Paul Nelson: Dangerous ice conditions continue to pose problems for Bemidji area anlgers
Anglers in the Bemidji area are hoping ice conditions improve on the local lakes soon so they can get out on the ice and enjoy the winter.
There is more than 18 inches of snow sitting on top of 5 to 8 inches of ice on most lakes, which is not nearly enough ice to hold the weight of the snow. This situation is creating a serious slush problem on many lakes and preventing all but the hardiest of anglers from going ice fishing.
Cold temperatures can eventually freeze the slush but it takes a very long time and any additional snow just makes the situation worse.
The saving grace for ice anglers is that Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods escaped some of the slush. Resorts on both lakes have been plowing roads on the lakes, which will help the ice on the roads freeze more quickly.
Some resorts on both Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods may be allowing vehicles on the ice very soon. Anglers should ask for the most current ice conditions at the local bait stores or call the resorts at their destination to see what modes of travel they are allowing on the lakes.
A wide track snowmobile or some other tracked vehicle is the best way to access the lakes right now. There is too much snow for ATVs and not enough ice for four-wheel drive vehicles.
Even snowmobiles can get stuck if anglers drive through too much slush. There is also a risk of the track freezing when temperatures are as cold as they have been recently.
Anglers should travel in pairs when they go on the ice and be prepared to get stuck. The wise angler will bring a tow strap, a shovel and a cell phone.
Once anglers make trails on the lakes, the snow will compact and the ice will freeze more quickly, similar to the way it does when a road is plowed on the ice.
Anglers considering putting out a fish house should pack down a trail on the ice with a snowmobile first, and then give it a few days to freeze.
Once the trail is frozen hard enough to pull out a fish house, anglers need to use enough wood blocks on the corners of the fish house to keep it from making direct contact with the ice. An improperly blocked fish house can freeze right into the ice and later would have to be cut out of the ice to get it off of the lake.
Anglers should consider putting their fish houses close to an access point to minimize the potential nightmare they could be facing if another perfect storm hits the area.
Anglers wanting to explore new lakes or travel further from shore really have to be careful and constantly check the ice conditions until they have established a safe trail.
The ice conditions are highly variable on most lakes right now and some areas are potentially dangerous from thin ice. Anglers need to remember they are taking chances whenever they go off the trails.
The bad ice is going to put additional pressure on any lake that has good ice. Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake were two of the busiest lakes before bad ice conditions hit the area, so this will put even more fishing pressure on both lakes this winter.
The deep snow and cold temperatures also have an impact on the animals and birds in the woods. The DNR uses the Winter Severity Index (WSI) to try and judge what impact the weather may be having on deer.
The WSI considers both snow depth and temperature to measure how difficult the conditions may be on the animals. Their system gives one point for every day with temperatures below zero and another point for every day with more than 15 inches of snow on the ground.
So far, the WSI has been racking up quite a few 2-point days this winter, which will add up quickly. So far it appears that we could be looking at a potentially bad winter for the deer herd and some of the other animals and birds, including pets left outside.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org