Lakes in the Bemidji area were making ice this past week, with overnight low temperatures in the single digits most nights. We have reached the critical point in the season where a significant snowfall could hamper ice conditions for the much of the ice fishing season.
The ice on the lakes is floating on the water, so the ice has to be thick enough to support the weight of the snow. If too much snow falls before the ice is thick enough to support it, water gets forced out of the cracks and holes in the ice, which creates slush on top of the ice.
The ice needs to get at least 15-18 inches thick before there is a heavy snowfall. The type of snow makes a difference in what impact it has on the ice. Heavy wet snow is worse than light fluffy snow. Let's hope the snow forecast for this weekend won't be more than the ice can support.
The number of stationary fish houses on the lakes has increased this week and more houses will pop up over the holidays. Many people wait until they can drive their vehicles on the ice before going ice fishing, which is at least a week away for most lakes.
Ice conditions in the Bemidji area continue to vary greatly, both between lakes and between areas on the same lake. Many of the shallow lakes now have at least 10 inches of ice, with most of the deep lakes having at least 6 inches of ice.
Walleye anglers have been having spotty success on most lakes, with most anglers fishing close to the accesses, instead of spreading out on the lakes. This will gradually change as the ice conditions improve and anglers are able to access more areas on the lakes.
Most anglers fishing for walleyes will have more success when weather conditions are stable. There has been a series of cold fronts passing through the area this past week, which usually has a negative impact on fishing.
Walleyes don't have to eat as often during the winter because of their slower metabolism. A few fish make a feeding movement each low-light period, with the number of fish participating in the feeding movement increasing during stable weather.
Walleyes like to have everything they need in close proximity in the winter, so they don't have to travel great distances between their resting areas and their feeding areas.
Generally speaking, walleyes tend to rest in deep water and make a feeding movement toward structure and shallower water when they get hungry.
Walleyes' main advantage over their prey is their eyesight and their schooling behavior. A sharp break into deep water is preferable over a gradual break because walleyes can cover more water in a shorter distance, which allows walleyes to feed more efficiently.
Contact points are the areas where walleyes typically make contact with structure when they are feeding. The most direct route to the deepest water is one common feature of a contact point. There may be other features on a contact point, like a pile of rocks, a small secondary shelf part of the way up the break and other things that distinguish one route onto structure from the other routes.
Anglers setting up a stationary fish house on a good contact point should have a flurry of activity in the mornings and evenings and could also have brief flurries during the day, depending on the weather conditions.
During non-peak times, anglers can use a portable fish house or move out on foot to scout for walleyes resting in the adjacent deep water around their stationary fish house.
Anglers can also use portable fish houses to move on top of the structure at night or during prolonged periods of low light, to look for the most active fish.
Anglers can visualize contact points like revolving doors into a store. The walleyes use the contact points to get on structure and as they leave the structure, so they are high traffic areas which see activity during feeding movements.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.