Paul Nelson column for Jan. 29: Snowdrifts limit anglers' access to the lakes
Last weekend most of the snow on the lakes had melted and anglers were briefly able to drive just about anywhere they wanted to on the ice. Now there is more snow on the lakes and bitter cold temperatures have returned to the Bemidji area.
Strong winds accompanied the most recent snowstorm, which created large snowdrifts on the ice, so anglers are once again limited to where they can travel on area lakes.
Anglers are still able to access most of the larger lakes on roads maintained by resorts, but travel off roads and trails is difficult in most areas without a snowmobile or some type of track vehicle.
Walleye fishing was starting to pick up in most areas when the snow was melting and the temperatures were near or above freezing.
Once the cold front passed, most of the walleye action has been in the mornings and evenings, with perch active in many of the same areas during the day.
Most walleyes are still using deep water, with many anglers fishing the steep breaks off the tips of points and turns on structure, or on top of smaller humps located in deeper water.
The cold temperatures make it more difficult for anglers to stay aggressive when searching for fish. Anglers with stationary fish houses on good locations are able to wait for the walleyes to get active and hope to catch a few fish during the peak periods of the day.
When walleyes are most active, anglers can use aggressive presentations like jigging spoons tipped with a minnow head with good results. Jigging minnows will also catch active walleyes and can be fished with or without bait.
During the day, when walleyes are usually less active and holding off the sides of structure, anglers with stationary fish houses can try a tip-up with a lively minnow farther off the drop-off or they can use portable shelters to check the deeper water adjacent to their houses for walleyes.
When prime time comes, anglers should be on the drop-off in areas with the most direct access to deep water, which are often key contact points for walleyes accessing the structure to feed.
Perch have been most active in deep water in many of the larger area lakes. The perch have been feeding on the edges of hard bottom near the base of the drop-off, where they have access to several different types of prey.
Smaller perch have been mixed in with the larger perch in many areas, so anglers often have to sort through the smaller perch to get enough larger perch to take home for a meal.
Crappie fishing has been good in many of the smaller lakes, with most of the crappies using deep water, where they can feed on zooplankton when it is most concentrated in the mornings and evenings.
Depending on the lake, there also may be perch or sunfish in many of the same areas as the crappies. Food is the key to fish location in most situations. The areas with the most food may have several species of fish taking advantage of the same forage, but they may use the area at different times of the day or night.
Whitefish are another species of fish that can be concentrated in deep water during the winter. Whitefish are closely related to tulibees, but most anglers prefer whitefish for smoking or eating because they taste better and are less likely to have parasites.
Anglers can tell whitefish from tulibees by looking at their mouths. Tulibees upper and lower jaws line up with each other when their mouths are closed. Whitefish have an upper jaw that is longer than their lower jaw, so they have a distinct overbite when their jaws are closed.
Whitefish typically school in deeper water and are often located closer to the bottom than schools of tulibees. Whitefish can be caught on smaller jigging spoons tipped with a minnow head or on small jigs tipped with wax worms or eurolarvae.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.