Arctic cold weather no blast for anglers
Global warming was not a topic on most people's minds in January, at least not in the Bemidji area.
Winter is one day longer this year due to leap year, so there will be 29 days to go ice fishing in February.
The days are getting longer by about three minutes per day, with 9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight today in the Bemidji area.
An arctic blast roared through Minnesota this past week, which took much of the fun out of ice fishing for most anglers.
The cold is tough enough to deal with on the ice, but when you add strong winds to the equation, the combination is potentially lethal for anglers trying to go ice fishing.
The extended forecast predicts more normal temperatures for this week, with the average highs in the upper teens and lows in the single digits below zero.
Most species of fish will slowly increase their feeding activities as the winter progresses.
There can be shifts in fish locations late in the winter, as fish relate to oxygen levels and sunlight levels in the lakes.
Seasonal movements of fish can begin in February in some large lakes and chains of lakes, with fish staging closer to the areas where they will spawn in the spring.
The classic example of a walleye staging area is around Pine Island in Lake of the Woods, where Pine Island blocks the mouth of the Rainy River.
Walleyes from Lake of the Woods that want to spawn in the Rainy River must go around Pine Island on one end or the other.
Walleyes going around the west side of Pine Island must go past Morris Point and travel through many miles of shallow water filled with old tree stumps to access the Rainy River.
Walleyes going around the east side of Pine Island have to go through "the Gap," which is a narrow corridor on the Canadian border that has the deepest water and the most direct route for fish entering the Rainy River.
Anglers fish around Pine Island early in the winter to catch the walleyes leaving the Rainy River after following the emerald shiner run into the river in the fall.
Late in the winter, the Pine Island area gets active again as new walleyes from all over Lake of the Woods begin to stage up near the mouth of the Rainy River.
Most large lakes and chains of lakes have similar migrations of fish under the ice, with fish wanting to be in position to make their annual spawning migrations.
Fish living in smaller isolated lakes don't have to migrate long distances to access spawning areas, so they usually stay in their normal winter patterns longer.
Fishing reports from around the Bemidji area have been limited recently because of the cold weather. Ice conditions have improved significantly in the cold, so anglers just need some warmer weather to spread out and find new areas to fish.
Panfish will get more popular with many anglers after the gamefish season ends. There are a growing number of anglers who target panfish all winter and they have been enjoying some good action for sunfish, crappies and perch.
Most of the crappies are using the edge of the basin over soft bottom, where zooplankton is most plentiful. Crappies can be suspended well off the bottom, with anglers using sonar having a distinct advantage.
The bands of zooplankton are visible on sonar and will appear as green lines on most three color units. Anglers can position their baits at or above the heaviest concentrations of zooplankton and wait for the crappies to come through during low-light periods.
Sunfish in most lakes are either on the deep weed edge or mixed in with the crappies on the edge of the basin.
The schools of perch are usually located on flats near the breakline. Perch on the shallow flats are feeding on minnows and crayfish, while the perch on the deep mud flats are feeding on blood worms and mayfly larvae.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.