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Paul Nelson: Blowing snow covers roads on many Bemidji area lakes

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After more than a month of bitterly cold weather, the recent brief mid-winter thaw felt wonderful.

Most residents of the Bemidji area have spent the first part of the winter confined to their houses, avoiding going outside whenever possible.

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The down-side of many mid-winter thaws is they often are accompanied by a snowstorm. Fortunately, this time the amount of new snow was minimal, but strong winds created a ground blizzard that continues to impact the Bemidji area.

The snow plows have been busy plowing and sanding the highways and back roads around Bemidji after the storm, but there is no such organized response to fixing the roads and trails on the lakes.

Winds gusts in excess of 40 mph created white-out conditions during the storm. The wide open areas were especially hard hit, with significant blowing and drifting on virtually all of the lakes.

Most of the roads and trails on the lakes were blown shut and access to most fish houses was buried by the intense ground blizzard.

Resorts and individual anglers are busy trying to open the roads and dig out their fish houses in preparation of another weekend of ice fishing.

The strong winds also opened some new ice heaves and pressure ridges on the lakes so anglers may have unexpected obstacles to maneuver around since the last time they were on the ice.

Fishing has slowed in many areas, especially if anglers are fishing in a group of houses. Access is the most critical factor for anglers leaving a fish house on the ice so most anglers are satisfied to stay in one spot as long as there are a few fish moving through the area.

The only anglers staying mobile are the ones using snowmobiles or track vehicles. Anglers who have to stay on the roads are forced to go wherever the road leads them. If anglers see an area they like on GPS, they have to find a place they can pull off the road without getting stuck.

Most of the remaining slush on the lakes was under the deepest snowdrifts but the recent strong winds moved around the snow so the bad spots may be harder to see.

Ideally, anglers can find an area of exposed ice to pull off the road. Once anglers find a spot to pull off t, they should first check the spot on foot. Once they decide to try it, anglers should back their vehicle into the spot so the vehicle is headed in the direction of the broken trail if they get stuck.

Traveling in pairs with shovels and a tow strap is a good idea regardless of the mode of travel anglers are using. Anyone who has been stuck on a lake knows the risks involved in traveling alone across the ice.

Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods are still the hottest walleye bites in northern Minnesota, with both lakes having many miles of plowed roads.

Most anglers fishing Upper Red Lake have moved into the basin and are fishing between 10 and 13 feet of water, although there are almost always walleyes using the shoreline break during the winter.

The presence of baitfish in an area is usually the most important factor in locating walleyes and other predator species. Fish want to stay close to their food during the winter. If there are baitfish in the area, the chances are good there will also be walleyes and other predator species using the area to feed.

Anglers fishing Lake of the Woods have been fishing walleyes in 22 to 26 feet of water in the mornings and evenings and in 28 to 32 feet of water during the day for sauger and suspended walleyes.

Anglers using snowmobiles or track vehicles to get away from the crowds have been able to find less pressured fish, which usually translates into a good bite even when conditions are less than favorable.

Anglers fishing many of the smaller lakes for crappies and sunfish are also finding good fishing and little fishing pressure from other anglers.

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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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