Paul Nelson fishing column for Feb. 19: Eelpout Festival begins today in Walker City Park
Fishing should improve quickly once the snow starts to melt and more seasonable weather patterns arrive in the Bemidji area.
There is still about 16 inches of snow on the lakes, with larger drifts. There are also the remains of old roads and piles of snow from old fish house sites, which creates an obstacle course for anglers to navigate while driving across the lakes.
Strong winds are almost like another snowstorm on the lakes, but instead of adding new snow, the old snow gets pushed around into drifts and fills in the roads and trails on the ice.
Anglers may be able to get around some lakes with four-wheel drive vehicles, but you should have good tires, travel in pairs, bring a tow strap and shovel and consider buying some chains.
Otherwise, anglers need to stay on the plowed roads or bring a snowmobile for off road travel on the lakes.
The fishing season for gamefish is winding down, with only two weekends left in the season, which closes for the inland waters of Minnesota on Feb. 28.
Anglers can continue fishing for perch, crappies, sunfish, whitefish and eelpout after the season closes for gamefish.
Speaking of eelpout, the 31st annual Eelpout Festival opens today and runs through Sunday in Walker. The festival is headquartered at City Park on Walker Bay of Leech Lake.
Anglers and spectators alike will spread out on Walker Bay, with small cities of fish houses and other dwellings emerging along likely eelpout haunts.
Eelpout are the first species of fish in our northern lakes to spawn in the spring. They actually spawn under the ice in late February to mid-March on top of chara covered bars and humps next to deep water.
Eelpout use the deepest portions of the lakes, preferring cold water over warm water. Eelpout are most active in the winter months and will be shallower than any other time of the year when they move up to spawn.
Anglers can catch eelpout in deep water using walleye tactics during the low light periods of the day or after dark.
Eelpout like live bait. Eelpout feed more by smell than eyesight, so scents can help eelpout locate baits. Bobber rigs and tip-ups can work well for eelpout, especially if they are set close to the bottom, which makes it easier for eelpout to locate the bait.
Anglers also fish for "rough" fish like walleyes and perch during the Eelpout Festival, but the main focus are the eelpout.
Actually, eelpout are very edible. They are freshwater cod and very similar to salt water cod, which are considered one of the best eating fish by many people.
Anglers can fillet eelpout, taking the back strap and the tail meat. Eelpout meat can then be cut into chunks, battered and fried like other fish. Eelpout can also be poached in water and/or beer with bay leaves and dipped in butter like lobster.
Eelpout chunks can also be broiled in the oven, covered with butter or olive oil and seasoned with your favorite seafood seasonings.
Fishing has been a little slower for most anglers this past week. Searching for fish is made much more difficult because of the snow, which severely limits access to the lakes.
The deep snow concentrates the anglers into areas with plowed roads and makes it more difficult for anglers to spread out and find less pressured fish.
Most anglers have been finding perch in 28-35 feet of water in lakes like Winnibigoshish, Bemidji, Cass and Pike's Bay. Perch in Leech Lake have been shallower, with most of the fish in 15-18 feet of water.
Walleye fishing has been best in the mornings and evenings, with very little activity during the day. Anglers can concentrate on perch during the day and then set up for walleyes when the sun starts to set.
Fishing should improve quickly for all species as soon as the snow starts to melt, which will activate the fish and give anglers better access to the lakes.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.