The lakes in the Bemidji area have a significant amount of snow on the ice, which continues to cause slush problems in some areas.
Ice thickness varies between lakes, with 14-18 inches of ice on most lakes. Many anglers have started to drive their vehicles on the ice, but most anglers are driving on lakes with established trails or plowed roads.
Snowmobiles and ATVs equipped with tracks are still the preferred mode of travel on the ice, especially for anglers wanting to fish off of the roads and trails.
The lakes with the most resorts plowing roads on the ice are Winnibigoshish, Upper Red and Lake of the Woods. Lakes like Bemidji, Cass, Pike's Bay and Leech have less organized accesses, with most of the trails maintained by individual anglers.
The walleye bite has been only fair on most lakes, with the cold weather and barrage of cold fronts having a negative effect on the action.
There will always be at least a few walleyes feeding during each low-light period. The length of time walleyes feed and the number of individual walleyes participating in the feeding movement are directly affected by the weather.
Upper Red Lake has had a pretty good walleye bite much of the winter, but the walleyes tend to get thinned down in the areas with the most fishing pressure. Anglers have to stay on the move to keep on good numbers of fish.
The protected slot limit in Upper Red also enters into the equation. Many of the walleyes anglers are catching are within the protected slot limit, so they are too big to keep.
Another problem facing anglers on Upper Red Lake is the crappie population has crashed, with few crappies remaining from the mother of all age classes from 1995. There has been very little recruitment in Upper Red from other age classes of crappies.
Upper Red Lake still has more roads and better access than most lakes and is still the best bet for walleye anglers wanting relatively consistent fishing, without having to know the lake intimately.
Lake Winnibigoshish is another good lake with several resorts plowing roads on the ice. Winnie has the bonus of a good perch and northern pike population to go along with the walleyes.
There is a protected slot limit on walleyes in Winnie, with a six walleyes in possession and a protected slot limit of 17-26 inches.
Winnibigoshish has considerably more structure than Upper Red Lake, so anglers often have to work harder to find fish. Many walleyes have been caught on top of the numerous small humps or on points, turns and corners on the larger bars.
Walleyes usually make feeding movements onto structure when they feed and then back off into deeper water when they are resting.
Perch in Lake Winnie can feed on patches of rocks or chara on top of the shoreline flats or they can be at the base of the drop-off, on the edge of where the hard bottom turns into mud.
The shallow perch can often be larger fish, but shallow perch tend to be more transient than deep perch, so what appears to be a good shallow spot for perch one day can be dead the next day.
Once anglers get on a good perch bite in deep water, the perch tend to stay there for a longer period of time, until fishing pressure or noise on the ice chase them away or until the forage runs out in the area.
Leech Lake has also had a good bite for walleyes, with a four walleye limit and a protected slot of 18-26 inches. There are usually several patterns for walleyes in Leech Lake, with some fish on top of the deep humps in Walker Bay and shallow fish on the chara flats and rock points in the main basin.
Perch in Leech Lake tend to prefer shallow flats over the deep basin because the shallow forage base is usually better than the mud in Leech Lake.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.