Ice conditions are very good in the Bemidji area heading into the last two weeks of the walleye season for inland waters of Minnesota.
Many anglers have been fishing larger lakes in the area, in order to utilize the established roads on the ice. Some of the more popular lakes include Upper Red, Winnibigoshish, Pike's Bay, Leech, Bemidji and Blackduck.
Anglers also have been fishing for crappies and sunfish on many of the smaller lakes in the Bemidji area.
Anglers do not need much tackle or sophisticated equipment to go ice fishing, so more people are able to take advantage of the sport compared to open water fishing.
Upper Red is a popular lake with many anglers because there is very little structure and the walleyes can be virtually anywhere in the lake. Anglers also have the chance for big crappies and huge northern pike in Upper Red.
Perch fishing has been good recently, with most perch traveling in large schools and feeding aggressively. Perch are using deep water in most lakes, with the weed beds having died off due to the heavy packed snow on the ice.
Pike's Bay, Leech Lake and Winnibigoshish have been the most popular lakes for perch this winter, but anglers are also catching perch in many of the other larger lakes in the Bemidji area.
The day bite for walleyes has been slow in many lakes, with most of the feeding activity in the mornings and evenings.
Jigging spoons are a popular lure for winter walleyes, but they also work well for other species of fish.
Jigging spoons come in many different colors, sizes and styles. Anglers can use smaller spoons for crappies, perch and even sunfish, while using larger spoons for walleyes and northern pike.
Anglers can use bright colored spoons in stained water or in deep water where visibility is limited. Metallic spoons also work well in some situations because of the flash they give off. Natural or holographic colors on jigging spoons work well in clear water, where fish have better visibility.
The style of spoon also can make a difference. Thin flutter spoons work well in shallow, stained lakes like Upper Red Lake, because they shoot out to the side of the hole and flutter back into the hole while flashing alternating sides of the spoon.
The heavier, more compact jigging spoons work better in deep water, where they get to the bottom faster and can be pounded into the bottom to get the attention of bottom feeding fish like perch, walleyes and eelpout.
Anglers should try different styles and colors of spoons to see what is working best, especially if they are seeing fish come through on sonar that have not been taking their bait.
Some anglers panic when a fish comes through and don't know what to do when a fish is looking at their bait.
A good rule of thumb is to continue doing what you were doing when the fish first got interested in your bait.
If anglers don't have sonar, they need to give fish a chance to hit the bait between moves, trying to find some kind of cadence that gets a positive response from the fish.
Being able to watch your bait on sonar is a huge advantage when ice fishing. Anglers know when fish are coming through, even if they aren't taking the bait. Anglers get instant feedback on their presentation using sonar, so they can adjust how they are working the lure or change lures if what they are doing isn't working.
It is usually not a good idea to completely stop moving the bait when a fish is in close, because they might get too good of a look at the bait and see something wrong.
It is usually better to keep slightly shaking the bait to keep it moving and allow the angler to feel the weight change when the fish takes the bait.
Anglers should look at their lure in the hole and see what their presentation looks like. Experiment with different looks until the fish start responding to what you are doing.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.