The new year brought some colder weather to the Bemidji area, which helped add more ice to the lakes.
The average ice thickness varies between lakes, depending on when the particular lake froze, along with several other variables. Most lakes in the Bemidji area now have between 10 and 15 inches of ice.
Anglers have been expanding the number of lakes where they have been driving their vehicles on the ice.
When one person drives a vehicle on a lake and doesn't fall through the ice, others are soon to follow their example.
Few anglers want to walk out on the lake and have to carry all of their stuff if they don't have to do so. Driving is much easier, as long as the ice is safe.
Many anglers wait to go ice fishing until they can drive their vehicles on the ice. They want to be able to move from a heated car to a heated fish house, with as little exposure to the cold as possible.
Once there are trails and roads on the lakes, the ice in those areas will get thicker much more quickly than the ice covered with snow.
Most people will stay close to the roads and trails on the ice and fish where the snow is packed down, so there is less chance of getting stuck.
Anglers venturing away from the crowds and breaking new trails on the lakes are still running into areas with slush. With no visible path for anglers to follow, there is usually no way to tell if there is slush under the snow until it is too late.
The areas with slush will eventually begin to freeze if the weather gets cold enough. When slush freezes, there will be a layer of water sandwiched between two layers of ice until the slush freezes solid.
Anglers can break through the first layer of ice with their vehicles, or even an ATV or snowmobile, and become badly stuck in the ice.
Most avid ice anglers have memories of getting stuck in slush at least once in their lives and many are veterans of the process and routinely get stuck a dozen or more times during the winter.
Anglers can work in pairs with two four-wheel drive vehicles to open up new areas on the lakes, so they can pull each other out with a tow strap when one vehicle gets stuck.
Snowmobiles are still the best way to access most remote areas on the lakes. The good news is anglers with all of the equipment have the chance to get away from the crowd and go where most anglers are not able to follow.
Most of the larger lakes are getting fished around the edges, but anglers haven't been able to access much of the mid-lake structure yet, due to ice conditions.
The ice thickness is getting to the point where anglers are going to be expanding where they are fishing, so there will be new areas getting opened up by anglers as the ice conditions improve.
Reports have been good for walleye and sauger on Lake of the Woods. Most anglers are catching fish during the day in 28-30 feet of water. The stained water in LOW often makes bright colored jigs work best, because they help active fish target their bait.
Gold, orange and various glow baits are more visible to fish in stained water, which can help anglers get more bites.
Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods have similar water color, but the water is much shallower in Upper Red Lake, so visibility is better at the depth of the fish.
There can be is more of a night bite on Upper Red Lake because of the shallow water, but the night bite on Lake of the Woods is much more limited.
Winnibigoshish, Leech, Bemidji, Blackduck, Plantagenet, Irving and Cass Lake have all been producing walleyes and perch for anglers. Many of the smaller lakes in the Bemidji area have been producing crappies and sunfish.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.