Area lakes slightly behind average ice-out dates
The 2011 ice fishing season is over. The ice on the lakes is turning grey and beginning to rot, with the ice pulling away from the shoreline on most lakes.
Anglers are in a holding pattern, waiting for the ice to go out. Once the lakes are ice free, anglers can immediately begin to fish for perch, crappies and sunfish while they wait for the walleye opener on May 14.
The average ice-out date for Lake Bemidji is April 26. On Lake of the Woods the date is April 29 while Leech Lake's average ice-out date is April 27, Lake Winnibigoshish's is April 24 and Lake Minnetonka's average ice-out occurs on April 13.
A good indicator for Lake Bemidji is to watch when the ice goes out on Lake Minnetonka in the Twin Cities, which is not ice-free yet. That would put the ice out date for Lake Bemidji a few days past the average ice-out date.
Anglers have a short window of opportunity to fish for pre-spawn perch right after the ice goes out on the lakes. Perch spawn when water temperatures are in the low 40s, so they begin spawning almost as soon as the lakes are open.
Male perch move into the shallows before the females where they feed while they wait for the female perch to arrive.
Perch lay their eggs in strands in old reed beds or on any other old standing weeds. Female perch move in at the last minute when they are ready to spawn. The female perch spawn fast and retreat almost immediately back into deep water to recover after they finish spawning.
Male perch can be in the shallows for more than a week to accommodate the spawning females, which usually come into the shallows in waves.
Since perch spawn in weeds, the most effective presentation for pre-spawn perch is usually a bobber rig with a jig and minnow. Anglers can toss the bobber rig into gaps and holes in the weeds. Scented plastics and hair jigs will also work in some situations.
Crappies and sunfish will usually wait until the water temperatures rise into the upper 40s before moving into the shallows to feed.
Anglers can often find crappies and sunfish schooled along the breakline adjacent to the shallow bays and shorelines they will move into when the water warms.
Anglers have some time to go through their tackle and get their boats ready while they wait for open water.
There are a few things anglers should do before using their boat for the first time this spring. Charging the batteries is one of the essential tasks. Anglers should also check the wiring and electrical connections for the live well, bilge pump and electronics before taking the boat to the water.
The lower unit grease should be changed on all outboard motors. If there is water in the lower unit grease, it can mean damaged seals or a bad water pump.
Tires, bearing grease and lights on boat trailers need to be checked. Anglers should also remove the propeller on outboard motors and trolling motors to check for fishing line wrapped around the drive shaft.
Anglers should change the fishing line on all of their reels to be sure the line is fresh and free of twists. Anglers have many choices for types of line, depending upon what type of fishing they plan to do.
Monofilament line is inexpensive and should be changed often. Jig anglers should use four to eight-pound test. Live-bait riggers can use six to eight-pound test while crankbait rods can be spooled with eight to 12-pound test line.
Pure fluorocarbon line is expensive and works great for leader material but it is not meant for filling reels. Fluorocarbon line works best in clear water when low visibility is a key factor.
Premium monofilament lines are often coated with fluorocarbon, which makes them perform better and last longer than uncoated monofilament line.
Braided lines or "super braids" usually work best for artificial lures. Braided line works deeper than monofilament, has no stretch and gives walleye, bass, northern pike and muskie anglers better feel and more control of their lures.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.