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Compacting snow, cold temps should help ice conditions

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January is the coldest month of the winter on average, but the first 11 days of this January have been milder than normal.

The days are getting longer by more than one minute per day, with a gain of 48 minutes of sunlight during the month of January.

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The ice conditions in the Bemidji area continue to slowly improve, with between 12 and 16 inches of ice on most lakes.

Some of the snow on the lakes melted this past week when the temperature rose above freezing. Compacted snow loses some of its insulation value, so the slush on many lakes in the Bemidji area should begin to freeze as the temperatures drop below zero at night this coming week.

The best ice conditions in the Bemidji area are on Upper Red Lake. There is at least 16 inches of good ice in most areas and an extensive series of roads plowed on the ice.

The snow pack on Upper Red is compact enough for four-wheel drive trucks with good tires and sufficient clearance to travel off road in many areas if they can get around the ridges from the plow trucks.

The walleye fishing on Upper Red Lake has been very good for most anglers, with many fish under the protected slot limit of 17-28 inches. Most anglers have had no problem getting their two-walleye limit on URL, while throwing back many more walleyes during a day of fishing.

Crappie fishing on Upper Red has been much more difficult than walleye fishing. Anglers concentrating on finding crappies are catching walleyes no matter where they fish. The crappie numbers continue to dwindle on Upper Red Lake, while the walleye numbers continue to increase.

The crappies in Upper Red are getting pushed away from any structure by the abundance of walleyes and are forced to use the nearly featureless flats, trying to distance themselves from the schools of walleyes.

Crappies will usually stay relatively stationary while they are resting and then make a feeding movement when they get active, which is usually at dawn or dusk or even after dark. When the crappies are done feeding, they will go back to their resting areas and become stationary again.

Anglers searching for crappies during the day need to keep drilling holes, trying to drop a jig on a crappie's head to catch one. Once it starts getting dark in the evening, anglers are usually better off picking a spot and waiting there for the crappies in the area to start moving and swimming near their holes.

Anglers won't know for sure if there are crappies in the area until they catch one. Crappies travel in schools, so once anglers catch a crappie, they know they are at least close to a school of feeding crappies.

The idea when fishing for crappies is to catch the first one and then fine tune the location until finding the center of their feeding range. Anglers fishing for crappies in Upper Red Lake will usually catch walleyes regardless of where they fish, but the best areas for crappies tend to have only a few walleyes and maybe some perch using the same area.

Access to the lakes has been the biggest issue for anglers so far this ice fishing season. Anglers haven't been able to get to the fish in many areas due to the deep snow and slush on the ice.

The good news about the ice conditions this winter is that some of the lakes in the Bemidji area may be getting a much-needed break from fishing pressure. Many of the area lakes had a good summer for walleye fishing, so there were large numbers of walleyes already harvested from many lakes this season.

Anglers are reminded they do not need a new 2008 fishing license to fish until March 1, 2008, with the 2007 fishing and shelter licenses still in effect until then.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.

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