Area anglers finally have access to all lake locations
The bitter cold weather normally associated with winter in northern Minnesota waited until the third week of January before arriving this year.
The first extended period of sub-zero temperatures in the Bemidji area quickly added several more inches of ice to the lakes, with most lakes now having between 15 and 20 inches of good ice.
Anglers still have to know where they are going on the lakes and avoid potential hazards like ice heaves, narrows, current areas and islands. With that said, the ice fishing season is finally fully underway in the Bemidji area.
Now that anglers have better access to most lakes, they will be able to expand the number of lakes they are fishing and also spread out and fish mid-lake structure on the larger lakes.
Upper Red Lake had some of the best ice in Minnesota early in the winter, along with a good walleye bite, which made it a destination point for thousands of anglers and created a significant amount of fishing pressure early in the season.
Now that the local lakes have more ice and the walleye bite is slowing on Upper Red Lake, the fishing pressure should ease on URL and begin to increase on the other lakes.
Lake of the Woods and Mille Lacs are also destination lakes for walleyes in Minnesota but both lakes had poor ice conditions early in the season. The ice conditions on both lakes should be improving quickly with the cold temperatures, which should also ease some of the fishing pressure on Upper Red Lake.
The normal pattern for mid-January is for fishing to begin to slow down everywhere because of cold temperatures and deep snow on the lakes.
The early bite stayed good much longer this winter because of the lack of snow on the lakes and the abnormally warm temperatures. This allowed more sunlight to penetrate the ice, which kept more weeds green and improved oxygen levels in the lakes.
The unusual ice conditions this year also had an impact on fishing patterns, which changed typical fish locations in many lakes this winter.
The number one rule in fish location is "find the food, find the fish", and that is especially true in the winter.
Fish are cold blooded and during the cold water period they are much less likely to make long migrations between feeding areas and resting areas. This means fish tend to be more concentrated in the winter and will stay close to their food.
When fish are more concentrated, by definition there will be many areas in the lakes with only a few fish and other areas that are loaded with fish. Each lake is different but patterns on one lake often apply to other lakes under similar circumstances.
There are many patterns for anglers to figure out during the winter so a process of eliminating water is usually a good approach when searching for fish.
Rocks may be the key structure for walleyes in some lakes while other lakes may have more walleyes on the edge of the basin, feeding on smaller fish that are eating insects out of the mud.
Other lakes may still have green weeds so there are more fish are using shallow water. Still other lakes may have a large insect population in deep water so there are more fish in deep water.
The normal pattern for mid-winter is for both the shallows and the deep water to start to become stagnant with dropping oxygen levels.
The shallows can become stagnant because of decomposing weeds while deep water can become stagnant because of decomposing algae on the bottom and also from the respiration of fish.
This year the shallows in many lakes still have good oxygen levels because of green weeds and the deep water still has oxygen because the sunlight hasn't been blocked by snow and fewer fish have been using deep water.
The challenge to the anglers is to check both shallow and deep water locations to identify where most of the fish are located and then find similar locations once they have identified a productive pattern.