The snow cover on area lakes has slowed down the ice-making process significantly. Even with all of the cold weather this past week, the lakes have only been able to add a couple more inches of ice.
Most lakes in the Bemidji area have between five and eight inches of ice, with about a foot of lightly packed snow on top of the ice.
Those who have been on the lakes ice fishing or live close to a lake may have noticed how quiet the ice has been despite the cold weather.
Lakes usually boom and crack and make a lot of noise when they are making ice, but the snow has insulated the lakes so well the ice isn't freezing fast enough to make much noise.
Large lakes build up more pressure under the ice because of the long expanses of ice, so they are more prone to ice heaves and areas with slush on top of the ice.
Long narrow lakes or lakes with islands also tend to have more slush on the ice because of currents under the ice.
Many lakes only develop problems with slush when anglers start drilling holes in the ice and set out their "permanent" fish houses on the lakes.
Areas with the most fishing pressure will usually have groups of fish houses in close proximity, which adds more weight to the ice and forces more water out of anglers' holes.
Many anglers have started driving ATVs and snowmobiles on the lakes, but the highly variable ice conditions should remain a concern for anyone venturing out on the lakes, especially when breaking new trails.
If anglers insist on going ice fishing, the best advice is to avoid any wet spots on the lakes and don't stop in areas with slush.
The lakes with the most ice in the area are Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods. Some resorts on these two lakes have started to plow roads on the ice and are allowing smaller vehicles to access the lake.
Anglers should call ahead to their point of access to be sure what mode of travel is being advised.
The snow cover on the lakes not only has a significant impact on the ice conditions, but it can also have an impact on fish location.
The snow on the lakes blocks out much of the sunlight that is able to get through the ice.
Sunlight is necessary to start the food chain in the lakes, so there may be a portion of many lakes that is too deep to receive any sunlight.
Lakes with clear water are less impacted than lakes with stained water. Each lake will have a point in the water column where sunlight is no longer able to reach.
This will force many of the fish in the lakes into shallower water than they would normally be using at this point in the season.
Fish can respond to the lowered light levels in several ways.
Fish relating to the bottom will usually move close to the edge where sunlight is able to penetrate and abandon the rest of the lake beyond where sunlight is able to reach.
The depth of the "sunlight" edge in each lake is determined by the clarity of the water, the amount of snow on the ice and the angle of the sun.
Species like walleyes will want to stay just deeper than the light edge when they are at rest and make feeding movements into the light when they get active.
Panfish must also stay close to the edge where sunlight can reach because the plankton in the lakes that starts the food chain needs sunlight to survive.
Some fish may stop relating to the bottom when the snow cover on the lakes gets too heavy and begin to suspend higher in the water column.
Anglers need to determine what depth the sunlight is reaching in the lakes to determine the outer boundary where most of the fish will be located.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.