New snow cover makes travel on area lakes difficult
The Bemidji area got hit with a significant amount of snow this past week, which shouldn't be a huge surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to March weather in Minnesota.
There was enough snow in the recent storms to impede vehicle travel on the lakes, at least until some of the snow melts.
Anglers with fish houses in the northern one-third of Minnesota don't have to pull their fish houses off the lakes until March 19 but it may be a good idea to get the houses off the lakes sooner rather than later.
Anglers with stationary fish houses in more remote locations may already need a snow plow to get their houses off the lakes. Any more snow will make matters worse so there is no point in waiting.
We are gaining about three minutes of sunlight each day in March so the days are quickly getting longer. Daylight Savings Time returns next weekend (March 11) to take advantage of the longer days.
The new snow adds another blanket to the lakes, which further cuts down the amount of sunlight getting through the ice. The added snow will temporarily slow the bite for most species and may alter feeding patterns for many species of fish as they compensate for the loss of light under the ice.
Species like crappies, sunfish, tulibees and whitefish often like to suspend over deeper water during the winter. Most fish begin the winter closer to the bottom and gradually work their way higher in the water column as the winter progresses.
The depth where fish suspend is usually close to the same depth where sunlight is able to penetrate through the ice. This allows fish to feed along the edge of the sunlight where zooplankton and minnows are often concentrated.
Changes in snow cover can also change the feeding patterns of fish feeding closer to bottom. Perch are visual feeders and they need a certain amount of sunlight to help them feed.
Fish feeding in deep water may feed later in the day when there is more snow on the ice so the sun is more directly overhead and penetrating further into the water column.
More snow on the lakes can also change the depth where predator species are feeding and may change when feeding movements are most likely to occur.
The loss of mobility on the lakes is probably the biggest change for most anglers who were able to go just about anywhere they wanted on the lakes until recently.
Snowmobiles are probably the best mode of travel on the lakes right now. Anglers wanting to continue driving their vehicles on the lakes will need to stay on plowed roads or use established trails on the ice.
Anglers with four-wheel drive, good tires and plenty of clearance can try to go off the roads on the ice but they should travel in pairs, possibly using tire chains or at least bring a shovel and a tow strap in case they get stuck.
The transition from winter to spring on the lakes can happen very fast or it can drag on into April. There is enough snow on the lakes right now that if it all melted fast the ice fishing season could be over quickly.
If the snow is allowed to melt slowly anglers should be able to enjoy some of the best ice fishing of the season in March.
Fish are aware of the days growing longer and can sense that spring is approaching, regardless of the weather. Fish in larger lakes are already beginning to stage close to the areas where they will make their spawning runs later this spring.
Melting snow running into the lakes adds oxygen to the water and flushes bits of food into the lakes, which triggers an increase in feeding activity and causes a move into shallower water for most species of fish.
The added snow on the lakes may temporarily put the fish into a holding pattern, but the progress towards spring will continue once the snow on the lakes begins to melt.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org