Ice or no ice, the fishing season opens at midnight tonight
The 2008 fishing season will open at 12:01 am Saturday morning, whether there is ice left on the lakes or not. The season opens Saturday for walleyes, northern pike and trout in lakes, with the opener for bass (May 24) and muskies (June 7) later this spring.
Most small lakes in the Bemidji area have been ice free for less than a week. Many large lakes have only been ice free for a day or two. A few lakes in northern Minnesota, including some in the Bemidji area, will have at least some ice left when the season opens.
Anglers need to be very careful about going on lakes that are partially open, but still have some ice. Anglers could be only a wind shift away from having a serious problem with the ice.
Anglers may have several other issues to deal with on the opener, all directly or indirectly related to the late spring.
Some public accesses will not have docks in place for the opener. There are also some public accesses with ice damage to the boat ramps that have not been repaired yet.
There may be long lines at the bait stores today too. Many anglers have not purchased their 2008 fishing licenses yet, because the 2007 license was extended until April 30th.
The availability of some kinds of bait may also be an issue on the opener. There should be ample supplies of night crawlers, golden shiners and fathead minnows, but spotail shiners, leeches and most varieties of chub minnows may be in short supply due to the late spring.
Cold water will be another obstacle for anglers on the opener. Surface water temperatures on most lakes are expected to be in the low to mid 40s.
There could easily be prespawn or actively spawning walleyes in many lakes when the season opens.
Most lakes have two groups of walleyes when it comes to spawning.
=One group of walleyes spawns in the lakes on windward shorelines or mid-lake shoals with the proper depth, bottom content and wave action.
A second group of walleyes spawn up in the tributary rivers and streams connected to the lake, using current to incubate their eggs, instead of wave action.
Lake spawning walleyes are typically a week or more behind river spawning fish in the same lake system.
Walleyes are usually more difficult to catch when they are spawning and for a period of time after they spawn.
Ideally, anglers are looking for male walleyes that have been done spawning for the longest time possible on the opener.
Walleyes spawning in a river system may travel through several smaller lakes to reach the exact spot in the river where they want to spawn.
When the walleyes are finished spawning, female walleyes may head directly back to their home lake to rest, or they may hold over in one of the smaller lakes on the way, before making the journey back to their home lake.
Male walleyes tend to filter their way back to their home lake, hanging around the spawning areas longer in case some female walleyes show up late.
The favorite cold water presentation for many anglers is a light weight jig tipped with a spotail shiner minnow. The best jigs for shiners have a small head and a large hook, to accommodate the shiner minnow and still have enough of the hook exposed to catch a walleye.
Anglers should move their bait slowly, pausing frequently to give the fish a long look at the bait. Once some fish are located, a bobber rig tipped with a lively minnow can be a deadly presentation for cold water walleyes.
Anglers looking for post spawn walleyes will want to concentrate their efforts on points and food shelves along the migration path of walleyes heading back to their home lake. Expect the walleyes to be concentrated into specific areas, with much of lake almost void of fish.
Remember to wear your life jacket in the cold water and bring along your sense of humor when waiting in line at the bait store, stuck in traffic going through the detour in Bemidji or waiting to launch your boat at the public access.
(Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235).