Paul Nelson column for Oct. 23: Bemidji area lakes getting ready to freeze
If the current weather trend continues, this month will go down as one of the coldest Octobers on record in Minnesota. This comes after last month was one of the warmest Septembers. Who knows what we can expect in November.
Surface water temperatures have cooled into the low 40s in the Bemidji area, so the lakes only need to cool a few more degrees before they are ready to freeze.
Lakes can begin freezing when surface water temperatures reach between 39 and 40 degrees.
There are still a few anglers who are not ready to give up on the open water season. With so little time left before lakes begin to freeze, anglers need to take advantage of any nice days remaining this fall.
Wind is a big factor for anglers late in the season, especially when fishing in deep water. Too much wind makes it difficult to hold a boat in place while trying to hover over fish and anglers get splashed by the waves, which is no fun when it is cold.
Anglers need to be extra careful late in the season, especially when fishing alone. Anglers often leave their life jackets on the back of their seats in the summer when the water is warm, but late in autumn, falling into the lake without a life jacket could easily be fatal.
Anglers who fish a lot in cold water should really invest in a comfortable life jacket that doesn't interfere with their fishing, so they won't be so hesitant to wear it when they need it most.
The docks at the public accesses will begin to come out of the water in the next couple of weeks. Several different entities are responsible for taking out the docks, so there is some variation in when docks are removed.
Most of the docks will be out of the water before the rifle deer season opens Nov. 7.
It might be a good idea for anglers still planning to go fishing at least one more time to pick a lake they plan to ice fish this winter. That way they can do a little scouting around for spots to fish through the ice this winter.
Examples of things anglers may want to identify for ice fishing include edges of deep holes, deep rocks, scoop outs on flats, sharp turns on a breakline, tips of points, crowns on humps, mud humps in deep water and many other "spot-on-the-spot" type locations can be key areas during the winter.
Anglers can also look for early ice fishing spots. The best areas are within short walking distance of where anglers have access to a lake. Private accesses are best since anglers will have less competition from other anglers early in the season.
Anglers have access to lake maps today than are more accurate than at any time in the past, with new lakes being mapped every year.
The mapping process misses many subtle features on structure, so there is still a benefit of anglers doing their homework.
Anglers can pinpoint specific locations on a GPS that are not visible on the maps during the open water season, and then return during the ice fishing season when location is the most important variable.
There are still a few anglers on the lakes catching fish, but it has been nearly impossible to get on the water on days with cold, wind, rain and even snow.
When the wind calms down and the sun peeks out for a minute, anglers can still survive a few hours on the lakes without freezing to death.
Most anglers have good clothing and can keep their bodies warm, but there is always exposed skin getting wet when fishing. There are different limits to how much cold anglers can stand, so there is no shame in taking a break to get warm.
The best bet is to pick your time to be on the water, bring some gloves (even if you only use them when you are not fishing) and don't drop your line in the water unless you see fish on the sonar.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.