The lakes in the Bemidji area had a meltdown this past week after several days with rain and temperatures above freezing.
The snow on the lakes did some significant melting, which flooded the surface of many area lakes. Most of the roads on the ice had several inches of standing water, which created sloppy conditions for anglers, especially those with stationary fish houses on the lakes.
The melting snow is a mixed blessing for anglers. Anyone with a stationary fish house on the ice may want to consider removing their house or adding some more wood blocks under the houses before they freeze into the ice.
Once the water on the lakes has had time to drain and re-freeze, access to most lakes should improve significantly, allowing anglers to access more areas on the lakes with their 4-wheel drive vehicles or ATVs.
Anglers need to watch for sink holes in the ice after the water drains. Water on the surface of the lakes will drain through the ice any way it can, which includes cracks in the ice and old ice fishing holes.
If enough water drains through a hole in the ice, a whirlpool can be created, which can erode the ice and create sink holes which are dangerous for anglers traveling on the lakes.
The lakes in the Bemidji area should be extra busy the next two weekends. The season for walleyes and other gamefish in the inland waters of Minnesota closes at midnight on Feb. 22.
Once the gamefish season closes, anglers will still be able to fish for crappies, sunfish, perch and trout. There is also an extended season for gamefish on the border lakes with Canada.
Some anglers also like to fish for whitefish and eelpout on late ice, so the ice fishing season is far from over for most anglers.
The melting snow on the lakes can have an impact on fish location. Much of the shallow water in the lakes has been nearly void of fish during the middle of the winter because the decomposing weed beds rob the shallows of oxygen.
Once the snow on the lakes begins to melt, fresh water filters into the lakes and the stagnant water in the shallows gets a boost of life giving oxygen.
The loss of snow cover also allows more sunlight to penetrate through the ice, which spurs new plant growth and allows fish to eventually move back into shallow water.
Walleye fishing on Upper Red Lake has been picking up, with many anglers catching their limit of three walleyes, while releasing good numbers of walleyes within the protected slot limit of 17-26 inches.
Crappie fishing on Upper Red Lake continues to be spotty, with only a few crappies remaining from the mega 1995 age class of crappies. Most of the schools of big crappies in Upper Red are small in numbers, which makes the crappies more difficult to pattern. Most crappies being caught in Upper Red are being caught by anglers fishing for walleyes.
Anglers have also been catching walleyes on lakes like Winnibigoshish, Leech, Cass, Pike's Bay, Bemidji and Blackduck. Most of the action has been in the mornings and evenings, with a few walleyes being caught after dark.
The general movement of fish in the lakes late in the winter is towards shallower water. The fish won't move all at once and each lake is different, depending on how much food is available in shallow water.
Crappies and sunfish in most lakes have been located in deep water, but most of the panfish have been suspending well off the bottom. It is not uncommon for crappies and sunfish to suspend into the middle third of the water column.
Anglers need to watch their sonar for suspended fish and be sure to keep their baits high enough to be at or above eye level of the crappies and sunfish. The panfish can be very spooky and are much more likely to move up for baits without spooking than they are if an angler tries to lift their bait up to the fish.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.