The ice conditions in the Bemidji area continue to improve, with anglers driving on most of the local lakes.
Generally speaking, most lakes now have between 12 and 16 inches of good ice. There are always current areas, ice heaves and springs possible on most lakes, so anglers still have to know where they are going on the ice at all times.
Snow and slush are the enemies of anglers when it comes to access to the lakes in the winter.
Lakes in the Bemidji area had almost no slush and only a little bit of snow, so anglers have been able to go almost anywhere they want on the lakes.
The Bemidji area is in the middle of another winter snow advisory that may have an impact on the lakes. The forecast was for up to six inches of snow and the possibility of freezing rain, with bitterly cold temperatures behind the storm that may last well into next week.
Walleye fishing on most of the larger lakes has slowed, with the cold weather impacting the bite and making conditions tougher for anglers.
We are into what is usually considered the “dead of winter” so expectations of anglers sometimes need to be tempered and lowered by the weather conditions.
Experienced anglers should be able to tell when fishing should be tough and when there should be a good bite, based on the weather conditions.
Sometimes anglers can get fooled, so the best approach is usually to assume the fish are active and go from there.
Many anglers have put their stationary fish houses on the lakes and have, hopefully, placed them on a good spot that offers consistent action as least part of the day.
Contact points on structures are ideal locations for stationary fish houses because they act like a door or an entrance to the structure that many fish pass through when they move on and off structures to feed.
A contact point can be the most direct route to the structure from the deepest water. It can be a point or some part of the structure with a series of steps leading onto the structure.
Contact points can be like signposts, giving fish an established path to follow when they access a structure to feed. These features can include rocks, edges between bottom types, wood, weeds or any other unique feature that may help guide the fish as they move on and off structure.
If the conditions are favorable and anglers have put their fish house on the right location, there should be a good flurry of action in the mornings and evenings, as long as there are fish using the structure to feed.
When conditions are less favorable, with multiple cold fronts, bluebird skies, high winds and extreme cold temperatures, anglers may expect tougher fishing during the day. There still, however, should be a brief flurry of action at the key parts of the day.
Lake of the Woods, Upper Red Lake, Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake have all had good walleye bites when the conditions are stable, and slower action when conditions are poor.
Anglers may be able to increase their catch rates by changing where they place their lure when there are no fish on the screen.
Most fish species can see things at or above eye level better than they can see things below them because of where their eyes are positioned on their heads.
If anglers position their bait above the fish they know the fish will be able to see it when they come through on sonar.
Anglers fishing too close to the bottom can be silting up the water and spooking the fish. Presentations positioned near the bottom also don’t give the fish any room to come through below the baits.
Anglers can work their baits more aggressively higher in the water column when there are no fish on the screen and then use one of their “closing” moves on the fish when they appear on the screen below them.
Anglers who catch the most fish are usually the ones who find the best contact points and have the best closing moves to use on the fish.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org