Lakes still have more than two feet of ice as spring arrives
Spring arrived this morning at 6:44 a.m. in the Northern Hemisphere.
Most of the snow cover on the lakes melted this past week, which left the surface of the ice wet and covered with slush.
The accesses on most lakes are in rough shape from vehicle traffic and runoff from melting snow. Accesses on the west and north sides of lakes get more sun than accesses on the south and east sides of lakes, which breaks those accesses up more quickly.
Although there is still more than two feet of ice on most lakes, many anglers have given up on ice fishing for the season. There are a few anglers that will keep ice fishing until they can't get on the lakes anymore.
It is hard for some anglers to get used to driving on the lakes with so much water on the ice. Late-season ice fishing is not for the faint hearted and there is no substitute for common sense and experience reading the ice.
Fishing has been excellent for some anglers and not so good for others. The migrating fish keep moving, so anglers have to understand what the fish are doing to stay on the fish.
Anglers not catching fish are usually the ones who are still fishing the same as they did all winter and will sit and wait for the fish to come to them.
Anglers should expect the fish to be biting, so if they aren't catching fish, they need to keep moving and try different locations.
Perch have been very active, but they keep moving. Anglers might find perch in one area for several days, but if the food runs out or the angling pressure is too great, the perch either move or they get caught.
Many of the perch temporarily backed out of the shallows after last week's snow storm. The perch have been gradually been moving back into the shallows as the snow melts again.
Crappie anglers have been finding most of their fish suspended over deep water, but it is not the same deep water they have been using most of the winter. Most of the crappies have moved closer to where they will make their spring feeding migrations.
Bluegills have also been active. Some of the fish are on the edges of structure and others have moved back into the old weed beds.
Anglers need to use ultra-light tactics to successfully catch bluegills. Light line, small lures and precise presentations are needed to fool the keen eyesight of large gills.
Fishing on Lake of the Woods has been picking up, with anglers catching walleyes around Pine Island and along rocky areas along the south shore. Most anglers are fishing in 12-18 feet of water in the mornings and evenings and in slightly deeper water during the day. Anglers are also catching northern pike on tip-ups with live sucker minnows or dead baits like cisco or smelt.
The snow on the lakes melted quickly and caused quite a bit of flooding on the ice. As long as the lakes keep freezing at night, it will slow down the melting process and prolong the ice fishing season.
At some point in the near future, anglers will be struggling to find ways to get on the lakes. There is still plenty of ice away from the shoreline, but the runoff of snow has caused the ice to start pulling away from shore in many areas.
The wild card in the melting process is rain. An extended rainfall with temperatures above freezing could bring an abrupt end to the ice fishing season.
Some resorts have started to close accesses to vehicle traffic, so anglers should call ahead to their destinations to be sure they are still able to get on the lakes.
The spring walleye season has started on the Rainy River and runs from March 1-April 14. The lower Rainy River is still covered with ice. Anglers ice fishing on the Rainy River or Four Mile Bay should check the regulations, which only allow two walleyes under 19.5 inches to be harvested.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.