Paul Nelson column for Jan. 8: Bitter cold helps improve ice conditions
The big snowstorm that hit the Bemidji area over Christmas holidays could have been really bad news for the ice conditions, but the area has been locked into the deep freeze ever since the snowstorm passed, and that helped minimize the slush problems on many lakes.
The ice conditions have improved over the past week in the bitter cold, with most lakes now having 14-18 inches of good ice.
Anglers on the big lakes like Winnibigoshish, Upper Red, Bemidji, Pike's Bay and Leech have been able to access most areas with 4-wheel drive vehicles.
The worst slush problems are on some of the smaller panfish lakes, which didn't have as much ice when the snow storm hit over the holidays.
Anglers traveling off of the trails and roads on the lakes are still better off taking two vehicles and having a tow strap and a shovel handy just in case one of the vehicles gets stuck.
The cold weather may have been just what the doctor ordered for ice conditions, but it has slowed down the fishing on most lakes, which has made it more difficult for anglers to find a consistent bite.
Sometime anglers can find areas that are holding fish, but the fish are tough to catch because of the poor weather conditions.
It may be more productive for anglers to stay in areas that are known to be holding fish and wait them out, rather than keep moving looking for a more active bite.
Fish usually have three basic feeding moods; active, neutral and inactive.
When the weather conditions are bad, it can be a mistake to leave fish just because they aren't biting. Fish bite in flurries during the winter, even under the best conditions.
When the conditions are tough, fewer fish will feed for shorter periods of time and most of the activity will be during the peak periods of the day.
When conditions are stable, more fish will participate in the feeding movements and the fish will feed for longer periods of time.
When fish are actively feeding, they can usually be caught using a wide range of presentations and most people will catch a few fish.
When fish are in a neutral feeding mood, they might be coaxed into biting if anglers can find the right presentation to trigger a bite.
When fish are in a negative feeding mood, most fish will ignore anglers' presentations and they are extremely difficult to catch, regardless of what anglers do.
Anglers can learn to predict what type of mood the fish are in by reading the weather conditions. If the weather has been stable and all the conditions are positive, anglers should expect the fish to be active and keep moving until they find active fish.
If most of the conditions are good, but anglers are fishing at non-peak periods during the day, anglers should expect most fish to be in a neutral feeding mood and use finesse presentations to try to get some of the fish to bite.
When the conditions are bad, anglers should expect most of the fish to be turned off and be happy to find a few fish that will bite and wait them out until their mood changes.
Anglers have many options when it comes to presentations. Active fish usually like more aggressive presentations and anglers can use larger baits and more aggressive jigging presentations, with the fish reacting positively to a wide range of presentations.
Fish in a neutral feeding mood may not want as aggressive jigging motions and may not be interested in larger baits. A dead stick with a bobber and a minnow may out produce most jigging lures and smaller presentations with less movement are more likely to get a more positive response from the fish.
When the fish are in a negative feeding mood, anglers should use tiny baits, light line and ultra-finesse presentations to get a few fish to bite and expect to catch most of their fish during peak periods of the day.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.