Paul Nelson column for Jan. 1: Heavy snow creates patches of slush on lakes
Winter gets more serious after the holidays have passed, and there are several months of cold and snow staring at us in the mirror.
Winter passes by more quickly when we have hobbies to enjoy like cross country skiing or maybe walking through the woods on snowshoes.
Some people like to ride snowmobiles on the lakes and trails, while others like to stay warm by a fire and spend some quality indoor time during the winter.
People who enjoy ice fishing as their winter pastime took a hit this past week. Most lakes were literally days away from anglers being able to drive anywhere they wanted on the ice when the heavy snow started to fall.
There is a good base of ice on most lakes, but the snowfall was too heavy for the ice to support, so most lakes are already developing slush problems.
Ice on lakes actually floats on the water. The weight of the snow puts pressure on the ice and can force water out of cracks and holes in the ice, which mixes with the snow and creates slush.
Snow insulates the water on the ice and significantly slows down the freezing process. It usually takes an extended period of below zero temperatures to freeze slush on the lakes once it has had a chance to form.
If someone makes a trail through a patch of slush, the tracks expose the trapped water to the air, which allows the trail to freeze. Likewise, plowed roads on the ice clear away the snow and allow the ice to freeze thicker than ice off the road.
ATVs and four-wheel drive vehicles can go through similar amounts of snow on the lakes, but ATVs can travel on less ice and may be able to stay on top of the snow better.
The preferred mode of travel on the lakes right now is a snowmobile or track vehicle, but anglers are still able to get to many areas with an ATV. Vehicle traffic on the lakes is still limited in most areas.
Anglers with snowmobiles can pull a portable fish house behind them and tow all of their gear in the fish house. Some anglers mount a GPS directly on their snowmobiles and ATVs, which allows easy navigation to specific areas on the lakes.
The best lakes for walleyes so far this winter have been Upper Red and Lake of the Woods, although both lakes have slowed down some in recent days.
Walleyes on Upper Red Lake have been biting along the shoreline break in 10-12 feet of water, with some anglers starting to spread out further into the basin.
Sauger fishing has been good on Lake of the Woods in 24-28 feet of water during the day. Walleye action has been best in the mornings and evenings in 14-20 feet of water, with some walleyes suspended over deeper water during the day.
Many of the larger lakes in the Bemidji area have inconsistent ice conditions, so anglers really have to know where they are going on the lakes.
Most of the traffic on the larger lakes has been close to the access points or along the shoreline break. Anglers need to watch out for current areas and remember that ice over large areas of deep water is usually thinner than ice closer to shore.
Anglers have been catching walleyes and perch on lakes like Winnibigoshish, Leech, Bemidji and Pike's Bay. Most of the walleye action has been under low light conditions in 22-28 feet of water on the sides of structure.
Perch fishing has been best at the base of the drop-off in 28-35 feet of water in most lakes, with a few shallower perch on lakes like Winnie and Leech.
Anglers have been catching crappies and sunfish in many of the smaller lakes in deeper water. Sunfish like moderate depth flats with harder mud that supports more insects, while crappies often prefer deeper water, where they can feed on suspended zooplankton when it is most concentrated under low light conditions.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.