The Bemidji area has been buried in snow over the last couple of weeks by two major snowstorms and several additional dustings. Most lakes now have about two feet of snow resting on about two feet of ice.
The ice conditions were excellent on the lakes before the snowy weather pattern developed towards the end of January. February has been one cold front after another.
The weight of the snow on the lakes puts downward pressure on the ice. Once the pressure is great enough to make the ice sag, water gets forced out of the cracks in the ice and also out of anglers’ ice fishing holes.
The pattern many anglers use when they ice fish is to “Swiss Cheese” an area, moving from hole to hole trying to locate active fish.
Anglers can flood an area when they drill holes on a pressure spot on the ice. The holes provide a pressure release to the water and can almost shoot out of the hole if the pressure is great enough.
Anglers should remember that resort owners get very upset when anglers drill holes on their plowed roads because they can flood the road. Anglers should always go well off the sides of the roads to fish.
When water pools on top of the ice it mixes with snow and creates slush. The slush eventually begins to freeze, which creates a double layer of ice that can trap any vehicle or snowmobile that ventures onto the wrong spot and breaks through the top layer of ice.
Vehicle traffic was still possible on the lakes until the most recent snowstorm. The ice is very strong this year, which should help minimize the amount of slush on the lakes, even with the heavy snow.
The 2012 gamefish season closes in Minnesota at midnight on Feb. 24. Most resorts and guide services with rental fish houses have been consolidating their fish houses closer to the accesses to avoid having to maintain the long roads on the lakes.
Anglers wanting some relief from the mid-winter blues can head to Walker this weekend for the 34th annual eelpout festival, which is headquartered out of City Park on Walker Bay of Leech Lake. The festival runs continuously today through Sunday and features many exhibits and concessions, including pout nuggets.
The eelpout festival could be considered one of the first signs of spring because it celebrates the eelpout as they move shallow and become the first fish in the lakes to spawn each year.
Eelpout spawn under the ice in late February to early March. They spawn in communal groups on top of humps, points and mid-lake structure adjacent to the deepest parts of the lakes.
Eelpout seem to disappear during the summer months and are actually most active during the winter months. They can’t stand warm water so they head for the deepest parts of the lakes (and oceans) and become almost dormant during the warmest months of the year.
Eelpout are actually freshwater cod and are very similar genetically to the 24 sub-species of cod that live in the ocean. (A new sub-species of cod was just discovered in the Kermadec Trench north of New Zealand, which is 6.5 kilometers deep).
Eelpout are excellent table fare and have been referred to as “poor-man’s lobster”. They can be boiled or steamed with bay leaves, then dipped in butter or they can be deep fried in smaller chunks like walleyes.
Anglers can catch eelpout using similar tactics to walleyes. Large lures, big chunks of live bait, liquid scents and anything else that glows or rattles or can be pounded on the bottom will help get the eelpout’s attention.
Eelpout are aggressive feeders and will eat most presentations if they can find them. Because eelpout live in the deepest parts of the lakes where it is often dark, they have a more highly developed sense of smell. They also have no scales so they can feel vibrations in the water better.
Eelpout can see well but their other heightened senses allow them to feed effectively without the aid of sunlight and makes them one of the best night feeders in the lakes.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at email@example.com