Area lakes continue to make ice as winter lingers
March has arrived and there should be signs of spring everywhere but it still feels like winter in the Bemidji area.
Instead of melting snow and deteriorating ice conditions like there should be at this time of year, the lakes have been making more ice.
The ice conditions on the lakes in the Bemidji area are probably better right now than they have been most of the winter.
There is very little slush left on the lakes for anglers to worry about. Many lakes still have a layer of hard-packed snow on top of the ice which is making travel on many lakes extremely bumpy as anglers break through the crusty layer of snow.
Lakes in the Bemidji area have more snow than lakes to the east and south. Many lakes near Grand Rapids and Brainerd are almost clear of snow, while lakes closer to Bemidji may still have up to a foot of snow on the ice.
Lakes in the metro area and further south have even more snow left over from the last snow storm that missed most of northern Minnesota.
The extended period of cold weather in the Bemidji area has both fish and anglers in a holding pattern, waiting for the conditions to improve.
March is usually the best month of the winter for panfish. Part of the reason is anglers focus most of their attention on panfish with the season closed for walleyes and northern pike on the inland waters of Minnesota.
The biggest reason for the March panfish bonanza is that crappies, sunfish and perch go on a feeding binge on late ice as the lakes go through the melting process.
The melting snow and ice runs into the lakes along the shoreline and into cracks in the ice and fishing holes created by anglers. The melting snow can accumulate on top of the ice and can actually drain into the lake so fast whirlpools are created.
The rush of fresh water running into the lakes rejuvenates the shallows, causing many species of fish to return to shallow water for a spring feeding binge. The hot bite usually continues right up until the ice is no longer safe for anglers to access the lakes.
Walleyes and northern pike are also more active late in the ice fishing season so some anglers travel to Lake of the Woods or other border lakes or into Canada or North Dakota to fish lakes with extended seasons on gamefish.
Perch feed in both shallow and deep water, depending on where most of the food is located. There will usually be schools of perch feeding in both shallow and deep water at the same time during most of the year.
The percentages may change many times during the year as perch move between deep and shallow water, depending on where the most food is located.
Perch like to feed on edges between different bottom types. Most lakes in the Bemidji area have a mixture of sand, rock, clay, mud and muck bottom.
Perch feeding in deep water are usually feeding on insect larvae and baitfish. Hard mud bottom, sometimes called "sticky mud", is much like good rich soil in a garden. It holds most of the insects because it has the most organic matter, which is what the insect larvae are eating.
When the perch move shallow they often look for areas with rocks or sand flats covered with chara and patches of broken cabbage weeds.
Fish location usually depends on what type of habitat is available to the fish and where most of the food is located. The fish are constantly searching for the areas with the most food, which can be changing constantly in the lakes.
Most of the perch are holding on the edges of the shallow flats waiting for the melting to continue before moving into the shallows in large numbers.
Fish won't stay in one area for long periods of time unless there is enough food to hold them. Establishing fishing patterns usually means figuring out what the fish are eating and then finding the areas that are holding most of the food.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.