This spring will rival Lake Bemidji's latest ice-out date
This is uncharted territory to anyone who wasn’t alive in 1950 when the ice left Lake Bemidji on May 22. This is a spring that will rival that record latest ice-out.
Ironically, 2012 was at the opposite end of the spectrum, with record early ice-out dates between March 30 and April 2 (six weeks earlier than this year).
The walleye opener is usually the busiest day of the entire open water fishing season. Unfortunately for both individuals and businesses that rely on fishing, there will be ice on most of the lakes in the Bemidji area when the 2013 fishing season opens at midnight tonight.
The only open water is in the rivers and a handful of small lakes. Virtually all of the rest of the lakes will be at least partially covered with ice when the season opens.
Anglers may have enough room to launch their boats and fish in front of the public accesses on some lakes but anglers will have to be on the alert for a wind shift that may send the ice pack in their direction.
Fishermen should be aware that some areas have been closed to angling early in the season to protect concentrations of spawning walleyes and allow them to disperse before being pressured by anglers. There is a list of the areas closed to fishing posted on the DNR website.
Hopefully, most anglers will be selective about what walleyes they keep early in the season, keeping only male walleyes at least until the female walleyes have had time to drop their eggs.
It should be easy to tell the difference between a male and a female walleye by the girth of the fish. Many lakes have protected slot limits for walleyes, which protects most of the mature female walleyes for brood stock.
The ice is receding from the shoreline of the lakes. When that happens the ice sheet eventually breaks from shore and can be blown about by the wind.
Most lakes in the Bemidji area should be free of ice before next weekend. Anglers are going to be able to get on the lakes immediately after ice-out this year.
Surface water temperatures are going to be near 40 degrees this weekend. Usually the temperatures are in the mid to upper 40s on the opener.
The optimal temperature range for spawning walleyes in northern climates is between 44 and 48 degrees. Rivers warm much faster than lakes so walleyes that spawn in rivers usually get a pretty big head start on the walleyes that stay in the lakes to spawn.
Anglers typically target river spawning walleyes early in the season because they are the first walleyes to finish spawning and should be the most active fish.
This year most walleyes will not have spawned when the season opens. Both male and female walleyes are very catchable before they spawn. Once the spawn begins, walleyes become much more difficult to catch.
Male walleyes resume normal feeding patterns much faster than female walleyes after the spawn. Male walleyes usually feed their way back to their home lake. The progress of the post spawn migration depends on what food sources are available along the migration route.
Female walleyes lose about one-quarter of their body weight when they spawn. They usually head directly back to their home lake and lay on the bottom in some deep water sanctuary until they recover from spawning.
Presentations for walleyes in cold water could be summed up by the Mantra “slow and shallow”. Many anglers like to cast light jigs and spot-tail shiners, while other anglers like to use bobber rigs so they can let their bait sit in one spot with the hope that the fish will come to them.
Some anglers may be tempted to try to get onto the ice on the opener but most of the ice on the lakes is rotten and dangerous. Hopefully, caution will be used by all anglers on the opener, whether they are in their boats or trying to drill holes in the ice.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org