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Snow, cold temperatures put spring in reverse

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Hopefully, that was the last snow storm of the season and the lakes can finally lose their ice so spring can arrive.

The latest storm left behind enough snow to cover the lakes and turn the landscape white again. The blanket of new snow on the lakes insulates the ice and temporarily stops the melting process.

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A heavy snow this late in April is like throwing spring in reverse. Everything comes to a screeching halt and even goes backwards while the new snow melts.

There is still ice covering most of the lakes in the Bemidji area. The first areas on the lakes to open are usually near the inlets and outlets, which are swollen this spring from high water levels.

The average ice-out date for Lake Bemidji is April 26, which is usually one of the last lakes in the area to be ice-free each spring.

Shallow lakes usually open before the deep lakes, so there may be a few lakes that will be ice-free in the coming week.

The right combination of sun, rain and wind can get rid of the ice on the lakes in a hurry. Once the ice breaks free of the shoreline it usually doesn't take very long for a wind shift to send the ice crashing into the opposite shore, which usually breaks up the ice.

Anglers can draw on past experiences to know what lakes and what areas in the lakes are likely to see the first crappie and sunfish activity after ice-out.

The classic types of areas panfish look for in the spring are any area that warms significantly faster than the main portion of the lake. Anglers can make good use of a water temperature gauge in the spring, with only a few degrees often enough to make a big difference.

Some of the classic spring spots include bays and necked-off areas with the right combination of depth, bottom type and water temperature. Inlets can bring in warmer water and crappies and sunfish may move long distances into bays and backwaters to reach areas with just the right conditions.

Many panfish will return to the same areas year after year, so anglers can have a renewable resource if they don't over-harvest the fish.

Classic spring spots for crappies and sunfish usually have deep enough water so the bottom is not visible in the sunlight. The best areas often have dark water and a soft bottom, where insect hatches begin almost immediately in the spring.

Minnows also look for soft-bottom areas to feed early in the season so anglers can fish the holes or any cover like weeds, wood or rocks that might be holding fish.

The panfish bite can begin earlier on some lakes than other lakes, depending on what types of habitat the lakes have to offer the fish.

Most lakes will have some panfish moving into the shallows when water temperatures reach between 46 and 48 degrees. The panfish bite usually keeps improving as the water warms, with the peak bite usually occurring when water temperatures reach into the 60s.

Walleyes begin spawning in rivers as soon as water temperatures reach the low 40s but temperatures dipped into the mid to upper 30s in most rivers and streams this week. Walleyes in rivers should begin to spawn as soon as temperatures begin to rebound.

Anglers need to purchase a 2011 Minnesota fishing license to continue fishing after April 30. Anglers have the option of purchasing a walleye stamp when they buy their fishing license, with the proceeds going into a dedicated account for stocking walleyes in Minnesota lakes.

The Minnesota sporting public has a history of stepping up to the plate when asked to support issues involving hunting and fishing and the enjoyment of the great outdoors.

Please consider buying a $5 walleye stamp when you buy your fishing license and for an extra $2 you can get the actual walleye stamp in the mail, which is sure to be a collector's item.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at panelson@paulbunyan.net.

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