Midwinter doldrums have fish on the move
The persistent snow and cold continue to cause problems for anglers trying to access lakes in the Bemidji area. The snow on the lakes is too deep for four-wheel drive vehicles and even snowmobiles are having trouble navigating off the trails and roads on the ice.
Trucks with a strait-edged plow do not have enough punch to open up new trails on the ice in most places. A one-ton truck with a big V-plow is the best answer short of a road grader for pushing through the snow and slush on the lakes.
The snow and slush also limit the amount of sunlight that is able to penetrate through the ice, which can slow down fishing and cause some species of fish to change locations.
The midwinter doldrums usually set in during January, when winter is at its peak. The blanket of snow on the ice blocks out much of the sunlight, which kills off any remaining green weed growth and limits visibility for fish using deep water.
The shallows can run out of oxygen from the decaying weeds. This drives many of the baitfish out of the shallows, which makes gamefish less likely to go shallow looking for food.
The loss of sunlight in deep water also has an effect on the fish. Zooplankton is the main food source for many minnows and small fish living in the lakes. Crappies also feed on zooplankton, so it is an important part of the food chain for many species.
The zooplankton feeds on phytoplankton, which needs sunlight to create food. The loss of sunlight in deep water will cause the phytoplankton to rise higher in the water column, which means the zooplankton move higher and so do the minnows and crappies feeding on the zooplankton.
Most lakes in the Bemidji area have enough water volume to supply oxygen for fish all winter. A few lakes with shallow water and limited water volume may not have enough oxygen to support fish all winter if the snow blocks out too much sunlight and kills off all of the weeds.
The loss of oxygen producing weed growth will eventually cause the lakes to run out of oxygen and a winter kill might occur in lakes with limited water volume.
The snow and cold this winter is consistent with the type of conditions that may cause a winter kill later in the season. It is also been the type of winter where deer and other species of birds and animals may have difficulty finding enough food to survive.
It is too early to tell what might develop later this winter. The Bemidji area is notorious for abrupt weather changes, so the second half of the winter could be warm and much of the snow could melt, which would alleviate many of the potential problems.
The best bet for walleye fishing continues to be Upper Red Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish, partially because of the bite and also because they are the lakes with the best access.
The walleye bite has moved further from shore in Upper Red Lake, with most anglers fishing in 12-14 feet of water. Anglers are also starting to catch more crappies in Upper Red as they move further into the basin to fish.
The walleye bite on Lake Winnie has been good much of the winter, but the bite is starting to taper off as the winter progresses. The best bite has been on the edges of the larger bars in 22-26 feet of water. Most of the action has been in the mornings and evenings, with slower action during the day.
Lake of the Woods has been spotty for walleyes, partially because of the stained water. The snow on the ice is filtering out much of the sunlight, which is already restricted by the dark water. A good number of fish in Lake of the Woods may be suspending well off the bottom, with most anglers presenting most of their baits closer to the bottom.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.