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Recent snowfall complicates fishing on Bemidji area lakes

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The landscape, or more specifically, the icescape has changed drastically in the Bemidji area after the heaviest snowfall so far this winter arrived earlier this week.

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Anglers were enjoying excellent ice conditions and light snow cover, which allowed anglers to go virtually anywhere they wanted on the lakes.

The snow storm this past week blanketed much of northern Minnesota with enough snow to impede access to the lakes and make it difficult for many anglers to return to their stationary fish houses without the aid of a snowplow.

Snowmobiles are now the preferred mode of travel on most lakes, unless anglers are satisfied to fish areas close to the plowed roads on the ice.

Cold weather was the biggest obstacle facing anglers during most of January, with another spell of bitterly cold temperatures on the back side of the recent snowstorm.

The snow cover on the lakes may also trigger some changes in feeding patterns of the fish because of a sudden reduction in the amount of sunlight able to penetrate the ice.

Fish in some lakes had been using the edge of the weed beds, with the light snow cover allowing enough sunlight through the ice to allow some of the weeds to stay green.

Decaying weeds burn oxygen in the water as they decompose, and that process should increase now that there is much more snow on the ice to block the sunlight.

Dead weeds are less likely than green weeds to hold fish, at least until most of the decomposing is finished. Some areas with heavy weed growth can actually use up enough oxygen as they decompose to drive most of the inhabitants of the weed beds out of the shallows.

The snow cover on the lakes can also have an impact on fish using deep water and can force fish to change their locations and the depths.

Most predator species like to feed along edges, regardless of how deep they are feeding. Edges provide more diverse habitat which increases the food options for the fish.

Just like people often prefer a restaurant with more choices on the menu, fish often prefer to be located in areas with more choices for food, especially during the winter when they are less likely to make long-distance feeding movements.

There are many types of edges in the lakes. The deep weed edge is the point where the standing weed growth ends as the water gets too deep for sunlight to penetrate all the way to the bottom.

There are also edges where bottom types meet. One of the best edges in the lakes is often where rocks meet either sand or mud.

Rocks provide cover for minnows, smaller fish, crayfish and even some types of insects that like to live between the rocks.

Sand can be covered with chara, which grows in rootless mats on the bottom and provides cover for many different types of insects, crayfish and a variety of minnows and other small fish.

There are also edges between weed types, inside and outside weed edges and also edges where bottom types change within the weeds.

Some weeds grow out of sand, some grow in marl (a more fertile mixture of clay and silt) and some weeds grow out of shallow mud.

Mud bottom also comes in different types. There is the soft mud or muck that doesn’t have a distinct bottom and is almost like quicksand. There is also the hard sticky mud that is the most fertile type of mud and home to many different types of insects.

The bottom of the lakes is similar to soil on land. Some areas are great for growing just about anything while others soils are not good for growing much of anything.

Some soil is rich with life and full of things like night crawlers, worms and other wiggly things while some soils are nearly void of life, much like a desert under the water.

Sunlight also creates an edge under the water. The depth of where the sunlight stops can determine where the food chain begins as everything in the lakes relates to changes in the amount of sunlight penetrating through the ice.

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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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