 inches. There is a four-walleye possession limit, with one walleye longer than 26 inches allowed per limit.
Anglers are also reminded of the special regulations for northern pike on Upper Red Lake, which is one of the premier trophy pike lakes in Minnesota. Anglers are allowed to keep three pike, but all pike between 26 and 44 inches must be released. Only one pike longer than 44 inches is allowed in a limit.
Very few crappies are being caught in Upper Red Lake. The fish from the huge age class of 1995 are all but gone from the lake. Most crappies get caught or die of old age before they reach 12 years old so only a few crappies remain from the 1995 age class.
Upper Red Lake was never able to put in another strong age class of crappies before the 1995 age class of crappies moved through their life-cycle. Now the possibility of another huge age class of crappies is virtually gone, with walleyes re-claiming most of the available biomass in URL.
A few resorts on Lake Winnibigoshish have also started to allow anglers to drive vehicles onto the ice, with around 15 inches of good ice in most areas.
Anglers have been catching walleyes on the humps and larger mid-lake bars in 18 to 26 feet of water. The best walleye bite has been in the mornings and evenings, with some perch action in similar depths during the day.
Anglers have been fishing the shallow bays of Leech Lake for perch and walleyes, with good action on both the weed edges and on the rocks. Walker Bay of Leech Lake still has thin ice so most anglers have been using ATVs or snowmobiles to access the deep humps.
The lack of snow on the lakes can be a mixed blessing for the same reason. The good news is anglers will be able to access all of the lakes. The bad news is anglers will be able to access all of the lakes, so fish populations are fully exposed at a time when most of the panfish are concentrated into a few key areas where they are vulnerable to over harvest.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.