Slow spring melt extends ice fishing season
The slow spring melt eased some of the flooding problems in the Bemidji area and also helped extend the ice fishing season.
There have been several cycles of melting and refreezing on the lakes this spring. Many anglers gave up on ice fishing after the last melt, when it looked like heavy rain put an end to the ice fishing season, only to have the lakes refreeze and get covered with snow again.
Most anglers are using ATVs or snowmobiles to access the lakes or they are walking out on the ice. The worst ice is usually close to the shoreline. Once anglers get on the lake and away from the shore, there is still about two feet of ice in most areas.
Fish migrations late in the season can concentrate fish populations and make them more vulnerable to angling pressure. It also means a large portion of the lake will be nearly void of fish, while other specific areas will be stacked with fish.
The ice fishing season usually goes out with a bang, with fast and furious action for anglers able to find the concentrations of fish.
Early spawning species like walleyes, northern pike and perch are already staged up close to their spawning sites. They are ready to make their spawning run as soon as the conditions are right.
Late spawning species like crappies, sunfish, bass and muskies are getting ready to make a feeding movement into the shallows as soon as the ice goes out. Most species go through a feeding binge right before they spawn, to provide the nutrients they need to finish gestation.
Gamefish populations in Minnesota are protected in the spring by the closing of the season. Panfish don't receive the same protection and anglers are allowed to fish for crappies, sunfish and perch continuously in Minnesota.
Selective harvest has caught on for most gamefish species, so anglers understand the benefits. The same conservation principles should apply to panfish, especially in the spring, when fish populations are most vulnerable right before they spawn.
Perch spawn very early. The window of opportunity to fish for perch after ice out is short and there isn't usually a significant amount of fishing pressure.
Most of the fishing pressure on perch occurs under the ice.
Crappies and sunfish spawn much later than perch, so there is a good amount of fishing pressure both under the ice and in open water before they spawn.
Many crappies and sunfish return to the same areas in the spring year after year, as long as enough fish survive to spawn and return next season.
If anglers harvest too many of the fish, there aren't enough left to return next season.
The spring walleye season on the Rainy River closes on April 14. The accesses on the Rainy River will be very busy this weekend, so anglers may want to get there early to get a parking spot.
Fishing on the Rainy River has only been fair to this point in the season. Anglers have been catching a few larger walleyes, but the main run of walleyes wasn't happening because of the cold water in the Rainy River.
The water temperatures in the Rainy River had been holding at less than 35 degrees, while water temperatures in Lake of the Woods were closer to 40 degrees.
Walleyes are hesitant to head into a river with strong current and significantly colder water. Most walleyes prefer to wait until the incoming water is warmer than the lake before heading up river to spawn.
Anglers have been catching more walleyes on the Rainy River this past week, so the season should finish with a bang if stable weather holds through the end of the season.
Most anglers use a jig and minnow for walleyes in the Rainy River. There are several ways to present the jigs, but usually any slow presentation works.
The special regulations during the spring walleye season on the Rainy River allow anglers to keep two walleyes less than 19.5 inches per person. Please check the special regulations before fishing the Rainy River.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.