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Paul Nelson fishing column for Feb. 26: Last chance to go after gamefish this weekend

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The season closes for walleyes, northern pike and other gamefish species at midnight Sunday night. Anglers are allowed to fish for crappies, sunfish, perch and rough fish species like whitefish and eelpout continuously in Minnesota.

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There are extended gamefish seasons on some of the border waters, so anglers can head north to fish Lake of the Woods, the Rainy River, Rainy Lake or other border lakes if they want to continue fishing for walleyes, sauger and northern pike.

The season for stream trout living in lakes is open until March 31. Anglers should check the regulations to be sure the lake they want to fish for trout is included in the winter season. A trout stamp is required to fish for trout.

Stationary shelters must be removed from the lakes in the southern two-thirds of Minnesota by March 1. Shelters must be removed from the lakes in the northern one-third of Minnesota by March 15, which includes most of the lakes in the Bemidji area.

Anglers are allowed to use portable fish houses on the lakes after the stationary shelters have been removed, as long as they are occupied and not left unattended on the lakes overnight. The 2009 fishing licenses are good through April 30, 2010.

Lakes in the Bemidji area are still covered with a heavy blanket of snow, but the extended forecast predicts there will be some melting occurring in the next week.

The snow pack on the lakes will continue to compact as it melts. Ice conditions on the lakes should continue to improve for vehicle traffic as long as the lakes continue to re-freeze overnight and don't receive any more snow.

Once the snow on the lakes begins to melt, fresh water starts to run into the lakes, which refreshes the stagnant water in the shallows. The rush of oxygen into the lakes boosts the activity levels of everything living in the lake.

The shallows in most lakes have been nearly void of life during the coldest part of the winter. Vegetation in the shallows decomposes under the ice, robbing the shallows of much of their oxygen.

The lakes are basically sealed tight from mid-December to February. The usable portion of the lake continues to shrink as the winter progresses. Once the melting starts on late ice, the declining trends reverse themselves and the entire lake starts to wake up and get ready for spring.

The forecast for this weekend is sunny and warm. Anglers should have a decent walleye bite on many of the larger lakes, especially in the evenings after a day of melting snow running into the lakes.

Walleyes usually move onto structure when they make their daily feeding movements, with the peak activity in the mornings and evenings, and then move off of structure when they are resting.

The key areas for walleyes in many lakes are the tops of smaller humps and the points, corners and turns on the larger bars and sunken islands.

The best areas for walleyes usually have direct access to deep water. Complex features like a series of humps in close proximity and access to several types of habitat including rocks and weeds make locations more desirable for walleyes.

The best depth for walleyes on lakes like Winnibigoshish, Cass, Pike's Bay and Walker Bay of Leech Lake has varied between 18 and 35 feet, depending on the conditions. When the conditions are favorable, walleyes will go shallower and stay longer than they will on days with poor conditions.

The best walleye bite in the main basin and shallow bays of Leech Lake has been in 14-18 feet of water. Once the snow begins to melt, walleyes in Leech Lake will move much shallower, often feeding on top of weed flats and bars in 5-8 feet of water.

The key flats for walleyes in Leech Lake are usually close to deep water, so the walleyes can move on and off of the structure quickly.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at panelson@paulbunyan.net.

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