Fishing slowly picking up as days grow longer
The warmer temperatures this past week encouraged more anglers to go ice fishing. Most of the fishing pressure has been on the weekends, with a few anglers fishing at dusk during the week.
Many anglers are sticking to the larger lakes, where access is usually better. Most resorts on smaller lakes close for the winter, so the larger lakes are the only ones with year 'round resorts catering to both summer and winter anglers.
The only small lakes with plowed roads on the ice are the ones being fished by someone with a plow.
Most anglers concentrate their efforts on walleyes while the gamefish season is open and will only switch to panfish after the season closes on walleyes.
Fishing has been slowly been picking up as the days grow longer. The midwinter blues may still have some legs, with more sub-zero temperatures in the forecast for this weekend.
Fishing is not going to pick up significantly until the weather starts to moderate and some of the snow is able to melt off of the lakes.
Walleyes are feeding primarily during low-light conditions. Only a portion of the walleye population will participate during any feeding movement, depending on the conditions.
If the conditions are favorable, more walleyes will participate in the feeding movement, they will move farther from their resting areas and the feeding movement will last longer.
When the conditions are less favorable, fewer walleyes will participate, they won't move as far from their resting areas and the feeding movement will not last as long.
Each lake is different. Upper Red Lake has so little structure that many of the resting areas are not much different from the feeding areas. There isn't as distinct of a movement towards structure, with most walleyes switching from stationary to mobile when the feeding movement begins.
Lake of the Woods has heavily stained water, which forces the zooplankton to suspend closer to the surface and the minnows to suspend further from the bottom. Walleyes tend to suspend close to the level where they will feed when they become active.
In other words, walleyes feeding on the shoreline in 18 feet of water will often swim out over open water at approximately the same depth, where they rest until they become active again and head back toward shore.
Anglers can see walleyes moving through on sonar and move their baits up to the level where they see fish. This also gives anglers a clue to what level the fish will be feeding when they become active during prime time.
Crappies suspend off the bottom more than most species. Crappies feed heavily on zooplankton, which is most plentiful over mud bottom. The crappies will suspend at whatever level the zooplankton is the thickest when they get active and feed.
Crappies often stay in similar areas during the winter, gradually suspending farther off the bottom as the winter progresses.
Anglers need to anticipate crappies moving through several feet off the bottom and set their baits to be sure they are at or above eye level for the crappies.
Once anglers figure out what areas crappies are using, they can set up on the spot and wait for the crappies to get active and start to move. The usual pattern is the crappies will begin to filter through as it starts to get dark, the peak bite will be around dusk and then there will be short flurries of activity after dark.
Perch fishing has been spotty on most lakes this winter. The huge schools of perch with literally thousands of larger fish are not as common as they once were.
The best perch lakes in the Bemidji area have reduced populations of perch. Part of the reason is increased fishing pressure, but another part of the problem is most of the best perch lakes now have protected slot limits on walleyes. This has created a shift in the biomass and a big increase in predation on perch.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.