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Paul Nelson: Warm temperatures, wind, rain needed to remove ice from Bemidji area lakes

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The countdown has begun to the 2013 Minnesota fishing opener on May 11. With only two weeks remaining before the season opens it is going to take a unique set of circumstances to get rid of the ice in time by opening day.

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The first thing that has to happen is to have the temperatures to stay above freezing at night so the lakes can melt 24 hours a day instead of re-freezing each night.

The next thing that needs to happen is to get rid of all the snow. There are still snowdrifts in the woods that are more than knee deep.

The long awaited drastic change in the weather pattern may be starting today. The overnight temperatures are expected to stay above freezing tonight. Hopefully it will be a trend and not a mirage.

Most lakes in the Bemidji area still have about a foot of snow and around 30 inches of ice. With so little time and so much melting to do, it is probably going to take more than just warm temperatures to get the job done in time.

The wild cards in the equation are rain and wind. It will likely take a significant amount of rain and several days of strong winds, along with the warm temperatures, to get rid of the ice on the lakes before the season opens.

Unfortunately, the exact same conditions required to get rid of the ice and snow in a short amount of time are the same conditions that would create the most problems for those worried about flooding this spring.

At least one thing is certain, most walleyes will not have had time to spawn when the season opens, especially walleyes that stay in the lakes to spawn.

River spawning walleyes are usually significantly ahead of lake spawning walleyes. Anglers wondering where to fish on the opener should be thinking about finding a river somewhere to fish. The Rainy River should be a popular place to fish on the opener, especially if the ice is not all the way off the lakes.

In the Bemidji anglers were still ice fishing on the lakes this past week. Anglers can use snowmobiles or ATVs to access the lakes or they can walk onto the ice.

Perch have moved shallow in most lakes. The bite has been very good in 5 to 8 feet of water, with some perch even shallower.

The ideal locations for both perch and sunfish have been on weed flats covered with chara and close to standing vegetation such as cabbage, reeds or wild rice.

Both perch and sunfish have been suspending right below the ice in most lakes, which gives them a better vantage point in the shallow water.

If the fish cruise too close to the bottom their view becomes obstructed with weeds and they can’t see their prey or the predators in the shallows, which can be hazardous to their health.

Crappies in most lakes have also moved into shallow water, although they usually stay slightly deeper than the perch and sunfish.

The crappies have also been suspending right under the ice. Anglers need to keep their presentations high in the water column, or they risk having their baits get lost below the level of the fish.

When the fish are shallow and suspending right under the ice, they can be very spooky and sensitive to noise. Anglers should auger most of their holes at one time so things have a chance to settle when the noise stops.

Anglers should try to move quietly as they move from hole to hole. A European jigging rod is ideal. The line goes through the rod blank from a built-in reel so the line doesn’t blow around. Anglers are able to use the long rods to dab and dunk in the holes from a distance.

Anglers can leave some of the ice chips in the hole to break the sunlight. To a fish in shallow water the holes can look like spotlights. Tungsten jigs also are a good choice because they are smaller than lead, are heavy and work great for punching through the slush.

PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at panelson@paulbunyan.net

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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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