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Paul Nelson: Strong, steady winds help break ice on Bemidji area lakes

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Wind, rain and snow have been doing their best to remove the ice on the lakes in the Bemidji area without the aid of sunshine and warmer temperatures.

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The ice on many of the local lakes should be gone by this weekend but the deep lakes, such as Bemidji and Cass Lake, are among the last lakes to be ice-free.

The water in the lakes is around 40 degrees so if the lakes are not freezing, they are melting. If the wind catches hold of the ice just right, it can push the ice into the downwind shoreline.

Sometimes the ice on the lakes is still thick enough to damage to anything that gets in its way, and that is the likely scenario this year.

The best thing about a late spring is that the fishermen don’t miss any of the good fishing while they wait for the season to open.

Most anglers prefer to fish shallow lakes on the opener because those lakes offer warmer water and tend to have more active fish.

Most sonar units have a temperature gauge, which is very handy to have early in the year. Anglers can use water temperatures to predict where the most active walleyes will be located and which lakes will likely have the most active fish.

Walleyes can spawn both in lakes and in rivers connected to the lakes. Walleyes living in chains of lakes often travel through several lakes to get to the specific areas where they want to spawn.

River spawning walleyes get a significant head start on the lake spawning walleyes because the water temperatures in rivers tend to be several degrees warmer than the water in the lakes.

In order to have the greatest chances of catching walleyes on opening weekend, anglers will want to target male walleyes that have been done spawning for the longest time.

Male walleyes are less affected by the spawn than female walleyes and will resume normal feeding patterns much sooner than the females.

Male walleyes usually feed their way back to their home lakes while female walleyes often head straight back to their home lake and head for deep water where they are inactive until they recover from spawning.

Any large flats or other areas holding baitfish along the migration routes can attract hungry walleyes as they make their way back to their home lake.

Each lake is different. Lake Bemidji has more lake spawning walleyes than most lakes so it is usually slower on the opener. Lake Irving usually has more active fish.

Cass Lake has two strong river runs of spawning walleyes, with walleyes running up the Mississippi River and the Turtle River. This means both Andrusia and Kitchi are typically better than Cass Lake on the opener.

Leech Lake has good spawning runs up both Sucker Bay and Portage Bay, so those areas are usually better than the main lake early in the season.

Winnibigoshish has a big spawning run up the Cutfoot Sioux and a smaller run up the Mississippi River, so main lake areas close to both areas are usually the key spots to fish on the opener.

Upper Red Lake is perhaps the best early season lake for walleyes in the Bemidji area, offering strong spawning runs up both the Tamarac River and the Shotley Brook.

The walleye limit on Upper Red Lake switches back to four fish with a protected slot limit of 17 to 26 inches early in the season. On June 14 the slot limit changes to 20 to 26 inches, with one fish over 26 inches allowed in a limit.

The live-bait situation this spring should be similar to last year. More strict regulations on trapping and transporting live bait will mean shiner minnows will be in short supply and anglers Plastics and other artificial lures are taking up some of the slack for live bait but early in the season most anglers in the Bemidji area would consider a jig and spot-tail shiner minnow as the bait of choice.

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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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