No snow helps create perfect ice fishing conditions
The definition of a white Christmas is at least one inch of snow covering the ground. With no measurable snow predicted through the weekend, it is looking like this will be a brown Christmas in the Bemidji area.
The lack of snow on the lakes has created ice smooth enough for ice skating in many areas. Clear ice is also the strongest ice, even though warmer temperatures have slowed the amount of ice the lakes have been able to make.
There were a few vehicles on some lakes this past week, which is probably premature considering the amount of ice on the lakes. Most lakes in the Bemidji area have between eight and 12 inches of ice, so most anglers are still walking or using ATV's and snowmobiles to access the lakes.
Upper Red Lake usually has more ice than almost any other lake in the Bemidji area. Upper Red has around 14 inches of ice in most areas but there are still thin spots that have closer to 10 inches of ice.
Some resorts on Upper Red Lake have started to allow anglers in smaller vehicles to access the lake. It is still a good idea to stay on the trails, park a safe distance away from other vehicles and fish along the shoreline break.
Anglers should check ahead with the specific resorts to see what modes of travel are being allowed on the ice. Some resorts on Lake of the Woods will be opening operations this weekend while other resorts have had to cancel reservations because of the thin ice in front of their resorts.
Mille Lacs, Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods are notorious for cracks suddenly opening in the ice and separating anglers from shore, especially on windy days early in the season. Unfortunately, there have already been anglers stranded on all three lakes this year. It also happens frequently when ice fishing on the Great Lakes.
Fishing has been good on most lakes because of the stable weather. The clear ice can act like a magnifying glass on sunny days, which can also help fish see movement above them in shallow water.
Light-sensitive species like walleyes and crappies are more likely to be active on cloudy days or in the mornings and evenings when the sun is not shining directly onto the ice. Perch, northern pike and sunfish are more day-biting species and less sensitive about the sun.
Upper Red Lake has been hot for walleyes along the shoreline break in six to nine feet of water. Most anglers are using jigging spoons with a minnow head. The best colors in stained water are usually anything that glows or metallic gold, which show up better in the stained water.
Rattle spoons can also be effective because they make noise which helps walleyes and other species locate and target the bait. The minnow head adds scent which helps close the deal when the fish get close to the bait.
Anglers using sonar get immediate feedback from the fish when the fish come in and look at the bait. Anglers need to experiment with their jigging motions until they find something that triggers the fish to bite.
Sometimes constant motion is the answer so the fish don't get too good a look at the bait. Other times alternating movements and pauses is the answer to triggering more bites.
One of the new ideas in ice fishing this year is straight line reels which look like fly reels on ice fishing rods.
Spinning reels turn the line onto the reels perpendicular to the direction of the line, which twists the line. This causes lures to spin in circles when anglers are trying to hold their bait still.
Straight line reels wind the line straight onto the reel the same way the line is wound onto the spool at the factory. This minimizes line twist and allows anglers to hold their baits still when they want to without the lure spinning, which is important when trying to trigger finicky fish to bite.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.