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Spring melt could hamper access to area lakes

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The spring melt has begun again in the Bemidji area. How long the ice fishing season will last depends on how fast the lakes thaw. As long as temperatures stay below freezing at night the ice fishing season should be able to continue.

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The access points on the lakes are the main factors in how long the ice fishing season will continue. The ice usually breaks up along the shoreline much faster than it does in the middle of the lakes.

The accesses can get sloppy very quickly when the snow begins to melt. Salt, sand and dirt wash off the vehicles when they splash through water at the accesses, which speeds up the melting process in the high-traffic areas.

The location of the access is another factor in determining how long anglers will be able to get onto the lakes. Accesses on the north and west shores of the lakes get more direct afternoon sun, which makes them break up faster than accesses on the south and east shores of the lakes.

The number of vehicles using the accesses also has an impact on how long they can stay open. Some resorts spread out straw on the accesses to help insulate the ice, absorb some of the water and prevent the dirt and salt washing off the vehicles from making direct contact with the ice.

The wildcard in the equation is rain or snow. Rain will speed the melting while snow will slow it.

Anglers willing to walk on the ice or use ATVs and snowmobiles will be able to get on the ice longer than anglers driving their vehicles onto the lakes.

When the weather stays cold this late in the season the change to warmer weather often happens quickly, as if someone suddenly flips a switch.

Anglers traveling long distances to go ice fishing should check ahead to be sure they will be able to get onto the ice. Resorts should be able to tell anglers how long their accesses will stay open and most of the bait stores have up-to-the-minute information about the ice conditions on many lakes.

Anglers should be able to get on the lakes through this weekend. What happens in the coming week or two depends on the weather. The extended forecast for the Bemidji area predicts continued melting during the days with overnight temperatures staying below freezing.

Perch have been staging to move shallow in most lakes, with many fish hanging along the breakline adjacent to the large shoreline weed flats. The perch should begin to move into the shallows as the snow melts.

The shallows are nearly abandoned by most species during the coldest part of the winter and then the fish slowly begin to filter back into the shallows as the snow melts and fresh water begins to run into the lake.

Crappies have begun to move out of the deeper holes in the lakes and are starting to stage close to the areas where they will go when they make their late-ice feeding movement.

Anglers can predict where the fish will be staging if they know where they are going to be late in the ice fishing season. The most logical areas will be any steep breaks into deep water adjacent to the feeding areas.

Crappies will likely be located in water between 25 and 40 feet in most lakes. Most of the crappies will be suspended 5 to 15 feet off the bottom which makes them very easy to see on sonar.

Anglers can drill a series of holes along the edges of the deep holes and check them with sonar for fish. Schools of crappies and perch are usually milling around under the ice so anglers can easily miss the fish if they check the holes too quickly.

Sunfish will also make a feeding movement into the shallows under late-ice. Sunfish don't eat minnows as readily as perch and crappies so they prefer areas of shallow mud or broken weeds where they are more likely to find insects and other microscopic prey.

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

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