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Paul Nelson: Ice fishing season will extend well into April

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There will be ice fishing well into April again this year in the Bemidji area as the spring meltdown has just started…again.

Anglers planning to go ice fishing will need an auger extension on most lakes. There is more than 30 inches of ice on popular lakes like Bemidji, Leech, Cass, Pike Bay, Winnibigoshish and Lake of the Woods.

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Many of the smaller panfish lakes thave less ice than the larger perch lakes but there is still enough ice in most areas to make bringing an auger extension a good idea, regardless of where you are planning to fish.

There are numerous reports of winterkills occurring in central and southern Minnesota this year. Some of the lakes being impacted do not have a history of low oxygen levels and winterkills in their past.

This means virtually any lake that has a history of winterkill is at risk and, once the final tally is known, we will probably find out that some unexpected lakes were impacted as well.

Lakes in northern Minnesota generally have less fertility than lakes further south, which is one of the main risk factors causing winterkills.

Most of the lakes that experience winterkill are smaller lakes that have lots of weeds and lots of shallow water. The most vulnerable lakes don’t have significant spring activity and don’t have an inlet or outlet that provides fresh water flow through the lake during the winter.

Simply put, a long harsh winter with deep snow and thick ice like this year can cause some lakes to consume all the available oxygen, which eventually kills some or all of the fish.

One thing is certain — there will be a few local lakes that are going to experience winterkills this year. How widespread the problems are going to be and which lakes are going to be impacted won’t fully be known until the ice melts and somebody finds the dead fish.

Most lakes still have poor to fair access for ice fishing. There is still enough snow on the lakes to make off-road travel with vehicles risky, especially for those traveling alone.

Anglers with four-wheel drive vehicles may be able to break trail on some lakes but the surface of the lakes is extremely bumpy and if the tires break through the crust of the snow, there is still a good chance of getting stuck.

Anglers should travel in pairs and bring a shovel and tow strap in case they get stuck.

Snowmobiles, track vehicles or ATVs are still the best option in most areas off the plowed roads or established trails on the ice.

Anglers have been finding perch holding off the breaks, adjacent to the larger flats where they will make their late-ice feeding migrations into shallow water.

If the perch are not on the bottom edge of the flats, they are likely on the top edge of the flats. The most productive areas are usually close to the breakline so the perch can retreat to deeper water if they feel threatened or don’t like the current weather pattern.

Eelpout were still biting this past week in some areas, which is surprising late in the season. Most years the eelpout would already be done spawning and headed back to deep water.

Many anglers have been heading to Lake of the Woods to fish the extended seasons for walleyes, sauger and northern pike.

Many walleyes out of Lake of the Woods spawn in the Rainy River so there is a constant flow of walleyes staging around Pine Island. Some walleyes will make their run through Four Mile Bay under the ice.

Other walleyes, however, will wait in the lake longer, until there is more open water in the river.

Anglers have also been heading to North Dakota to fish Devils Lake on late-ice. The season is always open for walleyes and northern pike in North Dakota but most anglers have been targeting the jumbo perch.

Anglers in Devils Lake usually catch plenty of perch larger than a pound, with a reasonable chance at catching a few perch in the two-pound class, which are really trophy sized perch.

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Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.
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