Paul Nelson: Bemidji area anglers should consider winterizing boats
Many of the ponds and swamps in the Bemidji area are starting to become coated with ice. Surface water temperatures in the lakes are between 39 and 40 degrees, so they are ready to freeze as soon as air temperatures stay below freezing during the day.
Most of the docks at the public accesses have been removed from the lakes so anglers need to be prepared to launch their boats without the aid of a dock.
Anglers should also be getting their boats ready for winter with fuel stabilizers in the gas. Some anglers like to have a full tank of gas for winter to help minimize condensation. Others, including me, prefer to have as little gas in the tank as possible and have it loaded with additives.
Part of the thinking is if the gas goes bad over winter, it is better to only have a little bad gas rather than a tank full. Oil tanks on boat motors should be filled because condensation is a bigger problem in the oil than in the gas.
Lower units may also have collected water over the summer, especially if there is line caught in the prop. Water in the lower unit can crack the housing over winter so anglers should check the lower unit for water and also remove the props on both gas outboards and electric trolling motors to check for fishing line.
Some anglers continue to fish until they can’t get a boat onto the lakes. Fishing can be good for most species right up until the lakes freeze but anglers have to be able to find the fish to catch them.
Most species of fish become concentrated during the cold water period, which means there will be a few areas loaded with fish while other areas will be nearly void of fish.
Tulibees and whitefish have been in the shallows and current areas spawning recently, which will draw in muskies, big pike and maybe even a few bass and walleyes.
The frog migrations can also concentrate bass, pike and walleyes into areas close to a swamp or other low areas connected to the lake. Frogs migrate into the lakes late in the season so they can bury themselves in the mud to hibernate during the winter.
Anglers can have both good and bad fishing during the cold water period, with the metabolism in the fish slowing down in the cold water.
Mid to late afternoon is usually the best time for catching most species of fish late in the season. The sun can actually help the bite, rather than slow it like it can much of the summer.
Good bait can be hard to find late in the year as the selection is often limited to fatheads and rainbow chubs. A jig and minnow is still the bait of choice for most anglers fishing for walleyes, perch or crappies late in the season.
Many of the same locations anglers are finding fish late in the fall are the same locations the fish will be located during early ice. Schools of panfish are usually much easier to locate and pattern from a boat so now is the opportunity to find fish in locations that they may also use when the lakes are covered with ice.
Walleyes like to make feeding movements when they become active, regardless of the time of year. Most active walleyes will move towards structure and shallower water and head away from structure towards deeper water when they are done feeding.
Anglers should be looking for contact points during the cold water period. Contact points are the specific locations where walleyes first make contact with structure when they get active and move onto structure to feed.
Contact points are often located along the most direct route between the deepest water and the structure. Unique structure elements could be a pile of rocks, a long spine of rocks, a turn or some other feature on structure that stands out like a marker on the structure to the fish.
Ideally, anglers should be looking for a contact point to put their stationary fish house and then explore the deeper water surrounding the contact point when the fish are not actively feeding.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org