Bite improves for most species as warmer weather returns
Lakes in the Bemidji area are covered with enough snow to limit vehicle traffic in many areas, which has impacted the number of anglers on the lakes.
Most anglers driving vehicles on the lakes are staying on plowed roads or using established trails to avoid getting stuck. Anglers wanting full access to the lakes should consider using snowmobiles as their main mode of travel.
Cold weather and snow had a negative effect on the bite for most species but the recent return to milder weather has caused the bite to pick up again on most lakes.
Perch anglers have been catching most of their perch in deeper water. Perch in many lakes have been feeding on blood worms, which are the larva stage of midges which look like mosquitoes without stingers. Midges hatch literally by the millions in early summer out of lakes in the Bemidji area.
Many anglers put perch they plan to keep in a bucket with some water to keep them from freezing before they are cleaned. Anglers may notice little red colored worms floating in the bottom of the bucket at the end of the day. Perch and other species caught in deep water often regurgitate what is in their stomach when they are caught and that gives anglers a clue to what they have been eating.
Blood worms and other aquatic insects prefer certain types of bottom because it holds more food. The hard sticky type of mud preferred by most aquatic insects is similar to the rich loam soil on land preferred by night crawlers and angle worms.
Midges aren't the only type of aquatic insects fish like to feed on. There are several different kinds of mayflies, dozens of different types of dragon flies and many other species of aquatic insects that live in the mud in the lakes.
Most aquatic insects have one or two-year life cycles and represent a significant food source for panfish, minnows and even gamefish at some point in their lives. If the fish don't feed directly on the insects, they feed on the other fish feeding on the insects.
Once the snow on the lakes begins to melt and fresh water begins to run into the lakes, the dynamics in the lakes begin to change and more fish begin to move back into the shallows to feed.
Chara is a rootless weed that collects in mats on top of bars and humps and stays green under the ice during the winter. Chara is also called "sand grass" and has a rigid cell structure that holds the clumps of chara together and offers cover to crayfish, insects and minnows when other types of cover are at a minimum under the ice.
Chara has anti-fungal properties that provide a good place for many fish species to lay their eggs. Eelpout are the first species of fish to spawn under the ice in the spring. Eelpout eggs lay on the beds of chara for more than a month while they wait for the ice to go out and the water in the lakes to begin to warm.
Eelpout have very large eggs because they need a lot of food inside the egg to survive under the ice for so long before they hatch. Eelpout eggs are high in nutrition and a favorite food of perch and other fish when they are available, which is another factor that draws perch into the shallows on late.
Anglers also fish for tulibees and whitefish in many of the larger lakes on late ice. Whitefish have a distinctive overbite and are good either smoked or cooked on top of the stove like other fish. Tulibees have jaws that line up with each other when their mouth is closed. Tulibees have a distinctive smell and most anglers either have them smoked or release them, rather than cooking and eating them like other species of fish.
Crappie fishing has also been hot, with crappies usually suspending three to eight feet off the bottom over 20 to 35 feet of water.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at email@example.com