The ice conditions on the lakes differ from year to year and constantly change throughout the winter. They are the cumulative result of the weather conditions the lakes are exposed to while the ice is forming.
The ice conditions are impacted by a surprisingly large number of variables. The sequence of the weather events, the duration of the weather events, the severity of the weather events and the components of the weather events all help determine what the ice conditions are like on the lakes.
Wind, cold, warm, snow and storms like the one last week don’t have to be life threatening or severe to have a huge impact on the ice conditions.
Weather in the Bemidji area tends to run in streaks. There are often runs of one type of weather and then another weather pattern takes over.
The ice on the lakes formed slowly early this winter but it was good ice because of the lack of snow. The ideal situation is to get enough ice on the lakes before the arrival of a significant snowfall because that will minimize the chances for slush to form under the snow.
Slush occurs on the lakes when the ice is not thick enough to support the weight of the snow and it starts to sag. This forces water through the cracks and holes in the ice and pools water under the snow, which creates slush.
The first sub-zero weather this winter started after Christmas. January was mostly dry and cold, with the lakes building a good base of at least 20 inches of ice before the first major snow storm of the season hit less than two weeks ago.
The weather pattern after the snow storm appears to have changed, with a warmer and wetter weather pattern taking over from the cold and dry pattern.
There were a couple of mild cold fronts this past week, with another one set for this weekend. Each of the cold fronts dropped a couple more inches of new snow on the lakes.
Anglers had spread out on the lakes during January, taking advantage of the good ice conditions. Now some anglers with stationary fish houses are kicking themselves for putting their houses so far away from the established trails and roads on the ice.
The options for anglers with isolated houses in the far reaches of the lakes are to wait and hope warm weather melts some of the snow or find someone with a snow plow to help them get their house off the lake or move it closer to the community spots with better access.
Anglers can lose contact with what is happening on the lakes very quickly if they are not going ice fishing constantly. The anglers who know the ice conditions best are the ones who are out there guiding or maintaining a string of rental fish houses on the lakes.
The ice conditions are good on most lakes despite the amount of snow on the ice. Anglers who want to go off the roads onto the lakes will need a snowmobile or a track vehicle to have the best chance to avoid getting stuck.
It is still possible for two anglers with four wheel drive vehicles and good tires to use one vehicle to break trail and the other to follow behind with a tow strap and a shovel to pull out the first vehicle if/when they get buried in the snow.
The easy movements on the lakes are over for now so anglers will need to adjust their strategy and try to find fish in areas they can access without getting stuck.
The rental fish house businesses will likely get a boost from the snow, with anglers wanting to hit the “easy” button.
Most of the larger lakes have rental houses, with the best bites still on Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods.
Anglers with snowmobiles can accessorize their machines, adding racks to hold their gear auger, and even mounting sonar and GPS, essentially transforming their snowmobiles into ice fishing machines.