Ice conditions are improving quickly with the cold temperatures, even with all the snow on the lakes.
All snow is not created equal as far moisture content. The snow that fell in the Bemidji area this past week had less moisture because it was so cold when it snowed.
Light, fluffy snow does not create the same problems on the lakes as heavy wet snow, which falls when temperatures are warmer and closer to the melting point for water.
The ice on most of the lakes is good clear ice, so it was able to support the weight of the latest snowfall without causing slush problems on the ice.
The sub-zero temperatures this past week were cold enough to add ice to the lakes, despite the insulation of the snow. Most lakes in the Bemidji area now have at least 12 inches of ice.
Anglers have started to drive vehicles on Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods, as well as some of the shallower lakes in the Bemidji area. Many resorts are beginning to plow roads on the ice and the ice fishing season could be in full swing by next weekend.
The cold weather has kept many anglers off of the lakes while the lakes have been making ice. The fishing pressure on the lakes should increase significantly once the weather moderates and the lakes are ready for vehicle traffic.
Ice fishing draws a different crowd than open water fishing, although there are a few anglers passionate about both types of fishing.
Fish can be more concentrated in the winter than they are in the summer, when the fish spread out all over the lake.
All species of fish want to be in locations where they can get everything they need to survive in a confined area in the winter. Fish are less likely to make any big movements over short periods of time in the winter.
Fish move more gradually in the winter, with larger fish having to feed less frequently because of their slower metabolism.
Panfish are smaller than walleyes and northern pike, so they have different feeding habits. Walleyes and northern pike can eat larger prey than panfish, so they usually have to feed less often in the winter.
Perch, crappies and sunfish eat smaller prey and have smaller stomachs, so they have to feed more often to keep their stomachs full.
Crappies often eat zooplankton, which they sift out of the water with their gills, much like some of the huge whales that sift krill out of ocean water.
Crappies often wait until low light to feed, because that is when the zooplankton rise out of the mud bottom and concentrate in bands. Anglers can often see the zooplankton rise off of the bottom on their sonar.
Sunfish eat microscopic prey similar to crappies, but they also eat insect larvae out of the mud. Sunfish love bloodworms, which are actually midge larvae. Midges or "fish flies" look like mosquitoes without stingers. They hatch out of the lakes during the summer by the millions.
Sunfish also love eating fresh water shrimp, which are extremely nutritious. Lakes with fresh water shrimp often grow some of the largest panfish. Too many freshwater shrimp in a lake can make fishing more difficult for anglers, because their live bait offerings are not as desirable as their natural forage in the lake.
Perch like insects, but they also like minnows and crayfish, much like their cousins walleyes and sauger. Perch usually like to be on the edge of soft and hard bottom, so they can take advantage of more than one type of habitat.
Once anglers locate an area being used by a specific species of fish in the winter, anglers can often enjoy reasonably good fishing in that area for an extended period of time.
Noise on the ice and fishing pressure through the ice are two things that can move fish out of an area in the winter. If anglers can keep the area to themselves and keep the noise down, the fish may not leave the area until the food runs out.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.