Paul Nelson column for Nov. 20: Lakes still far from freezing as deer season ends
There is only one more weekend of the rifle deer hunting season in the Bemidji area, with the season ending one half hour after sunset on Sunday night.
Many hunters hold out for a larger buck earlier in the season, but by the last weekend of the season, most hunters will take any deer they see to fill their open tags.
There is no shame in harvesting smaller deer to fill management tags, which are intended to help control the deer population. Young deer also taste better and are less likely to survive a difficult winter.
The unseasonably warm temperatures have continued through most of November, with Thanksgiving less than a week away.
The swamps and small ponds in the Bemidji area are only starting to freeze, with virtually all of the area lakes wide open, and no ice even on the edges of most lakes.
Anglers are usually able to walk on the ice somewhere in the Bemidji area by the weekend after Thanksgiving, but that is not likely to happen this year.
The latest this writer has been in a boat on open water in the Bemidji area is Dec. 3, 1998, which was an unusually warm autumn similar to this year. The next day the temperatures suddenly dropped below zero and virtually all of the local lakes froze over on the same night.
Most years, the lakes freeze more gradually, with the shallow lakes freezing up to two weeks sooner than the deeper ones.
Some of the first lakes to freeze in a normal year are Irving, Upper Red, Three Island and Midge.
It takes longer for deep bodies of water like Lake Bemidji, Cass Lake and Walker Bay of Leech Lake to freeze, because there is more water volume to cool down.
Once the rifle deer season is over, it looks like there will still be open water in the Bemidji area if anglers want to continue fishing from their boats.
The extended forecast predicts high temperatures well above freezing for at least the next 7-10 days, which makes it unlikely that there will be enough ice for ice fishing anywhere locally before early December.
Many anglers are done fishing open water for the season and have put their boats away for the winter. There are many things anglers can do while they wait for the ice fishing season to begin.
Most anglers put new line on their reels before they switch them over to their ice fishing rods.
It is a good idea to strip off all the old line and start with fresh line for the winter. Anglers don't need to fill their reel as close to the edge of the spool in the winter, because they don't need as much line for ice fishing.
Six-pound test line will work in most ice fishing situations for panfish and walleyes. Anglers fishing in stained water can get by with a little heavier line than anglers fishing in clear water.
Lighter line helps smaller lures perform better and gives anglers better feel of the baits. Lighter line also helps small lures hang more naturally on the line and lets them sink faster into deep water.
The best jigs for ice fishing often look small, but fish heavy.
Some manufacturers incorporate more lead in the jig bodies to make their lures look like some kind of a bug and also make them heavier, so the lures sink faster into deep water.
Panfish all have very good eyesight, so lures must look real enough to fool the finicky biters.
Baits can now have micro-detail, which often makes them more attractive to the fish.
Another good project for anglers waiting for the ice fishing season to begin is to tune up the ice auger and add a set of new or sharpened blades for the winter.
Many anglers forget how nice it is to drill holes with a sharp blade. Adding new or sharpened blades to an ice auger once a year will help anglers drill more holes, which should help them catch more fish.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.