Lakes in the Bemidji area were adding ice most of this past week, although there are still a few patches of open water on some of the deepest lakes.
The ice thickness varies from open water to about eight inches of ice, with most of the shallow lakes having at least five inches.
Dark houses for spearing northern pike are usually some of the first shelters on the ice each winter. Some anglers with stationary fish houses also have started to pull their shelters onto the lakes.
Most of the ice fishing pressure has been focused on the shoreline drop-off. If lakes are going to have thin spots early in the season, they are likely to be in the middle of the lake over deep water or in areas with current or springs.
Upper Red Lake is a regional ice fishing destination for anglers most of the winter, but it is especially good for walleyes early in the season.
Anglers are able to catch walleyes almost anywhere in Upper Red, with very little structure beyond the shoreline break.
There are also the famous Red Lake slab crappies averaging more than 1½ pounds and huge northern pike, many over 20 pounds, roaming the basin of Upper Red Lake.
The ice is about eight inches near shore on Upper Red, so some anglers are driving ATVs on the ice. Most anglers have been fishing the shoreline break in 5-8 feet of water for walleyes.
Aggressively jigging spoons tipped with a minnow piece is usually the most efficient presentation for active walleyes in Upper Red Lake. Bobber rigs with minnows can be better when walleyes are less active and there is a better chance for bonus crappies, (unless anglers are using small jigging spoons).
There are many styles, colors and sizes of jigging spoons, each offering a different look to the fish.
Upper Red Lake has stained water, so visibility is an issue. Typically bright colors are good in stained water, with orange, red, gold and glow usually good choices.
Rattle spoons tend to be better in stained water or in low light, to help gamefish locate the bait.
Skinny jigging spoons have less water resistance, so they fish more vertical than wider spoons, which shoot out to the side of the hole.
The thickness of the spoon also contributes to the action, with heavy spoons better for deep water and light spoons better for shallow water.
Sometimes the most effective jigging presentation is to jig a wide spoon several times, to get the spoon to shoot out to the side of the hole, and then slowly drag the spoon back toward the center of the hole.
Walleyes usually make a feeding movement from deep water toward shallow water on structure during low light periods. Anglers usually want to find contact points on structure, so they can intercept the walleyes between the resting and feeding areas.
Walleyes will often choose the most direct route between deeper water and the feeding areas, so anglers need to have some knowledge of the structure.
On lakes like Upper Red, where there is very little structure, anglers should look for any turns or curves in the shoreline drop-off. An unusually steep or abrupt drop-off is also usually good for walleyes.
Anglers can drill their holes in a W-shaped pattern along the drop-off and walk from hole to hole with their jigging rods and sonar in hand.
Jigging minnow baits are another good option for winter walleyes, with several different styles available on the market. The size and shape of the body and the aerodynamics of the fin are the main things that determine the action on jigging minnows.
Anglers should use the smaller size jigging minnows in shallower water and the larger sizes in deep water.
Jigging minnows can be fished with or without bait. Most anglers using bait will use a minnow head, wax worms or eurolarve on the center treble hook.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.