January is usually the coldest month of the year in the Bemidji area. This past week was cold and next week may even be colder if the extended forecast is correct.
The expectations for next week include a stretch of days when the high temperatures will struggle to rise above zero and the overnight lows could be as cold as -30, with even colder wind chills.
The ice on the area lakes is generally in very good shape, with most lakes having at least 15 inches of good ice. The number of ice heaves on the lakes also seems to be down this year and anglers have enjoyed good access to most lakes.
The lack of snow on the lakes is allowing anglers to use four-wheel drive vehicles in many areas. Anyone driving on the ice, however, still needs to know something about the lake to avoid areas with current or spring activity under the ice.
Fishing has slowed during the cold weather, in part due to the difficulties anglers have changing locations and staying active in the cold weather.
The natural tendency of many anglers is to set their house on a good location and get the heater going as fast as they can so they can get inside and get warm while they wait for the fish to come to them.
Many species of fish are using deep water at this point of the season. The usual mid-winter pattern is for fish to begin suspending further from the bottom or moving shallower as they react to the dwindling amount of sunlight that is able to penetrate though the ice and snow covering the lakes.
If the snow cover on the lakes remains minimal, the fish may not need to suspend as far off the bottom and may stay in deep water longer this winter.
Access to deep water is still a key to fish location during the winter. Most fish tend to be located in areas that have everything they need in close proximity so they don’t have to make long moves between their feeding areas and their resting areas.
Deep water can be a relative term to the fish. What is considered deep in one lake may not be considered deep in another lake.
Upper Red Lake is the perfect example, with water deeper than 14 feet nearly impossible to find. Access to deep water in Upper Red Lake usually means 12 to 14 feet.
Some of the shallow bays in Leech Lake aren’t much deeper than 20 feet, while Walker Bay of Leech Lake has water deeper than 100 feet.
Deep water in many lakes provides most of the food in the winter, with the mud basin full of insect larvae.
Insect larvae are the primary food source for many young-of-the-year fish in the lakes and also many larger fish so the food chain starts in deep water during the winter.
Edges between bottom types provide a wider selection of food choices so many predator species like to feed along the edge where hard bottom turns to mud. That way they can feed on insects and smaller minnows in the mud and larger minnows and crayfish on the harder bottom.
Fish are cold blooded so they don’t need as much food in the winter to sustain their bodies. Even with limited feeding they can add fat and provide the nutrition they need to continue gestation as they head towards spring.
Most fish anglers are catching have been fat and healthy, with stomachs full of food when they get caught. Anglers have been catching walleyes along steep breaks with direct access to deep water.
Crappie anglers have been finding fish on the edges of the basin, suspended several feet off the bottom where they can feed on zooplankton and minnows.
Sunfish have been on moderate depth mud flats or on the deep edges of standing weeds.
Perch have been on the edges of the basin near structure where they can feed on insect larvae and small minnows, or on the weed flats where they can feed on larger minnows and crayfish.