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Paul Nelson: Bemidji area anglers should switch to ice fishing tactics

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Weather in the Bemidji area took a turn toward winter this past week. Surface water temperatures in the local lakes plummeted to around 40 degrees, which is the same temperature as the water under the ice during the winter.

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Any lake that had not yet turned over finished the process this week. The lakes are now fully re-oxygenated, with the same water temperature from the surface to the bottom.

Once the high temperatures stay below freezing during the day the shallow lakes will begin to freeze around the edges at night.

There is still time for another warm-up before winter arrives. If the current cold weather pattern continues, the lakes could freeze early this year.

If records were kept for the shortest summer based on the number of days the lakes were ice free during the open water season, this year might come close to setting a record.

There is usually enough ice somewhere in the Bemidji area to walk on by the weekend after Thanksgiving but there have also been recent years when the ice-over dates went into early December.

Most docks at the public accesses have been removed from the water but two anglers should be able to launch a boat without a dock pretty easily. The problem comes when an angler tries to do it alone.

Most anglers will put their boats away for the season by the time the rifle deer season opens, which gives anglers about two more weeks to fish out of their boats.

The best fishing late in the season usually occurs later in the day when air temperatures are near their peak.

Wind is often the largest obstacle for anglers to overcome late in the season. Fish still have to eat in the cold water but they are much less likely to chase baits moving too fast in the cold.

Anglers fishing during the cold-water period are basically ice fishing out of their boats. Presentations need to be slow and anglers should try to hold their boat over fish they see on their electronics.

One of the best innovations in the past few years with electric trolling motors has been the feature called “spot-lock”, which uses GPS in the trolling motor to lock the boat on a specific location without having to actively control the motor.

Spot-lock allows anglers to fish either vertically below the boat, fan cast the area with jigs or work slip-bobbers over a school of fish without having to worry about boat control.

The spot-lock feature available on some trolling motors actually works best in the wind, which is when anglers usually have the most trouble holding their boat on a specific spot. When the wind is calm, most anglers are able to hold on a spot without extra help from technology.

Anglers can borrow other ideas from ice fishing when fishing out of their boats during the cold-water period. The ability to see both your bait and the fish on sonar is a HUGE advantage when fishing vertically under the boat.

Usually the only angler in the boat who is able to see the bait on sonar is the person running the boat, because the transducer is usually mounted on the back left side of the boat (or on the port-side transom for those well versed in boat-speak).

Anglers’ lures have to be inside the signal cone of the sonar to be visible so the angler running the boat is usually the only one who can see the lure on sonar.

Some anglers fishing out of the front of the boat will try to move their lure right next to the person fishing in back so they can see their lure on sonar too. This usually means the lures are too close together, which and can cause tangles or inhibit the ability of both anglers to work their lures properly.

Instead of crowding the person in the back of the boat, the angler in front of the boat can use ice fishing sonar and fish with the transducer over the side of the boat. This spreads out the lines and allows both anglers to see their lure in relation to the fish.

PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at panelson@paulbunyan.net

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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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