Cooler temperatures this week helped firm the ice in the Bemidji area. Most lakes still have very good ice, as long as anglers avoid the ice heaves and watch where they are going.
Many of the larger lakes have at least one major ice heave that splits the lake and limits where anglers can go. Anglers may need to use an access on the same side of the ice heave that they want to fish rather than trying to cross over the heaves.
Resorts that maintain roads on the ice will build bridges over the ice heaves where customers can cross. Anglers trying to cross over ice heaves without a bridge risk falling through the ice or getting horribly stuck
Ice heaves usually form along a sharp drop-off where waves under the ice from strong winds get funneled from deep water into the shallows. This forces the wave into a narrower space, which pushes up on the ice and causes a pressure ridge to form.
Location continues to be the biggest factor in ice fishing. Most species of fish have been biting if anglers are able to locate them.
Fish populations on small bodies of water are particularly vulnerable during the winter when the fish are often concentrated into very specific locations.
Anglers with advanced fishing skills have to consider limiting themselves to how many fish they are willing to harvest or how many people they are going to tell about an active bite on a small lake.
Significant harm can be done to populations of big bluegills and crappies during the winter when fish are concentrated into a few locations.
It is more unethical for anglers with higher skill levels to pound on one spot over and over again until all the fish are gone or the spot gets exposed.
Some of the best anglers avoid raging bites for sunfish and crappies because they are afraid they will expose the fish and devastate the lake. They are good enough anglers to find other spots, so they don't have to exploit any one location.
Good winter locations for panfish will be good year after year if enough of the fish are allowed to survive and come back next year.
There are many stories of individual anglers taking literally hundreds of bluegills, crappies and even big perch out of one small lake. Then they come back next year and wonder what happened when they can't catch a thing.
The full moon this past week created a good night bite on many lakes for walleyes and crappies. The bite for light-sensitive species should improve during the day this week with the waning moon.
Walleye fishing has been best on the edges of structure or on top of humps in the right depth range, which has been in 14 to 26 feet of water in most lakes. The day bite for walleyes continues to be good on stained-water lakes like Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods.
Crappies have been most active on the edges of deep water in 20 to 35 feet of water, depending on the lake. Most crappies have been in the bottom third of the water column, suspending a few feet off the bottom.
Sunfish and perch in many lakes continue to relate to the weeds. Anglers may have to drill a series of holes in a shallow flat to locate the fish. Once the noise settles down, anglers can quietly move from hole to hole looking for the area holding the most fish.
Anglers can improve their success when the conditions are tough by down-sizing lure size and line weight, especially in clear water lakes.
Scented micro plastics can be extremely effective for species like crappies, perch, bluegills and whitefish. Plastics are also faster and more efficient to fish because anglers don't need to re-bait as often.
A small piece of scented plastic can also be used on lures like jigging minnows or jigging spoons to give them some scent without having a negative effect on the action of the lure.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org