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Paul Nelson: Anglers should consider removing fish houses from area lakes

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The 2013 Minnesota fishing licenses expire Friday and the 2014 licenses take effect on Saturday.

The area immediately around Bemidji wasn’t hit too hard by the latest snowstorm but Upper Red Lake, Lake Winnibigoshish, Leech Lake and most other lakes between Bemidji and Grand Rapids were affected.

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Upper Red Lake had many anglers trying to fish the last weekend of the gamefish season when the storm hit. Many of the anglers who tried to wait out the storm ended up being stranded on Upper Red Lake for up to three days while they waited for snowplows to come and rescue them out of their fish houses.

Most lakes were in pretty good shape before the latest snow. The storm wiped out the roads on the ice, buried most of the fish houses remaining on the lakes and brought a fresh batch of slush on top of the ice in many areas.

Anyone with a fish house still on one of the area lakes is probably losing some sleep at night worrying about how they are going to get their houses off the lakes. With fresh flooding around many of the houses, there could be many houses that are frozen right into the ice.

Fish houses in the southern two-thirds of Minnesota have to be removed from the lakes by March 3. Fish houses north of the line created by Hwy. 10, Hwy. 34, Hwy. 2 and Hwy. 200 have to be removed from the lakes no later than March 17.

It is probably safe to say that anglers should get their fish houses off the lakes as soon as they can, regardless of what side of the line they are on. There is already enough snow on the ice to make removing a fish house difficult and the ice conditions are likely to become worse before they get any better.

The ice on the lakes is also much thicker this season. Usually, only Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods have enough ice for anglers to need an auger extension but this year many lakes have at least 30 inches of ice, which means anglers will need an auger extension to punch a hole.

Anglers are not the only ones suffering with the deep snow and bitter cold weather. The deer herd could be in big trouble if the weather does not improve soon.

The WSI or Winter Severity Index measures the potential impact the winter has on the deer herd. The WSI adds a point for every day the snow is deeper than 15 inches and another point for every day the temperature drops below zero. This year there have been dozens of days when the WSI racked up two points per day.

The higher the WSI number, the more impact can be expected on the deer herd. In a mild winter the WSI is 100 or below but this year the WSI numbers are already approaching the critical stage. And there is potentially a couple of months of winter still remaining.

DNR officials are going to start a deer feeding project this week in much of northern Minnesota. They will begin feeding deer in areas where the deer have become concentrated on public lands. This will be the first time an organized feeding program has been instituted during the winter in the last 17 years.

The deer harvest in 2013 was the lowest in the last 15 years, so the deer herd was already low before this winter. The impact on hunting in the next few years could be significant if the current trend continues.

The DNR is relying on volunteers to feed the deer, so anyone willing to help or those knowing of locations with concentrations of deer could make a call to the DNR offices and offer their assistance.

Many anglers really look forward to ice fishing during March, which can be one of the best times of the year to fish for panfish. Anything can and often does happen with the weather, but the latest snowstorm has dampened the outlook for late-ice fishing this year, unless something close to a miracle happens to save the rest of the season.

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Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.
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