A lot of anglers will be going ice fishing for the first time this season over the Christmas and New Year holiday break.
Most lakes in the Bemidji area have between 7 and 10 inches of ice, which is still not enough ice to drive vehicles on most lakes.
Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake have more ice than the rest of the lakes in the area, with between 12 and 15 inches of ice. If anglers want to be able to drive their vehicles on the ice, it would be wise to choose one of those two lakes.
Anglers are able to use ATVs or snowmobiles to access most of the rest of the lakes in the Bemidji area, but there are still slush problems in many areas.
It is not uncommon for anglers to open up a new spot for ice fishing and then find the entire area flooded with water when they return to fish the area a second time.
Anglers planning to put out a stationary fish house on one of the area lakes need to block their fish house well up off the ice to prevent it from freezing into the lake.
Once an area floods, it can actually help make more ice if it is able to refreeze. The problems with slush on the lakes are not going to go away any time soon unless there is an extended period of below-zero weather.
The slush problems just keep getting worse when we receive more snow, because it extends the amount of below zero weather it will take to freeze the slush. It is very possible there will be problems with slush on some lakes the entire winter.
The fishing pressure on many lakes in the Bemidji area is still not what they should be at this point in the season. Many anglers are waiting until they can drive their vehicles on the ice before they go ice fishing.
The mild weather hasn't been conducive to making much ice, but conditions have been favorable for fishing on many lakes.
Lake of the Woods continues to produce good numbers of walleyes and sauger in 26-30 feet of water during the day. Anglers can move shallower (16-24 feet) in the mornings and evenings and have a good flurry of walleye action during the low light periods.
There has also been good walleye and sauger action in the Northwest Angle of Lake of the Woods. Some of the resorts on the south shore of LOW will cross over Traverse Bay with Bombardiers and have rental houses set up there for anglers wanting to get away from the crowds.
Most anglers fishing on Upper Red Lake have been fishing in 12-14 feet of water hoping to catch a few crappies while they catch their walleyes. Anglers can fish walleyes in shallower water in Upper Red, but they are much less likely to catch crappies at the same time if they do so.
Winnibigoshish has been good for walleyes in 20-26 feet of water on the steep edges of mid-lake structure. Anglers have been using jigging spoons tipped with a minnow head or tail to catch a mixed bag of fish, with perch and northern pike also biting in many of the same areas as the walleyes.
Cass Lake and Pike's Bay have not been getting much fishing pressure this winter because of the poor ice conditions. The deep water in both lakes froze late in the fall, so the ice was pretty thin when the first heavy snow fall hit the area.
Most of the fishing pressure on Lake Bemidji has been along the shoreline break in 18-26 feet of water, where anglers have been catching walleyes, northern pike and perch.
Leech Lake hasn't been getting much fishing pressure, but a few anglers have been doing very well for jumbo perch, with walleyes moving in at dusk. There can also be good fishing for northern pike, crappies and sunfish in some portions of Leech Lake.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.