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Paul Nelson: Spring meltdown in full swing on Bemidji area lakes

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Paul Nelson: Spring meltdown in full swing on Bemidji area lakes
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The spring meltdown became serious this past week as the temperatures stayed above freezing for several consecutive days and nights.

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The lakes still have plenty of ice away from shore but the upper layer of ice is soft in many areas. The slush that froze over the winter will quickly turn to mush when it melts, so be careful out there.

The access points on the lakes need to be reevaluated constantly, especially on warmer days with a dominant sun. If the lakes continue to freeze at night, however, ice fishing should continue into next week.

The next extended period of warm weather will likely break the rest of the ice at the accesses and end vehicle traffic on the lakes.

This weekend is the last weekend of the spring walleye season on the Rainy River. The Birchdale access is now open but it should be very busy the last couple days of the season.

The late-ice portion of the season began as soon as significant melting started on the lakes. Fresh water from the melting snow and ice runs into the lakes along the entire shoreline and also through cracks in the ice and along ice heaves.

Sometimes water can drain into anglers’ old fishing holes so quickly it starts a whirlpool that can create sink holes in the ice. Anglers need to be on the alert for them after the water drains off the lakes.

The rush of oxygen that flows into the shallows on late ice is like opening all the windows in a house for the first time in the spring. The shallows are instantly revitalized from the fresh water that flushes out the stagnant water after a long, cold winter. This allows predator and prey species alike to repopulate the shallows.

Perch are among the first species to move shallow because they spawn almost immediately after ice-out. Huge schools of perch will roam the shallows, searching for minnows, crayfish and anything else they can find to eat.

Perch usually prefer larger flats because they generally offer more food options and have more feeding opportunities than smaller flats. The best areas on the flats often have a mixture of rocks, gravel, standing weeds and chara-covered sand flats.

The different bottom types and weed edges on the flats offer more diverse habitat to the fish and give prey species somewhere to hide. The high percentage areas on the flats will concentrate predator species and also attract attention from the roaming hoards of perch.

Perch often start out late ice feeding on the edge of the flats close to deep water, but as the meltdown progresses, the perch will roam further and further from the deep water edge.

Depressions on the flats can be particularly attractive to panfish as ice out approaches. Once the fish are a longer distance from the deep breakline, they will drop into the depressions to rest or to avoid predators.

Sunfish move onto the weed flats during late ice, searching out areas with standing weeds, shallow mud or onto some unique structural element. Sunfish will eat minnows at times but their main food source is usually insects, which hatch out of the mud.

Wild rice or lily pads are areas frequented by sunfish on late ice because of the mud bottom where the plants like to grow. Both sunfish and perch may go into extremely shallow water on late ice and, at times, anglers are able to sight fish and see the fish moving through under their holes.

Crappies usually prefer deep weed edges close to deep water on late ice. Crappies want a quick escape route to deeper water so they can retreat from the shallows quickly if they feel threatened by predators or if a cold front pushes them back out of the shallows.

Anglers can experiment with presentations for all species of panfish on late ice. Plastics and lures fished without bait can often be effective because anglers are not slowed by re-baiting the lures.

Shallow fish are usually aggressive because they are there to feed. Anglers may have to down-size and add bait if the fish are finicky but efficiency and speed are the main components to catching fish quickly while they are still under anglers’ holes.

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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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