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Paul Nelson: Anglers may have to dodge ice on area's larger lakes

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outdoors Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

It looks like there will be ice on at least a few of the larger lakes when the seasons open at midnight on Saturday morning.

The good news is that there will be plenty of smaller lakes with open water for anglers to fish when the season opens for walleyes, northern pike, sauger and stream trout living in lakes.

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The exact timing of ice-out on each lake depends largely on the wind. It takes just enough wind from just the right direction to grab the ice sheet and blow it into shore with enough force to break the ice.

Ice-out on most of the larger lakes in the Bemidji area may not happen until after Saturday’s opener. If the stronger winds predicted for Friday aren’t enough to finish the job, then maybe temperatures on Saturday will be warm enough to get rid of the remaining ice.

Another issue anglers may run into is many of the public accesses may not have docks in the water when the season opens.

The docks don’t go into the accesses until all the ice is off the lakes. With such a tight margin between ice-out and the season opener, there won’t be enough time and manpower to get in all of the docks in all of the lakes before opening weekend.

Anglers should be prepared to launch their boats without the aid of a dock just in case. There are always anglers who struggle to get their boats in the water, so anglers may want to lend a helping hand if necessary to speed things up at a busy access.

Anglers usually have the best chance to catch walleyes early in the season in the lakes with the warmest water.

This year there will be pre-spawn walleyes in most lakes on the opener. Anglers should handle the fish they catch carefully and consider releasing all female walleyes that are still holding eggs.

In an effort to protect concentrations of pre-spawn walleyes, there will be many locations closed to anglers early in the season. Anglers will need to be aware of the regulations and watch for postings at the accesses. There will also be notices on the DNR website, informing anglers what areas are closed to angling.

The local bait stores usually have the most current information on the lakes.

There will be many anglers “fishing” for information before they hit the water and some anglers may wait until the last minute to decide where they are going to open the season.

It would be a wise move for anglers to take a drive on Friday to check out a few accesses before deciding where to fish on the opener. Most anglers with larger boats don’t want to have to launch their boat without a dock, so that could help them decide where to go on opening day.

It is a long season and there is plenty of time to go fishing. The best fishing of the spring won’t likely happen for a couple of weeks, so anglers in many areas may find the fishing to be tough because of the cold water.

Jigs and minnows are usually the “go-to” presentation for most walleye anglers early in the season. Shiner minnows will likely be in short supply again this year, so anglers may have to fish with larger fathead minnows or rainbow chubs as alternatives to shiners.

Slow presentations will likely be the most productive and the walleyes should be holding in shoreline areas with rocks, emerging weeds or current.

Any concentration of baitfish along the migration paths of the walleyes can potentially hold feeding walleyes. The best areas usually have the most baitfish and will refresh frequently with new fish as they move through the area.

Slip-bobbers with leeches or minnows are another good option for anglers who go out at midnight on the opener. Many anglers will anchor their boat on a likely spot and use lighted slip-bobbers to fish walleyes in the dark.

Once the sun rises, more anglers will begin to arrive at the lakes and things will become busier, especially if the weather is nice. Things often settle down by Sunday, so use your sense of humor to help you meet the obstacles of opening day.

PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at panelsonbemidji@gmail.com

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