Ice conditions on area lakes continue to deteriorate
The end of the 2011 ice fishing season in the Bemidji area is quickly approaching. Warmer temperatures and rain this past week have deteriorated the accesses on many lakes, especially those that are heavily traveled or directly exposed to the afternoon sun.
There is still plenty of ice away from the shoreline on most lakes so the challenge for most anglers is finding a way to get onto the lakes. As soon as the temperatures stay above freezing for a couple of nights in a row, most accesses will become unsafe for vehicles.
Anglers can extend the ice fishing season by using ATVs or snowmobiles to access the lakes. Anglers can also walk out on the ice to look for fish that have moved into shallow water.
Perch, crappies and sunfish will move into very shallow water late in the season as the ice is starting to honeycomb and turning dark in color. The ice on the lakes breaks down much like ice cubes in a glass of water. The ice begins to weaken as it turns darker in color and eventually becomes so weak the ice begins to break apart and dissolve.
Perch will move into the chara-covered sand flats late in the season to feed on crayfish and insects hiding in the mats of chara. The perch may be in water as shallow as three to five feet so anglers can sight-fish the perch and see them swimming under their holes.
Sight fishing for perch can be very fun. Anglers can use a short rod, which allows them to stand over the hole and watch their lure and the fish as they come through under their holes.
Fish feeding in the shallows are usually very aggressive and can often be caught without bait. Plastics, small jigging spoons or small jigging minnows will all work for panfish in shallow water.
When anglers are sight fishing they can see the fish moving in and watch them hit the bait. Anglers have the option of pulling their bait away from the smaller fish and targeting the larger perch.
Old reed beds or old wild rice beds are another location where perch, crappies and sunfish may move late in the ice fishing season. Anglers need to stay quiet and avoid making too much noise as they move from hole to hole to avoid spooking the fish.
Setting the hook is another tricky part of fishing panfish in extremely shallow water. Anglers will often bump the fish off on the bottom of the ice if they set the hook too hard.
Setting the hook when sight fishing is more like pulling the line tight instead of a hard jerk, and reeling in line is usually not necessary. Anglers can just lift the fish out of their holes.
It usually works best to drill all of the holes at one time to get the noise over with and let the area quiet down before starting to fish.
Perch and other panfish will usually keep milling around the area as they hunt for food. If anglers drill enough holes when they start to fish they can often keep moving among the same group of holes without needing to keep drilling new holes and making more noise.
Simple is usually better when choosing baits for sight fishing. Scented plastics are usually a good choice to give the presentation some scent to seal the deal when the fish move in. Most of the fish are visually feeding so bait is often not necessary to catch fish.
The ice fishing season is day-to-day late in the season. Anglers need to check the ice conditions each day and may want to call ahead to their destination for the current ice conditions if they are traveling a long distance to the lake.
Anglers are reminded that all fish houses must be removed from the lakes in the Bemidji area by midnight on March 21. Anglers are allowed to use portable fish houses after the deadline but they must be removed from the lakes each night when anglers leave the ice.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.