Now that the rifle deer season is over the wait begins for the lakes to freeze so the ice fishing season can get underway.
A few of the smaller lakes in the Bemidji area have frozen over but warmer weather this past week melted much of the snow and slowed the process of making ice on the lakes.
There is not any safe ice yet in the Bemidji area, even though there have been a few anglers already out on some of the shallow lakes. Anglers are encouraged to wait for more cold weather before going out on the ice.
Many of the deep lakes in the area still have open water, although many accesses have ice in front that prevents anglers from launching a boat. Many boat ramps are also covered with snow, which can make launching and loading a boat more difficult.
There were a still a few anglers on Lake Bemidji and a few other deep lakes this past week, with the vast majority of the anglers fishing for muskies.
Anglers on Lake Bemidji were using the Northwoods access on the northwest corner of the lake where there is still open water in front of the access.
Most anglers troll for muskies late in the season because casting gets anglers hands wet, which causes frozen fingers in a short period of time.
Muskies are usually at their peak weights late in the year, which is why some anglers can't resist fishing so late in the season, hoping for a trophy fish.
Fishing open water when temperatures are below freezing can cause problems for equipment and gear, too. Rod guides and drags on reels can freeze and get packed with ice.
Outboard motors need to be warmed up for several minutes or more before going above trolling speed, with anglers having to be sure the water spout stays unplugged and constantly streams water.
Bilge pumps and live wells tend to freeze and can be useless in sub-freezing temperatures. Anglers also are dealing with potentially lethal water temperatures if someone were to fall into the lake or get stranded or have a break down on the water.
Anglers should wear their life jackets at all times late in the season. Water temperatures are cold enough to give anglers hypothermia in only a few minutes and that is if you survive the initial plunge into the water.
The good news is muskies can be concentrated in specific locations, which are usually near the tulibee and whitefish spawning areas.
Tulibees and whitefish spawn in current areas or anywhere there are shallow rocks or gravel on windswept shores or shallow mid-lake structures.
Most muskie anglers troll large crankbaits late in the season. The most productive lures are usually silver or gold patterns that imitate tulibees.
This is probably the last weekend of the season that anglers will be able to get a boat in the water in some locations. Anglers may want to take advantage of the mild weather and take one last trip on the lakes over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Once the ice fishing season gets underway, some of the first lakes in the area to freeze usually include lakes like Irving, Midge, Three Island, Gull, Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods.
Anglers are reminded to take precautions when setting out on early ice. The ice should be tested with a chisel or by drilling a hole every few yards, to be sure there is at least four inches of good ice.
Safety items anglers can use include ice cleats that fit over boots for traction on the ice. A set of ice picks should be handy at all times, so anglers can pull themselves out of the water. A rope with a boat cushion can be used to throw to another angler in an emergency. It is also a good idea to wear a life jacket and travel with a friend when going out on early ice.
Hopefully there will be enough ice in some locations in the Bemidji by next weekend for anglers to get out on the ice.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.