Paul Nelson fishing column for March 12: Warm weather and rain create quick melt
Lakes in the Bemidji area did a considerable amount of melting this past week. Most lakes are wet and sloppy, with the accesses and other high traffic areas covered with water.
The ideal situation for melting on the lakes is for the temperatures to stay slightly above freezing during the day and drop below 20 degrees at night.
Unfortunately for anglers who want the ice fishing season to continue, the melting on the lakes has been going too fast, with rain and temperatures above freezing at night.
The ice fishing season may be coming to an abrupt end very soon if the weather trend continues, especially for those using their vehicles to access the lakes.
This is the last weekend for anglers to get their stationary fish houses off lakes in the northern one-third of Minnesota. All fish houses must be off the lakes by midnight on March 15. Anglers are responsible to pick up the garbage around their fish houses when they remove their shelters.
Anglers are allowed to use portable shelters for the rest of the ice fishing season, as long as the houses are occupied and not left on the ice unattended overnight.
There has been a change in the sunfish (bluegill) regulation on Pimushe Lake, located east of Bemidji.
Pimushe had an experimental regulation of 10 sunfish, but the desired results were not being achieved, so the bag limit has been reduced to 5 sunfish effective March 1, 2010.
The five-sunfish (bluegill) bag limit on Pimushe is now the same as bag limits on Gull Lake near Tenstrike and Blackduck Lake. The state bag limit for sunfish on lakes without special regulations stays at 20 sunfish for both daily and possession limits.
Sunfish have very complicated spawning habits and their population dynamics are different than most other species living in fresh water.
Once a sunfish population becomes stunted, the population almost never recovers. It is critical to protect the few remaining lakes with large sunfish before the populations are over-harvested by anglers.
Male sunfish are responsible for guarding the nests, with the largest fish getting the best spawning sites.
Sunfish do most of their growth when they are juveniles. They reach maturity as soon as the juvenile fish are comparable in size to the mature sunfish living in the lake. If there are too few large sunfish in the lake for the juvenile sunfish to compete with, they will mature at a smaller size and lose most of their potential for growth.
Anglers are encouraged to practice selective harvest on bluegills and release the larger fish, especially the male sunfish over 9 inches. Male bluegills can be recognized by their bright colors, while female bluegills are pale looking, with the stripes on their sides more visible than in males.
A 1-pound bluegill can be as old as a 10-pound walleye, so over-harvest of larger bluegills is a real concern. A lake with large bluegills can be decimated in a relatively short period of time, especially when they are concentrated during the winter months or on their spawning beds, when they are more vulnerable to anglers.
Perch fishing has gradually been picking up on most of the larger lakes in the Bemidji area. Schools of perch are gradually moving toward shallow water and will begin to feed more aggressively as the snow melts.
Perch receive heavy fishing pressure in the winter in most of the larger lakes in the Bemidji area. The liberal limits on perch (20 daily and 50 in possession) do not protect perch well enough to maintain good numbers of jumbo perch every year, so there is some cycling of the populations as age classes of perch move through the systems.
The numbers of perch larger than 10 inches are down across the Bemidji area. Leech Lake currently has the largest population of perch longer than 10 inches in the area, which is reflected by the huge amount of fishing pressure Leech Lake has received for perch this winter.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.