Paul Nelson: Spring meltdown has begun on Bemidji area lakes
The spring meltdown has begun in the Bemidji area as temperatures finally rose above freezing for several days.
There is plenty of snow on the lakes left to melt but the lakes also have more than 30 inches of ice under the snow so the duration of the fishing season will be influenced by the snow melt.
This past week was ideal for melting — there were several days of hard melting followed by a day or two of colder temperatures to re-freeze the surface of the ice.
If the snow continues to melt in stages the ice fishing season could last well into April again this year and there could be another late ice-out.
If the overnight temperatures remain above freezing for a couple of nights in a row or a heavy rain falls, the accesses could erode quickly and bring a premature end to the ice fishing season.
The accesses on the north and west sides of the lakes receive more sun during the day and that tends to break the ice more quickly in those areas than at the accesses on the east and south sides of the lakes.
The most heavily traveled accesses break up more quickly because water on the ice splashes under the vehicles and transfer the road salt and sand onto the ice.
Some of the water from the melting snow runs into the lakes and gives the lakes a boost of oxygen. This eventually revitalizes the shallows and allows the fish to leave deep water and move into the shallows to feed.
Oxygen levels dropped in most lakes this winter and a few shallow lakes reached critical levels and experienced a winterkill.
The total impact on all of the shallow lakes will not likely be known until the ice melts in the spring. The sooner fresh water runs into the lakes, the sooner the risk of winterkill will pass.
There are still a few anglers on the lakes and more would like to go ice fishing if the snow on the lakes would melt enough to provide better access.
Fishing tends to run in cycles for some species. Right now most of the larger lakes have low numbers of larger perch.
Leech Lake was the hot perch lake for many years but the population has crashed and the numbers of larger perch are way down.
Most problems in fish populations are caused by several factors. The low number of larger perch in Leech Lake may be caused by a multitude of issues including fishing pressure, natural mortality, increasing predation by walleyes and small northern pike, cormorants and from poor age classes of perch from bad spawns occurring seven to 10 years ago.
Winnibigoshish has a similar gap at the top end of the perch population but there are huge numbers of smaller perch coming up for the future. Anglers looking for perch this winter in Winnie found perch almost everywhere, which made patterning the low numbers of larger perch even more difficult.
Perch anglers in Winnibigoshish this winter were finding small perch on the deep flats, at the base of the breaks and close to the top of the breaks on the shallow flats. The explosion of forage presumably also caused tough walleye fishing much of this winter, despite near record numbers of walleyes present.
There are also many medium sized lakes in the Bemidji and Grand Rapids areas that are usually good for big perch that also have a gap at the top end of the perch population.
Crappie fishing has been more consistent than the jumbo perch fishing in many lakes this winter. Most of the crappies are on the moderate depth flats close to the breakline off the edges of the deep holes.
Eelpout fishing is close to its spring peak, with the fish about to spawn under the ice. You know when the eelpout spawn is getting close when the pout start to get more active during the day in relatively shallow water.