The gamefish season on the inland waters of Minnesota close Sunday at midnight. This is the last weekend anglers will be able to fish for walleyes and northern pike in Minnesota waters until the season reopens in May.
Many border waters like Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake and the Rainy River have extended seasons for gamefish. Anglers can also head south to fish the lower Mississippi where it borders with Wisconsin to fish extended seasons for walleyes, sauger and other gamefish species.
Licensed anglers are allowed to continue fishing for panfish and rough fish after the gamefish season closes. The season is open continuously in Minnesota for species like crappies, sunfish, perch, eelpout, tulibees and whitefish.
The 2012 Minnesota fishing licenses are effective thru April 30. Anglers will be able to purchase 2013 Minnesota fishing licenses after March 1. Anglers can expect to pay more for their hunting and fishing licenses in 2013, with public supported price increases for most types of licenses.
Anglers north of the line formed by Highways 2 and 200 are required to have their fish houses off the lakes by March 18. Common sense says anglers who do not have access to a snow plow should get their houses off the lakes as soon as possible.
Anglers are allowed to use fish houses on the lakes after March 18 but the houses have to be removed when anglers leave the lake and cannot be left unattended overnight.
Snowmobiles continue to be the best way to access most lakes, unless anglers are traveling on plowed roads. Off-road travel on the lakes is difficult at best, even for snowmobiles. Anglers wanting to fish away from the roads or on more remote lakes should not travel alone and be prepared to get stuck.
Fishing has been slow for walleyes in most lakes. The best bites have been on Upper Red and Lake of the Woods. Stained water gives anglers the best chance for a day bite, while most clear water lakes have been best for walleyes during a brief flurry at dusk.
Anglers fishing for crappies, sunfish and perch have been having better success than most walleye anglers. Unfortunately, many of the best areas for panfish are only accessible to anglers with snowmobiles or other tracked vehicles.
Blowing and drifting snow in the Bemidji area filled in most of the roads and trails on the lakes. Resorts spent much of the week re-opening roads and “rescuing” anglers from their fish houses. Most fish houses on the lakes are surrounded by deep snow and slush.
The ice conditions continue to deteriorate as heavy snow on the lakes is causing more areas to flood and develop problems with slush. The snow is deep enough to hide most of the wet spots, so anglers can get trapped traveling across the lakes, even when they are trying to be careful.
The cold weather helps re-freeze some of the areas where the water is exposed to the air but it does little to freeze the water trapped under nearly two feet of snow.
The snow and water on the lakes are also having an effect on fish location. The amount of sunlight able to penetrate the ice is severely limited by the snow. This can change the locations of baitfish and panfish, which often rely on zooplankton to start the food chain.
Crappies, sunfish, tulibees and whitefish are all species that will suspend well off the bottom when the lakes are heavily covered with snow.
There is a horizontal edge in the water column at the point where sunlight stops. Phytoplankton needs light to perform photosynthesis, so they live in the portion of the water column where sunlight is able to penetrate into the water.
Early in the winter, sunlight goes all the way to the bottom of the lake so that is where most of the fish are located. Once the lakes are covered with snow and ice the portion of the water column with sunlight is reduced, which changes the depth where the food chain starts and where crappies, sunfish and baitfish are likely to be suspended.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at email@example.com