One week to go before the 2008 fishing opener and there is still ice on most of the lakes in the Bemidji area.
Local anglers have two good barometer lakes they can watch to be able to guess how the ice is doing on the rest of the area lakes.
Lake Irving is one of the first lakes to be ice free each spring. When the ice is off Lake Irving, many of the other small lakes in the area will also be ice free.
Lake Bemidji is one of the last lakes to be ice free each spring. Anglers can assume when the ice is gone from Lake Bemidji, the ice will be gone from the rest of the lakes in the Bemidji area.
There may be a silver lining to all of the snow that fell in the Bemidji area this April. The snow melted very slowly in the cool temperatures, so most of the moisture was absorbed into the lakes and soil.
Water levels in most of the area lakes were low going into winter, so the extra moisture is welcome. The lakes will begin the open water season with higher water levels, largely due to the heavy snow in April.
The extra water in the lakes should help insulate the lakes from drought this summer and provide an extra cushion in case there is a lack of rain at some point in the season.
Above-normal water levels are usually good for fishing and help the spawning success for many species of fish.
The extra moisture is good for the soil, which helps forests grow and improves local agriculture.
It may also help produce a bumper crop of wild morel mushrooms this spring, which should pop up quickly after a few days with significantly warmer temperatures.
There are usually about two weeks of open water before the fishing season opens in a normal year.
This year there will only be a couple of days with open water on many lakes, with ice on the opener still a possibility in some areas, including Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods.
Anglers will be battling cold water temperatures in the lakes when the fishing season opens on May 10. There will likely be some late spawning walleyes that will not have finished spawning when the season opens.
The Minnesota state record walleye was caught on an opener very similar to this one in 1979. The record walleye was a prespawn female, with up to a quarter of her body weight in eggs. The walleye weighed 17 pounds, 8 ounces and was caught in the Seagull River connected to Lake Saganaga.
If the state record for walleye is ever going to be broken again, it almost has to be a prespawn fish with the extra weight of the eggs.
Anglers only get the chance to break the state record walleye about once every decade, when there is an extremely late spring.
Hopefully, most anglers will be able to tell if they catch any prespawn walleyes this opener and will release all the females to spawn, unless they are lucky enough to catch the next state record.
The late spring and the changes in the expiration of the 2007 fishing licenses have caused many anglers to forget or delay buying their 2008 fishing licenses.
Local anglers may want to buy their fishing license sooner rather than later, to avoid standing in a long line at the bait store the night before the opener.
The annual Bluewater Spring crappie tournament scheduled for this Saturday has been canceled due to the lack of open water. This year's tournament will not be rescheduled and will resume again next spring.
Entries are still being accepted for the Gary Newell Memorial Walleye Tournament to be held on Lake Bemidji and Lake Irving on May 17.
The tournament is limited to 75 boats and anglers can get entry forms or more information at the Bemidji Eagles Club.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.