Finding a silver lining in the bitter cold
There is a silver lining to the bitter cold that has held the Bemidji area in its icy grip this past week. The slush on the lakes that has been a problem for anglers the entire ice fishing season is virtually gone, with only small isolated patches of slush left on a few lakes.
The ice conditions have improved significantly in the past week throughout the entire state of Minnesota. Most lakes in the Bemidji area have at least 15 inches of ice, with some lakes having more than 20 inches.
With more moderate temperatures in the extended forecast, anglers should be able to get out on the lakes and take advantage of the improved ice conditions until there is another significant snowfall.
Fishing normally slows down in the middle of the winter, with metabolism levels at seasonal lows for most fish species.
Gamefish usually eat larger prey than panfish and may take several days to digest their food in the cold water.
Crappies and sunfish have to feed more frequently than gamefish because they are eating diets consisting largely of insects and microscopic zooplankton.
It is like walleyes and pike get to eat big steaks, while crappies and sunfish are eating bird seed to survive.
Perch also have to feed more often than gamefish in the winter, with diets consisting mainly of mayfly larvae, blood worms, small crayfish and minnows.
There is a feeding movement for most species of fish every morning and evening, but the number of fish feeding and the length of the time they feed varies greatly based on the conditions at the time.
Generally speaking, when fishing is good there are usually more individual fish participating in that particular feeding movement and when fishing is poor, there are fewer fish feeding for a shorter period of time.
The number of participants in each feeding movement and the length of time the fish will feed depend largely on the weather, the time of year (water temperatures) and the overall conditions (predator vs. prey relationships) in the lake.
Watching the variations in fish feeding movements over time would be like watching time elapsed photography of a popular restaurant.
There would be individuals moving through the restaurant at all times of day, but the biggest rushes would be predictably higher at meal times, with peak activity levels on weekends or under special conditions.
Most fish are at their lowest feeding levels of the year in the middle of winter, except for some cold water species like eelpout, whitefish and trout, which gain most of their weight in the winter.
Anglers can have flurries of activity from walleyes and pike at any time of day, but the best chance to catch fish are in the morning and evenings unless a weather event approaches during the day.
Anglers can take advantage of this knowledge and select when to fish for each species of fish, based on the conditions and the habits of the fish.
Perch, sunfish, sauger and northern pike are all good day biters, while crappies and walleyes bite best during low light.
Timing can be everything. Fishing for species like perch, sunfish, sauger or northern pike during the day and then switching to crappies or walleyes at dusk makes sense under most conditions.
Anglers using stationary fish houses aren't able to move around as easily as anglers using portable houses or fishing out of their car door.
A stationary fish house should be set up where fish will most likely be when they are most active. This usually means the fish house will be good at peak periods, but not so good the rest of the time.
Walleyes often move toward structure when they are active and will show up suddenly when it is time to feed. They are usually coming from deeper water and will access and leave structure by the most direct route.
Ideally, anglers with stationary fish houses should try to set up on key contact points on good structure to position themselves between where the walleyes rest and where they feed, to consistently catch fish.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.