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Paul Nelson: Bemidji area anglers begin to target active panfish

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The Bemidji area has been in a holding pattern this week, with a little melting, a little more snow and re-freezing overnight.

The slow meltdown is good for ice fishing but not much progress is being made toward spring. It looks like a cinch for ice fishing to continue well into April again this year as more than 30 inches of ice still remains on most lakes.

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Many anglers from the Bemidji area put their boat in the water for the first time each spring in the Rainy River to fish the spring walleye season that, this year, runs from March 1 to April 14.

The regulations are the same for the spring walleye season in the Rainy River, whether anglers are fishing from a boat or through the ice. Anglers are allowed to keep two walleyes less than 19.5 inches during the spring season.

Anglers can start fishing out of their boats as soon as they can get them into the Rainy River, which usually happens toward the end of March or very early in April.

There are multiple factors at work when it comes to how fast the ice goes out on a river controlled by a dam, which includes the Rainy River. The best resource to track the progression of ice-out on the Rainy River in the spring is to follow the online reports at clementsonresort.com.

Meanwhile, back on the ice, the peak ice fishing for eelpout may be almost over as many eelpout started to spawn this past week.

Eelpout will disperse from their spawning sites shortly after they are done spawning. Once eelpout return to their deep water haunts to recover and rest after the spawn, they become much harder for anglers to locate and catch.

Snow covers many of the area lakes and late season ice fishing for species other than eelpout is just getting started. The fresh water running into the lakes as the snow melts is what triggers the fish to become active and move back into the shallows to feed.

Some shallow areas may be stagnant and low on oxygen after the long winter. The fish won’t return to the shallows until enough fresh water has run into the lakes to bring the oxygen levels back into the acceptable range for the fish.

Crappies, sunfish and perch all travel in larger schools as spring approaches so it takes an abundance of the right kind of food to hold the fish in one area for an extended period of time.

Some of the perch are already in the shallows feeding on minnows and crayfish while perch in many other lakes are feeding on insects in deeper water.

Perch feeding in shallow water usually have to stay mobile as they follow the schools of minnows and small perch. The perch will also dig around in the chara beds, looking for crayfish and any other insects.

Perch are hesitant to get too far away from deeper water when they are feeding in the shallows so they are usually fairly close to the breakline rather than way up on the flats with no deep water nearby.

Perch feeding on insects in deeper water tend to be more stationary, and tend to stay in one location for longer periods of time. The most fertile areas of mud are like a good garden — they can produce a huge amount of blood worms and other insect larvae to keep the big schools of perch busy.

Crappies feed on zooplankton and blood worms most of the winter but their minnow consumption increases as spring approaches. As long as the crappies are in moderate to deep water they are usually feeding on microscopic fare but once they move shallow, minnows are their primary target.

Sunfish have been using the deep edges of weeds or the moderate depth mud flats with good hatches of insects.

Some anglers have also been targeting whitefish and tulibees so anglers still have a lot to look forward to as the snow melts and spring approaches in the Bemidji area.

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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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