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Walleyes begin pre-spawn staging

The gamefish season in the inland waters of Minnesota is winding down with a little more than two weeks left in the season. The 2006-07 fishing season officially closes for gamefish at midnight on February 25.

Area ice anglers had to battle sub-zero temperatures again this past week, with the artic cold still blanketing most of the Upper Midwest.

Most lakes in the Bemidji area now have at least 25 inches of ice and anglers may soon need an extension on their ice auger to get through the ice on Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake, which usually have more ice than the rest of the lakes in the area.

Fishing success slowed down on most lakes recently, with fewer anglers on the lakes due to the cold temperatures.

Much of the fishing pressure has been by anglers using stationary fish houses, where anglers can be comfortable even in the most severe weather.

Anglers can still catch a few fish during an extended cold front, but the peak bite is usually much shorter in duration and the number of fish actively feeding at any one time is usually less than there would be when the conditions are more favorable.

Fishing usually improves late in the winter, as fish enter their last phase of gestation and begin to move themselves into position to make their annual spawning run. The best feeding areas in the section of the lake closest to the spawning sites will usually have fish moving in from other parts of the lake, as fish move themselves closer to where they plan to spawn.

For example, many walleyes in the south portion of Lake of the Woods will start to move towards the mouth of the Rainy River in early to mid February.

Pine Island acts like a barrier at the mouth of the Rainy River. Walleyes eventually have to come around either the Morris Point end or the Gap end of Pine Island to access Four Mile Bay and the entrance to the Rainy River.

Other large lakes have similar movements of walleyes late in the winter. There are a significant number of walleyes in Lake Winnibigoshish that spawn in Little Cutfoot and they will begin to move towards the northeast section of Winnie to be in position to move into Big Cutfoot when their biological clocks tell them it is time to go.

There is also a spawning run up the Mississippi towards Cass Lake, where walleyes from Lake Winnibigoshish spawn in the fast moving water below Knutson Dam.

Lake Bemidji has a spawning run into the Mississippi and Schoolcraft Rivers. Cass Lake has spawning runs into both the Mississippi River and the Turtle River and there are other lakes with similar situations.

Anglers can position themselves on the best structure in the section of the lake closest to where the walleye runs will occur and have "new" fish coming to them as they move into position to make their spawning runs.

Other species of fish will also get more active late in the winter. The weather will eventually break and when more normal weather patterns return, the fishing should quickly begin to improve.

Perch in many lakes will begin to gather into larger schools, as some of the fragmented groups of fish begin to gather together.

Many perch have stayed in shallow water this winter, because of the lack of snow on the lakes. Fishing can be great when an active school of fish is located, but it can be much more difficult to pattern shallow fish because they keep moving.

Most anglers would prefer to look for the larger schools of perch in deep water, but the conditions this winter kept most of the deep perch feeding in smaller groups.

Upper Red Lake continues to be the hottest lake in the area for walleyes. Most anglers are sorting through a dozen or more walleyes in an outing and are able to catch their two fish limit under the 17-28 inch protected slot without too much effort.

There are also reports of improving crappie action on Upper Red Lake. Anglers have been moving further from shore to have a better chance to catch crappies, while still catching their two fish limit of walleyes.

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