January is the coldest month of the year on average, so many people will be glad to see February arrive on Sunday.
Most lakes in the Bemidji area are covered with more than a foot of snow and at least 20 inches of ice. The ice on Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods is getting thick enough where anglers are starting to use extensions on their ice augers.
Most of the fishing pressure has been on the larger lakes, with anglers using the roads plowed by the resorts. Anglers in four-wheel drive vehicles are still having trouble traveling off of the roads in most areas.
Upper Red Lake continues to be the best bet for anglers wanting to catch walleyes. The walleyes in Upper Red are able to feed just about anywhere in the lake because of the shallow water and lack of structure in the lake.
Many anglers use bright colored or glow jigs in Upper Red Lake to help the fish located their bait in the stained water. An effective approach used my many anglers is to fish one line with a jigging spoon or a jigging minnow for the most active fish and then use a second line with a bobber rig and a lively minnow to catch the less aggressive fish.
Walleyes in larger lakes will begin to position themselves in the sections of the lake closest to their spawning sites.
If anglers mentally break down the lakes into smaller sections, they can key on the structures closest to where the walleyes will spawn in the spring.
Walleyes in sections of the lake farthest from the spawning sites will begin to leave these areas and work their way closer to where they plan to spawn.
The classic example of walleyes positioning closer to the spawning areas is on Lake of the Woods. Pine Island blocks the Rainy River where it enters Lake of the Woods, so walleyes entering the Rainy River either have to swim around the shallow end near Morris Point or the deep end near the Gap.
Similar walleye migrations occur in Leech Lake, Cass Lake and Winnibigoshish late in the winter, with the moves usually triggered by a break in the weather.
Walleyes living in smaller lakes have no reason to migrate unless they living in a chain of lakes, where walleyes often move between lakes to reach their preferred spawning sites.
Anglers can expect walleyes to increase in numbers on structures close to the spawning sites and drop in numbers on the structures furthest from spawning areas.
The process happens over time, with walleyes filtering into the areas closest to the spawning sites gradually as the winter progresses.
Walleyes may be using mid-lake structure or they may use shoreline structure, depending on what is available to them in the lake.
Walleye anglers have been catching walleyes in most areas of Upper Red Lake, but the best crappie action has been on the north end of the lake, several miles from shore.
The walleyes in Upper Red Lake can bite at any time of day because of the stained water, but the best action is usually in the mornings and evenings, during low light conditions.
Winnibigoshish has been good for walleyes, but most anglers have been sticking close to the roads. The ice on Lake Winnibigoshish is still poor off road, with some anglers on snowmobiles having trouble with the rough ice and slush.
Anglers are beginning to fish some of the smaller lakes in the area for crappies and sunfish. Anglers can usually tell which lakes are being fished by the trails on the ice.
Most of the sunfish have been located on the mid-depth mud flats less than 30 feet deep. Many anglers are using small jigs with heavier heads tipped with wax worms or eurolarve for sunfish.
Crappies in most lakes have been suspending well off the bottom on the edges of the deeper holes. Sonar is a big advantage when fishing suspended crappies so anglers can put their baits at or above eye level for the crappies.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.