Many lakes in the Bemidji area are frozen over, although the north end of Lake Bemidji, parts of Cass Lake, the deep bays of Leech Lake and some of the other deep lakes still have open water.
It helps to have at least one night of temperatures below zero to set the ice at this point in the season, but that hasn't happened yet.
The extended forecast for the Bemidji area does not include any overnight temperatures close to zero in the near future, so many anglers are in a holding pattern as far as ice fishing.
Anglers wanting to get a jump on the ice fishing season need to be very wary of the ice conditions. Don't rely on someone else's opinion and be sure to check the ice conditions personally, because you will be the one falling through the ice if you are wrong.
Many anglers carry an ice chisel when walking out on early ice to give the ice a good chop every few steps. Even the sharpest chisel should never be able to punch through the ice in one chop.
Most lakes freeze in sections, so the ice along the shore is usually older than the ice further from shore. The seams in the ice are usually close to the drop-off, so the ice thickness can change drastically in only a few feet.
There are several things anglers can do to minimize their risk on early ice.
The buddy system is a good idea, which means two anglers walking out single file, with the back guy ready with a boat cushion tied to a rope to throw to the other angler if the need arises.
Life jackets and ice picks for both anglers are also a good idea. The life jacket helps keep the anglers' heads out of the water and the ice picks help anglers pull themselves out of the water in the event of an accident.
Picking the right lake for first ice is probably the most important factor. Anglers should choose lakes where other anglers have already been out on the ice or rely on past experiences to choose lakes that freeze early and are likely to have more ice.
Lake Irving and Three Island Lake are popular first ice lakes in the Bemidji area. Both lakes have already had anglers on them this past week.
Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods are farther north of Bemidji and both have historically been good early ice lakes. Access points on both lakes are usually through resorts, so anglers can make a phone call to check the ice conditions and to see if the resorts are allowing anglers on the ice.
Local bait stores are other good sources of information about early ice conditions, because they are the ones selling the bait and talking directly to anglers.
Snow cover is another complication for anglers going out on early ice, because it covers potential problem areas and makes it harder for anglers to "read" the ice.
Winter is the longest season of the year in the Bemidji area, so there is plenty of time for ice fishing. If anglers insist on going ice fishing this weekend, please leave the kids and pets at home and take all the precautions necessary to minimize the risk.
The reason some anglers are anxious to go ice fishing on early ice is the fishing can be pretty good. The fish haven't been pressured for several weeks and they are often ready to bite.
The best plan is to spread out on the ice and don't stand too close to other anglers. Pulling a portable fish house packed with your gear is also a good idea, so you can check the ice and leave your hands free in case of an emergency.
Hopefully most anglers will give it at least another week before going ice fishing. This is a good weekend to spend with your family at home being thankful while watching football and eating too much good food.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.