All of the lakes in the Bemidji area are now covered with ice. Lake Bemidji and several other large, deep lakes froze over on Sunday night, which unofficially ties the latest ice-over date for Lake Bemidji in the last 30 years.
Low overnight temperatures this past week have been good for making ice. Anglers need to be aware that strong winds can buckle the ice on large open lakes like Upper Red, Winnibigoshish, Leech, Mille Lacs and Lake of the Woods.
Strong wind makes the ice swell and form waves under the ice. The swells eventually hit the shoreline drop-off or mid-lake shallows which can cause the ice to heave. The ice can also separate and form cracks when the wind is strong enough to make the ice sheet move.
The critical period for ice formation is early in the season. The lakes need to put in a good base of black ice before significant amounts of snow falls or slush can become a problem for much of the winter.
Many local anglers will be making their first trip on the ice this weekend, which can be much like the first trip of the year in a boat. There are many things that can go wrong until anglers are able to establish a routine and make the transition from open water to ice fishing.
Gas augers need to be tested, portable houses need to be set up to look for holes, sonar and GPS batteries need to be fully charged and new line should be put on all ice fishing reels.
Anglers using hand augers may want to check their blades to be sure they are tight and sharp. New blades on a hand auger can make a huge difference. Nobody wants to drill holes by hand with a dull auger.
Anglers only need to fill their ice fishing reels two-thirds full for most species in the winter. Panfish anglers can use 2, 3, or 4 pound test fluorocarbon line to help their small lures and ice jigs sink faster.
Fluorocarbon line sinks, while monofilament line is much more buoyant. Sink rates of the line can make a big difference when using tiny lures but only minimal difference when using heavier lures.
Anglers can also use braided line for ice fishing, with most anglers using a fluorocarbon or monofilament leader, especially in clear water or for line-sensitive species.
One of the new trends in ice fishing lures is to make them of tungsten instead of lead. Tungsten is heavier than lead so tungsten lures sink faster and can be made in smaller sizes for finesse presentations.
Scented micro-plastics should also be hot this winter, especially when used with the smaller tungsten jigs. Finesse anglers can have great success with plastics for panfish and provide another option to live bait.
Wax worms and eurolarve are also essential baits for most serious ice anglers and can be carried in pockets in hard plastic containers.
Another trend for panfish anglers is to use tiny jigging spoons, with many companies making several different styles, colors and shapes.
Jigging minnows are also available in at least three different styles - the slender pencil shaped minnows, the shad style minnows and the rattle baits that look like a small crankbait without the lip where the line is tied to the back of the lure instead of the nose.
Every angler should have a set of ice picks early in the season to pull themselves out of the water in an emergency. Ice cleats are also a good idea so anglers have some traction on their boots to help avoid a nasty fall.
Anglers should check the ice thickness frequently when headed on the ice for the first time and stick to established trails whenever possible. Most shallow lakes have between five and seven inches of ice but many deep lakes, including Lake Bemidji, have only been frozen for a few days.
Winter lasts a long time in the Bemidji area so there will be plenty of time for ice fishing. Anglers should be safe and take extra precautions on early ice.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.