Slow melt would improve fishing on area lakes
January is the coldest month of the winter on average so February's arrival gives hope to those who are getting tired of cold and snow.
The Bemidji area is gaining about 20 minutes of daylight per week so the temperatures will gradually get warmer as February progresses.
The snow on the lakes will eventually begin to melt. The big question is how fast the snow will melt and how much additional snow we will get in February and March.
The melting process can go many different ways. The ideal situation would be for the snow to melt slowly, with the weather patterns alternating between melting and re-freezing.
There is the potential for significant flooding in many areas this spring. The lakes in the Bemidji area already had high water levels last fall, before the spring melting process even begins.
Lakes along the Upper Mississippi are very close to the Headwaters so there isn't much water backed up before it reaches the local lakes.
The water levels in lakes like Bemidji, Cass, Winnibigoshish, Leech and all the smaller lakes in between are regulated by a series of dams. The large lakes can hold a lot of extra water before overflowing so most of the flooding occurs further down river.
Water levels in many of the local lakes were already high last fall heading into the winter. The lake levels will start out the spring with high water before any melting begins which increases the chances for flooding downstream.
Most anglers would prefer a slow but steady melt this spring without much additional snow. A slow melt would gradually improve anglers' access to the lakes so there could be a strong finish to the ice fishing season in March.
Fish are fine-tuned into their environment. They can sense when the barometric pressure changes, they know when the ice is melting or freezing and they can tell whether the days are growing longer or shorter.
Fish can sense when spring is coming by the longer days so they are ready to get more active as soon as the conditions turn more favorable.
During the depth of winter (January) fewer individual fish will be active at any one time and feeding movements tend to be shorter in duration.
The mid-winter blahs usually end at some point in February when the weather breaks and temperatures begin to edge above freezing again.
Fish become more active as the snow on the lakes begins to melt. More individual fish will participate in each feeding movement and when the conditions are right, the feeding movements tend to be longer in duration.
Anglers have been catching walleyes on most of the larger lakes. Upper Red Lake has been improving, with most resorts able to expand their roads into new areas after the cold weather made more ice and froze some of the slush.
Upper Red Lake has very little structure to hold fish so walleyes tend to be more nomadic in the shallow basin. This makes it harder to pattern the fish and puts a premium on any structure that does exist in the lake.
Anglers on Upper Red Lake usually have better luck staying away from the crowds and keeping mobile until they make contact with the fish.
Anglers can pick a random spot on Upper Red Lake, drill a few holes and fish them briefly to see if they can catch a quick walleye. They keep moving until they find a spot where they catch a keeper walleye and then they drill more holes and set up their portable fish houses.
The ice conditions have been worse on most of the small lakes or lakes with irregular shorelines like Cass and Leech Lake. The narrows and bays are all potential current areas so the ice conditions vary greatly from spot to spot.
The big round lakes like Winnibigoshish, Upper Red and Lake of the Woods have had better ice conditions this winter. There are also more resorts plowing roads on those lakes so anglers have more options for accessing the lakes.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.