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Bemidji area lakes avoid winter's first major snowfall

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The Bemidji area avoided the first major snowstorm of the year, with only a couple of inches of new snow falling on the local lakes. While most Minnesotans were digging their way out of the snow anglers were happy to see that lakes in the Bemidji area were busy making ice. The first below-zero temperatures of the season this week added several inches of ice to most lakes, with at least six inches of good ice in most areas. Upper Red Lake has about a foot of ice, with some of the resorts opening up to light vehicle traffic this weekend. Most resorts on Upper Red Lake are asking anglers to pull out their wheeled fish houses with an ATV and limit vehicle size to half ton pickups or smaller vehicles. Many resorts on Lake of the Woods are also opening for business this week, with eight to 12 inches of ice in most areas. Anglers should still call ahead to their planned destinations to make sure the resorts are open and what modes of travel they are allowing on the ice. Many anglers on Upper Red Lake have been having good success for walleyes along the shoreline break in 7 to 9 feet of water. Structure is limited on Upper Red Lake so any depth change, turn in the breakline or area with rocks on the bottom are all potential holding areas for feeding walleyes. Some of the schools of walleyes can be huge on Upper Red Lake and anglers on the right areas can have waves of walleyes passing under their holes much of the day. This also means that if anglers are not catching fish or at least not seeing fish pass through on sonar, they should strongly consider moving to a new area. Some anglers keep punching new holes until they make contact with a keeper-size fish. This will be easier once anglers can drive vehicles on the ice. Some anglers fish out of their car doors until they find some active fish. The good news for anglers hesitant to make the long drive to Upper Red Lake is that harvest levels for walleyes have been less than they need to be for management purposes. As a result DNR officials have set a four-walleye limit with a protected slot limit of 20 to 26 inches and one fish over 26 allowed in a daily limit. This is a change from previous seasons, when the slot limit on URL reverted to 17 to 26 inches on Dec. 1. This will allow anglers to keep larger walleyes this winter, or at least not have to sort through as many fish before they are able to fill their limit of walleyes. Some anglers like to fish as many lines as they are allowed while others think that if they fish one line well using sonar they will be able to catch as many or more fish than they would if they were working two lines. Sometimes it can be revealing to see if the fish prefer an aggressive jigging approach or the dead stick with a lively minnow. When the bite is slow, two lines make more sense than when the fish are biting aggressively. It is usually more efficient to fish one line in the water when the bite is on because anglers can waste too much time trying to maintain two lines. Tip-ups are another option for anglers to consider but anglers may be spooking the fish when they run back and forth to a tip-up, especially in shallow water. Anglers can avoid some of the noise by slowly sneaking their way to the tip-up when it trips the flag. Using larger minnows may help discourage smaller fish from biting and reduce the number of accidentally tripped flags or dropped baits. Anglers should still avoid most of the deep lakes like Bemidji, Cass and Walker Bay for a little while longer and concentrate their efforts on lakes that have had more time to freeze. There can be a huge difference in ice thickness on many lakes with the shoreline having much more ice than there is in the middle of the lake, so caution is still advised on the ice. PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at panelson@paulbunyan.net

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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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