Open water returns to area lakes in record time
Open water returned to the Bemidji area this week, with many lakes setting records for earliest ice-out dates.
The ice went out on Lake Bemidji on March 28, which beat the record ice-out date of April 6, 2010 and is almost a month earlier than the average ice-out date of April 26th.
The ice can go out in several different ways on the lakes but it is usually a combination of sun, rain and wind that takes out the ice.
Earlier this past week, strong winds out of the southeast and rain combined to push the ice tight against the north and west shores of the lakes. As the storm passed, the wind shifted from the southeast to the northwest, with wind gusts in excess of 40 miles per hour.
The wind was strong enough to grab the ice sheet on the north and west shores of lakes and push it across the lake until it crashed into the east and south shores.
The ice piled along the windward shoreline of many lakes, which did damage to any boat lifts, docks, cabins and anything else that was close enough to get in the way of the ice.
Lake Winnibigoshish was one of the lakes that had some ice damage to cabins and resorts in the portion of the lake near High Banks and the Birches on the east shore.
With the Minnesota walleye opener scheduled for May 12 anglers will have more than six weeks to wait between ice-out and the fishing opener.
Licensed anglers, however, are allowed to fish for some species year round in Minnesota. There will be plenty of time for anglers to fish for crappies, sunfish and perch as they wait for the walleye season to open.
Some species of fish spawn almost immediately after the ice is off the lakes. The timing of the spawn depends on several factors, so the early ice-out may delay some species from spawning right away as they try to catch up with the calendar.
The biggest factor in determining when fish spawn is water temperature but the length of the days, the length of gestation and even the moon phase plays into the equation.
Some of the first species to spawn are northern pike, walleyes and perch.
Northern pike will begin to spawn in backwaters connected to lakes even before the ice is all the way off the lakes.
Pike often travel many miles to reach their preferred spawning areas. Pike from Lower and Upper Red Lake often leave the lake and swim through the ditches and culverts along the roads to reach the uppermost portions of the backwaters. The higher the water levels, the further pike may travel to spawn.
Walleyes spawn both in lakes and rivers. River spawning walleyes get a jump on the lake spawning fish, often heading up-river before the ice is off the main lake.
Walleyes can travel up rivers many miles to spawn, with their preferred spawning sites often in the fast water below rapids or dams.
Walleyes in lakes will wait until the water temperatures reach into the low 40s before spawning, which helps increase spawning success rates by literally putting their eggs in more than one basket.
Perch are usually lake spawners but they can spawn anywhere that has standing weeds. Perch can spawn in old reed beds, bulrushes, wild rice, cabbage, coontail and even mats of chara. Perch lay their eggs in strands on top of weeds so the eggs are higher in the water column while they incubate.
Anglers fishing for pre-spawn perch usually only have about a week after ice-out to catch them in the shallows before they start to spawn.
Male perch move in to spawn first and leave the spawning areas last. Female perch usually arrive when they are ready to spawn and leave for deeper water to recover as soon as they finish spawning.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at email@example.com