Paul Nelson fishing column for March 19: Ice fishing season is nearing the end
The ice fishing season is on borrowed time, especially for anglers trying to use vehicles to access area lakes. Anglers will still be able to use ATVs to access most lakes for a little while longer, but the ice fishing season is going to be over soon, unless temperatures get considerably colder in the near future.
The ice on many lakes is turning dark in color, which increases the amount of sunlight absorbed by the ice. Once the ice turns dark, it becomes more porous and begins to break up, much like an ice cube melting in a glass of water.
The forecast for this weekend is for colder temperatures, especially at night, so the ice on the lakes may re-freeze to some extent, which would temporarily extend the ice fishing season.
Most of the panfish in the lakes have moved out of their winter locations and are in the process of moving toward shallow water.
Anglers need to put themselves between the winter feeding areas and the portion of the lake where the panfish are likely to go after ice out. Then anglers can track the progress of the panfish and try to locate where they are along their migration routes.
Perch, crappies and sunfish spend most of the winter in deep water, but they have different motivations when they move toward shallow water on late ice.
Crappies and sunfish move shallow to make a feeding movement. They may or may not move all the way into the shallows, depending on what the lake has to offer.
Food is usually the key to whether crappies and sunfish move all the way into the shallows to feed. If there are areas of shallow mud that have insects and minnows for the panfish to feed on, they are more likely to move all the way into the shallows.
Deep reeds or deep edges of wild rice are two types of areas that are likely to attract late ice panfish. Shallow bays or areas with an inflow of warmer water will also attract feeding panfish.
Wood or other structure that attracts minnows and heats up the water faster are another type of structure likely to attract some late-ice crappies and sunfish.
If there is a portion of a lake that warms up significantly sooner than the rest of the lake, crappies and sunfish may move stage up along the breakline, waiting for the ice to go out before moving into the shallows.
If there are no "classic spring spots" for the crappies and sunfish to move into, then they will likely hold off the edges of structure, waiting for some portion of the lake to warm up enough to lure them into the shallows.
Perch spawn much earlier than sunfish and crappies. Perch will spawn right after ice out, while sunfish and crappies spawn when water temperatures reach into the 60s.
Perch are moving into the shallows in most lakes right now. They will usually stage up near the areas where they will spawn in a couple of weeks and stay there to feed until the ice goes out on the lakes.
Perch lay their eggs on old standing weeds, so reed beds and old cabbage weed beds are two of the more common types of locations for perch to spawn.
Many anglers are done ice fishing for the season. Anglers wanting to fish out of their boats have the option of traveling north to the Rainy River for the spring walleye season or head south to the Mississippi River near Red Wing, where walleye fishing is open year 'round.
The early spring warm-up this year has opened the Rainy River much earlier than most years, with the accesses fully open and ready for anglers with all sizes of boats.
Fishing in the Rainy River is typically best when the water is still relatively clear. Once the spring rains begin and the water starts to get muddy, the fishing starts to drop off as the fish lose visibility.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.