Paul Nelson: Slush is finally beginning to freeze on Bemidji area lakes
The bitter cold temperatures are finally having a positive impact on the slush covering many lakes in the Bemidji area.
The ice conditions will probably never be ideal this winter but there is enough time for the conditions to improve, if we can avoid another heavy snow storm.
The problem is that snow is a very powerful insulator so it takes a long time for the cold to get through the snow and freeze the water trapped between the snow and ice.
Once the water in the slush is exposed to the air, it will freeze. There are several ways for this to happen, with each patch of slush freezing on its own timetable, depending upon a number of factors.
One way to expose the water in the slush to the air is for someone to disturb it by driving a snowmobile or other vehicle through the slush. There is often a price to be paid with this method, however, as the vehicle will usually become stuck.
Another way for the water in the slush to become exposed is for a group of anglers to fish an area, traveling in and out with snowmobiles, drilling a bunch of holes in the ice and trampling the snow as they move around the area.
An area of slush on the lakes can also freeze if the water can soak all the way through the snow, saturating the snow and exposing the surface of the water to the air.
Once the slush freezes, the mixture of frozen slush and snow is not as strong as clear ice but it is much better than having water trapped under the snow. Eventually, anglers may be able to drive over many of the areas with frozen slush, without falling into a watery trap.
Snowmobiles or some other type of tracked vehicle are still the preferred modes of transportation for anglers wanting to fish away from the established trails and away from the crowds.
The ice conditions are changing so anglers need to keep checking their favorite lakes to see if there are any new areas they are able to access.
This has been a cold and unusual winter to this point and there is plenty of winter still ahead on the calendar. Anglers wanting to brave the elements and go outdoors in sub-zero temperatures need to have good equipment to survive.
There is high-tech outerwear made for fishing and working in the cold and wet elements found in Minnesota during the winter. Anglers also need good boots and gloves to keep their hands and feet dry and warm.
Insulated fish houses are also available, with heaters designed for indoor and outdoor use. The old style heaters and cookers are not made for indoor use, even though there still are many anglers who use them to heat their fish houses.
Many anglers are chomping at the bit to go ice fishing but they want to wait until the ice conditions improve or at least until the temperatures get a little warmer.
The snow cover on the lakes also has an impact on the fish. Most species relate to the amount of sunlight penetrating through the ice and base their location and feeding patterns on where the sun can reach under the ice.
Mid-winter patterns have the fish moving shallower or suspending further off of the bottom so they can feed on the edge of where the sunlight reaches into the water.
The sun makes a daily cycle, with fish relating to the edge of the sun as it moves across the sky. Walleyes will feed along the light edge early and late in the day as the light moves up and down the structure.
Suspended fish like crappies and sunfish will suspend higher in the water column as the amount of sunlight penetrating through the ice decreases during the winter.
Fish feeding in deep water may be active later in the day when the sun is higher in the sky, so they can see better when they are feeding.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org