Walleye, northern pike fishing seasons end Sunday
This is the last weekend of the gamefish season for the inland waters of Minnesota. The season closes at midnight on Sunday. Licensed anglers are allowed to fish for panfish and rough fish continuously in Minnesota.
March is panfish month for many anglers and often has some of the best ice fishing of the season.
Anglers who want to continue fishing for gamefish can fish one of the border lakes with Canada or travel south to the lower Mississippi River where there are extended seasons for gamefish.
The ice conditions in the Bemidji area are better right now than they have been most of the winter. A significant thaw followed by a return to cold temperatures was just what the lakes needed to firm the ice and get rid of much of the snow cover on the lakes.
Anglers may still find areas of slush on some lakes. Most of the bad spots are covered by snow drifts and can be difficult or impossible to see. It is a good idea for anglers to travel in pairs and bring a shovel and a tow strap in case someone gets stuck.
Anglers should stay on the trails whenever possible and avoid traveling along the shoreline or though narrows, where most springs and current areas are located.
The extended forecast into next week is for unseasonably cold temperatures, which should help improve the ice conditions even further and get rid of most of the remaining slush.
Walleye fishing has been steadily improving when the conditions are mild but they can still be shut down by passing cold fronts and extremely cold weather.
Most walleyes on clear-water lakes have been holding tight to structure when they are feeding, with the best action generally in 16 to 24 feet of water. Walleyes usually hold in deeper water when they are not actively feeding.
The day bite for walleyes on stained lakes like Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods has also been picking up. Many walleyes have begun to stage along shoreline structure, often staging close to the mouth of the rivers where they will spawn in the spring.
Anglers may have to adjust their presentations based on the activity levels of the fish. Aggressive jigging lures usually work best when fish are actively feeding but anglers may have to down-size their baits or use dead-stick presentations when fish are less active.
There are many variables to consider when trying to figure out what will trigger more fish to bite, whether anglers are fishing for gamefish or panfish.
These variables include color, which can be glow or non-glow, metallic or paint or lures with digital images that try to closely resemble the real thing.
The size and shape of the baits and whether they are horizontal or vertical can make a difference to the fish. Anglers should have several rods rigged with both styles of baits so they can change quickly while the fish are still there.
There are different types of live baits, including minnows, wax worms and eurolarve. Anglers can try the head, the tail or the whole minnow. Plastics are another option for most species.
Perch have been split between shallow and deep water, often in different areas in the same lake. The largest female perch often school separately and feed in different areas than the smaller male and juvenile female perch.
Crappies remain suspended 5 to 15 feet off the bottom in 25 to 40 feet of water in most lakes. Minnows are the "go-to" bait for many crappie anglers but small plastics or tiny jigs tipped with eurolarve or wax worms will also work in many situations.
Anglers may want to consider removing their stationary fish houses from the lakes while the ice conditions are still good. Traffic on many lakes drops-off drastically after the gamefish season closes.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.