Paul Nelson fishing column for Jan. 15: Mid-January thaw improves walleye bite in area
Ice conditions continue to improve on the larger walleye lakes in the Bemidji area, but there are still some slush problems on many of the smaller panfish lakes.
Most lakes in the area now have at least 15 inches of ice.
Anglers are able to drive four-wheel drive vehicles off the roads on many of the larger lakes. The buddy system is still the best plan for going off road, with one vehicle breaking the trail and the other vehicle following behind with a tow rope and a shovel, just in case the first vehicle gets stuck.
Walleye fishing had slowed down considerably in many areas with the extended period of cold weather, but the mid-January thaw helped improve the bite in many areas this past week.
Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake still have the best walleye bite in the area, but there have also been good reports for walleyes on Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake.
The walleye bite on Lake of the Woods has begun to move further from shore, with anglers starting to fish the reefs. The sauger bite has also moved into deeper water, with most of the action between 28 and 32 feet.
Fishing pressure and noise on the ice can determine how long schools of fish will stay in one area.
Lakes with little structure like Lake of the Woods and Upper Red have fish roaming the flats, following the schools of baitfish.
When a group of fish houses gets established in one area, the most aggressive fish get caught pretty quickly and the fishing usually shows a gradual decline.
When fish are roaming the basin, it is often more productive to stay away from the crowds and keep drilling holes in new areas until you make contact with the fish.
Winnibigoshish has plenty of structure, with numerous small humps, several huge bars and massive shoreline flats. Walleye anglers usually fish the tops of the small humps, the sides of the huge bars or along the breakline of the big shoreline flats.
Leech Lake is a huge lake with many bays, some of them shallow and some of them deep. Anglers fish the tops of humps in the deep bays and along the weed edges or along the breakline in the shallow bays and main lake.
Leech Lake has more rock than most lakes in the Bemidji area. Anglers have the option of fishing the chara-covered sand flats, the rocky humps, the shoreline breaks or the weed edges for walleyes and perch. There are also a few areas of mud in Leech Lake for the fish to search for insects.
Perch fishing has been tough in most lakes this winter, especially for larger jumbo perch. Part of the problem is poor age classes of large fish in many lakes, but there also may be a food issue. The mayfly hatches were spread out and sporadic this past summer with the cold weather, which may have reduced the amount of insect larvae in the mud.
Perch are voracious feeders and it takes a lot of food to feed a school of fish. If perch can find a good mound of insects in deep water, they may stay in the same areas for weeks. If there is a poor crop of insects in the mud, there isn't much else out there for the perch to eat.
Shallow perch tend to wander the flats in a constant search for schools of minnows, which can make them more difficult for anglers to pattern. Anglers may hammer the fish one day and then find the same area nearly void of fish the next day.
Crappie fishing can also slow down in January. Anglers can get on the crappies early in the season, but the fishing pressure and too much noise on the ice eventually scatters the schools of crappies and makes them more spooky.
Anglers may have to move away from the heavily pressured areas and find new schools of crappies in areas with less fishing pressure.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.