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Paul Nelson column for April 2: Anglers should have a short wait for open water

The ice fishing season is over and the wait for open water begins. The wait should be a short one, with some of the smaller lakes in the Bemidji area ready to lose their ice.

The 2010 walleye opener is May 15, which is the latest date the season can open under the current regulations. This means there will be more than one month of open water on most lakes in the Bemidji area before the walleye season begins.

Anglers wanting to get a jump start on the open water season have until April 14 to fish the spring walleye season on the Rainy River.

This spring has been pretty dry so far, which has kept the water in the Rainy River relatively clear. The fishing has been steadily improving for most anglers, with good numbers of male walleyes and increasing numbers of larger female walleyes beginning to enter the river out of Lake of the Woods.

Most anglers use a jig and minnow for the walleyes in the Rainy River. It is important for anglers to use heavy enough jigs to keep their baits fairly vertical below the boat to help avoid getting snagged.

There are a number of approaches to fishing a river with current that do not necessarily come into play when fishing in a lake. Anglers have to decide if they want to fish with the current or against the current, or work productive areas in both directions to see which one works best.

Back trolling up current or across the current is usually most effective when the current is slow; otherwise it takes too much power to overcome the current.

Slowing a drift with a drift sock or turning the back of the boat into the current with a trolling motor at lower speed to control the speed of the drift is another option.

There can be a big difference in the number of bites anglers get, simply depending upon which direction anglers are going with the current, so anglers should experiment with multiple approaches.

Anchoring is another good option, especially if anglers can find a contact point where walleyes are consistently moving through the area.

Anglers can also fish vertically under the boat from an anchored position, either with a jig and minnow or using winter tactics like a jigging spoon or a jigging minnow.

Casting is another option for anglers fishing from an anchored position. Anglers should try different angles to the current on their casts. A cross current pattern, with anglers dragging their baits diagonally across the current, can sometimes be the best approach.

Artificial minnow baits, either suspending or sinking types, or other types of lipped crankbaits can be fished behind the boat from an anchored position. Anglers can allow the current to provide most of the swimming action, frequently pausing and pumping the baits in the current while slowly retrieving them to the boat.

Trolling crank baits into the current is another option, especially for larger walleyes. Anglers can troll slowly into the current and still keep good action on the lures by keeping the boat just above the speed of the current.

Big fish like big baits. Anglers wanting to catch and release a trophy walleye (after a couple of pictures) should consider trying some big fish presentations to see what happens.

Sometimes anglers get caught up in a numbers game and try to grind through a bunch of smaller walleyes on jigs and minnows, hoping for a big bite, rather than going for fewer bites from bigger fish.

Once the ice is off the lakes, anglers will be able to fish for perch, crappies and sunfish while they wait for the walleye and northern pike seasons to open.

Perch spawn almost immediately after ice out, so there is a short window of opportunity to fish for pre-spawn perch before they spawn and head back into deeper water. Since perch spawn in the weeds, a jig and minnow under a bobber is usually the best presentation.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at panelson@paulbunyan.net.

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