Paul Nelson column for Feb. 5: Fish more active as days grow longer
The days are getting longer by almost three minutes per day and the average daily temperatures are slowly beginning to increase across the north country.
The Bemidji area will gain about 80 minutes of daylight during February and the average daily high and low temperatures will each gain about 10 degrees during the month.
When temperatures are below freezing, the lakes continue to make ice and the fish stay in their normal winter feeding patterns.
Gamefish feed sporadically during the day in winter, often taking advantage of an easy meal when the opportunity presents itself. They are usually most active in the mornings and evenings or under low light conditions.
Panfish usually feed more frequently than gamefish in winter, because they eat smaller prey. This forces panfish to feed more frequently for longer periods of time in order to get enough food to eat.
When temperatures rise above freezing, the snow and ice on the lakes begins to melt and fresh water starts to run into the lakes.
Activity levels in all species of fish tend to rise during February, with feeding patterns accelerated during periods of warm weather and slowing down when cold weather returns.
Anglers in the Bemidji area are still limited to where they can go on the lakes, with snow drifts and patches of slush on the ice presenting obstacles anglers should avoid.
By this time of year, most lakes have at least 20 inches of ice, which is plenty for larger vehicles to travel on.
Anglers are able to access most of the larger lakes through resorts that plow roads on the ice, with most resorts charging between $6 and $10 per vehicle to access the lakes.
Many of the public accesses also have roads on the ice that are plowed by anglers with stationary fish houses on the lake.
Anglers wanting full access to the lakes still need to have a snowmobile, a vehicle with tracks or a truck with a snow plow, so they can make their own roads on the lakes.
A few anglers use chains on their vehicles to get more traction when there is a lot of snow on the ice. Chains can be a chore to take on and off, but having chains on the drive wheels of a four-wheel drive vehicle can dramatically increase how much snow a vehicle can go through.
Walleye fishing has been spotty on most lakes, with anglers catching a few fish during the prime periods of the day and slower action the rest of the time.
Perch anglers are struggling on most lakes to catch larger perch. Smaller perch are mixed with the larger perch on many lakes, so anglers often have to sort through quite a few smaller perch in order to catch enough larger perch for a meal.
Crappie anglers are catching crappies in many of the smaller lakes in the Bemidji area. Crappies tend to be concentrated into larger schools in many lakes, so anglers often have to search the deep water for areas holding crappies.
Depending on what is available to crappies in the lake, they may be use small depressions on larger flats, they may use the edges of large deep holes, or they may relate closely to structure or suspend over the deepest water in the lake.
Anglers need to experiment to find what types of habitat crappies are using in a lake, so they can establish a pattern.
Sometimes anglers must drill out the deep areas of the lake in order to find the crappies. Some anglers did their homework in the fall, so they have potential areas for crappies already marked on a GPS, which makes finding crappies much easier through the ice.
Anglers often need to experiment to find out which species are biting best at certain times of the day. Stained lakes tend to have more of a day bite, while clear lakes tend to have better bites during low light periods of the day.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.