The unpredictable nature of weather in northern Minnesota was demonstrated again this past week when the Bemidji area got buried by another March snowstorm.
Fishing had been steadily improving for panfish in many lakes as the snow cover gradually melted from the ice, which increases sunlight and revitalized the shallows, bringing them back to life.
Anglers were able to access most areas on the lakes after the original snow cover melted and the fishing was steadily improving, especially for jumbo perch.
The baitfish had begun to move back into the shallows, which brings in the big schools of perch to feed on the baitfish and anything else they can find.
The hottest areas on many of the larger lakes were on the edges of old cabbage weed beds, and bald spots or rises in flats with broken rock or chara on the bottom.
Many of the best areas have access to deep water nearby. This gives the fish a line of retreat from predators. The fish may also dump out of the shallows temporarily if the weather does exactly what it did this past week.
The entire landscape of the lakes changed when more than a foot of snow was dumped on the ice.
The sudden loss of sunlight under the ice has a big impact on the fish. The conditions totally change and the fish often back out of the shallows and move back into deeper water until the snow begins to melt again.
Anglers' access to the lakes is another huge issue. The lakes were is great shape, with anglers able to drive their 4-wheel drive vehicles almost anywhere on the lakes.
Now access to the lakes is much more difficult and anglers with snowmobiles or track vehicles are once again the ones with the best access to the lakes.
Resorts on lakes like Winnibigoshish, Leech and Cass are still plowing roads on the ice for perch anglers, but access is limited by the deep snow off of the roads.
Before the snowstorm, anglers had also been doing well for crappies and sunfish in many of the smaller lakes or in bays of the larger lakes.
Crappies will hold in deeper water longer than perch or sunfish in most lakes. They will begin to move out of the deepest water and move closer to the areas where they will move into later in the season.
Crappies will move into extremely shallow water late in the season, but they will wait longer than perch and sunfish to make the move shallow.
Crappies often move into only a few feet of water, right in the middle of old reed beds or old wild rice beds, just as the ice is getting too weak to hold anglers.
Meanwhile, crappies can often suspend just under the ice late in the season, which makes them difficult to pattern, but very active if anglers can find the right locations.
Bluegills have also been biting in many of the smaller lakes and in the bays of larger lakes. The best areas have been the deep edges of old weed beds, or on humps and flats covered with broken rock or chara.
Lake of the Woods has an extended season for walleyes, sauger and northern pike. Anglers also fish portions of the lower Rainy River and Four Mile Bay.
Many of the walleyes in the southern portion of Lake of the Woods will run up the Rainy River to spawn in the spring.
Fishing for walleyes keeps getting better later in the season. More walleyes keep moving in from the main lake to areas around Pine Island, as they get in position to run up the Rainy River to spawn.
A reminder to anglers with stationary fish houses on lakes north of Highways 2 and 200. The shelters must be removed from the lakes no later than midnight on Monday. After that date, anglers are allowed to use shelters on the lakes while occupied, but they can no longer be left on the lakes unattended.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.