Cold temperatures will create better ice conditions
The hammer had to drop eventually, after all, this is January and this is Minnesota. The weather had to turn cold at some point and it looks like the time has arrived.
The good news is the lakes in the Bemidji area are now making ice. The extended forecast for next week predicts weather more typical of mid-January, so anglers should be able to go just about anywhere they want on the lakes very soon.
Some shallow lakes like Winnibigoshish, Upper Red Lake and the shallow bays of Leech Lake had more than 15 inches of good ice before the cold weather arrived. However, many of the deep lakes in the area like Bemidji, Cass and Walker Bay of Leech Lake still had areas with less than 12 inches of ice because of the warm weather.
Snow insulates the ice so the lack of snow will help the lakes add ice more quickly during the cold weather, especially when temperatures drop below zero.
Most lakes in the Bemidji area should be able to add several inches of ice before next weekend, which will give anglers better access to most lakes.
Anglers use several different strategies when they go ice fishing. The style they use usually depends on how aggressive they want to be when searching for fish.
Some anglers like to keep moving until they find a spot with consistent action, while other anglers are happy to sit and wait for the fish to come to them.
Anglers fishing out of portable fish houses like to stay mobile so they can slide the house from hole to hole or move from spot to spot quickly in an attempt to stay on active fish.
The most hard-core run-and-gun anglers don't even bother with a fish house most of the time. They will use the front door of their truck to fish out of when searching for fish and won't set up a house until they find a school of fish, if they even do it then.
Once anglers locate fish on a specific spot, the advantage starts to shift from the portable fish houses to the stationary or wheeled fish house, at least until the fish move or get caught.
Another problem for run-and-gun anglers is they can't hide their old holes or tracks on the ice so frequently when they try to return to a spot they will find that a stationary fish house has taken up residence on top of their old holes.
With great ice conditions on the way many of the best spots on the lakes are going to be covered by a stationary or wheeled fish house, especially on the most popular lakes.
Many (but not all) anglers try to keep a reasonable distance between themselves and other anglers on the lakes and won't fish too close to a stationary fish house, even if nobody is home. This pushes anglers using portable fish houses to the edges of the groups of houses or to fish by themselves in less pressured locations.
The walleye fishing on Upper Red Lake has slowed in many areas with the noise on the ice and the large groups of houses taking their toll on the fish.
There are large groups of houses in front of most of the access points on Upper Red Lake, with additional houses set up along much of the shoreline breaks between the access points.
It is easy to see the increasing popularity of wheeled houses on the lakes, especially in remote locations like Upper Red Lake, so anglers can spend the nights on the lake.
Most anglers on Upper Red Lake continue to fish on the secondary breakline in nine to 11 feet of water. As the bite slows on the shoreline in URL more anglers will move out into the basin in 12 to 13 feet of water, searching for less pressured fish.
The walleye and sauger bite has also been very good on Lake of the Woods but the ice conditions have been suspect in some locations.
Colder temperatures this week and next week should help firm the ice on all of the lakes and give anglers better access to most areas on the lakes.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.