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Bemidji area anglers make switch to perch, panfish

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The end of the walleye season does not mean ice fishing is over for the year. It just means anglers will need to switch gears and fish for panfish or one of the other species that have continuous open seasons in Minnesota.

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March is actually one of the best months for ice fishing. The ice conditions are the freatest obstacle facing anglers as they try to extend the ice fishing season.

Most of the lakes in the Bemidji area are covered with about 20 inches of snow, with deeper drifts. The surface of the ice is covered with water in many areas so travel on the lakes is limited to plowed roads or to anglers with snowmobiles or other tracked vehicles.

It’s hard to imagine a realistic scenario where the lakes could melt at a slow enough pace to get rid of the snow without ruining the ice. It would take a very gradual melt followed by an extended hard freeze to put the surface of the ice back in good shape for ice fishing.

Anglers have the option of heading north to Lake of the Woods to fish walleyes, sauger and northern pike during the extended season on the border lakes between Minnesota and Canada.

Fishing on Lake of the Woods has been good for both walleyes and sauger along most of the south shore. The best walleye action has been in the evenings in 18 to 24 feet along the shoreline break or on the sides of structure.

Anglers have also been catching suspended walleyes over deeper water during the day while fishing for sauger. The best sauger action has been in 28 to 32 feet of water.

The stained water in Lake of the Woods usually means lures that glow and make some noise will work better than noiseless lures in neutral colors when the fish are in an aggressive mood.

Sauger feed on insects for a good portion of their diet. If the sauger won’t take a jigging lure, anglers can try a panfish sized jig tipped with a scented plastic and eurolarvae or wax worm.

Many species of insect larvae live in the mud basin of the lakes. Some of the insect species include blood worms, several types of mayfly larvae and many different varieties of dragon flies.

All mud is not created equal as far as its ability to hold huge numbers of insect larvae. The hard, sticky mud with some firmness is usually better than the soft mucky bottom with little firmness.

Perch fishing has been good on many of the larger lakes in the Bemidji area. Perch may be using both deep and shallow flats, depending on where the most food is located.

Some lakes have a better shallow bite for perch because there are more crayfish and minnows to feed on, while other lakes have a better deep bite because the insects in the basin offer the best feeding opportunities for the perch.

Most of the remaining green weeds in the lakes have been dying off because the heavy snow cover blocks much of the sunlight entering the lake. This means most of the fish will leave the standing weeds until the snow melts and allows more sun and fresh water to enter the lakes.

Most of the crappies and sunfish continue to use deeper water but many of the fish have been suspending further off the bottom in an attempt to stay in the portion of the lake where sunlight is able to penetrate.

Electronics are critically important when anglers are fishing for suspended fish because they enable fishermen to know what level to put their bait. Crappies and sunfish have eyes on the sides of their heads so they see things at or above eye level better than things below them in the water column.

Eelpout are getting ready to spawn under the ice. Eelpout are aggressive feeders and very vulnerable to anglers when they move shallow to spawn.

Eelpout like to feed at night and use all of their senses to find their prey. Anglers should use larger jigging spoons tipped with half a minnow and pound them into the bottom to help the eelpout locate the bait.

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Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.
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