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Paul Nelson: As deer hunting concludes, thoughts turn to ice fishing

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There is one more weekend remaining in the 2013 firearms deer season in the Zone 1 portion of the Bemidji area. Deer harvest numbers are down about 6 percent from 2012 through the first two weeks of the deer season.

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Colder temperatures and some snow on the ground should help hunters increase their harvest numbers on the last weekend of the season. Many hunters also change their minds about what deer to harvest as the end of the deer season approaches.

Hunters with doe tags will likely give up on waiting for a buck and try to harvest any deer they can to fill their tag and put some venison in the freezer.

The extended forecast for the Bemidji area is for much colder weather starting this weekend, with the cold possibly lasting until sometime next spring.

Once the rifle deer season has ended, many hunters will turn their attention from the woods back to the lakes and start getting ready for ice fishing.

A few lakes in the Bemidji area already have some ice and the rest of the lakes should begin freezing over sometime in the next week, if the current weather forecast is accurate.

Upper Red Lake usually has the most ice in the state early in the season, so it is often one of the first places anglers are able to get on the ice each winter.

There is a good chance there will be enough ice for anglers to walk on Upper Red Lake and a few other shallow lakes by Thanksgiving weekend.

Ice fishing is becoming big business in the fishing industry. Sales growth in the summer fishing sector has been spotty for years, but the ice fishing sector has shown much more potential for exponential growth, which is music to fishing executives' ears.

Many of the new techniques that evolve in ice fishing come from Minnesota and Wisconsin and eventually spread across the ice belt from Montana to New England.

Some parts of the ice belt only get a few weeks of good ice conditions during the winter. They never get enough ice to drive trucks and haul huge fish houses out on the lakes. They have to walk out on the ice and carry everything they need on their backs or pull it on a sled.

Many other areas have trouble with too much snow in the winter, so slush problems limit access to the lakes most of the winter.

Minnesota on the other hand has months and months of winter, with some of the best ice conditions in the entire ice belt. Anglers in Minnesota have plenty of time to hone their fish catching skills in the winter and think of new ideas to catch fish through an eight inch hole in the ice.

Many anglers are spending their down time waiting for the lakes to freeze by switching their summer tackle over to winter tackle.

Organizing tackle boxes, changing old line, setting up ice fishing rods, putting new gas and plugs in the ice auger and checking the auger blades, to be sure they are sharp and tight.

Anglers also have to make sure their portable fish houses are in good shape and haven't been damaged by rodents or insects over the summer.

Anglers with wheeled fish houses have to test the heaters and wiring, grease the axle bearings, check the tires and be sure everything is in proper working order.

Buying a few new items each year is part of the seasonal ritual of getting ready for ice fishing. Many of the larger stores will have reps from the various ice fishing companies in the stores to help anglers select new products.

There is also the mother of all ice fishing shows at the St. Paul River Center on Dec. 6-8.

Most ice fishing companies large and small use this venue to introduce their new products for the season, which gives anglers a chance to see virtually all of the companies in ice fishing in one venue at one time.

There are special deals on many items at the show and most companies have their top pro staff at the event, so there is plenty to do and well worth the trip.

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Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.
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