Will there be ice on the opener in 2008?
Ice on many lakes is still tight to the shore with only two weeks remaining before the fishing season opens. Shallow ponds and potholes in the area were just starting to open up in the last few days.
Even with perfect conditions for melting, ice on the lakes usually takes at least one week to complete the transition from ice tight to the shore to open water.
The forecast for this weekend predicts a chance of snow each day, with highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s, which are certainly not perfect conditions for melting ice.
The last time there was nearly ice on the opener was in 1996, when Lake Bemidji became ice free on a Thursday, only two days before the opener.
That was the year Bemidji last hosted the Governor's Fishing Opener and the same year anglers were able to ice fish on Lake of the Woods on the opener.
This year's walleye opener could be in a similar situation. The ice-free date for many of the larger walleye lakes may be very close to the opener, with little time to spare for putting all the docks in at the public accesses.
Another cold spell between now and the opener could mean there will be ice on some lakes for the opening of the 2008 fishing season.
If enough of the smaller lakes in the Bemidji area are ice free by next weekend, Bluewater Bait and Sports will be hosting their annual spring crappie tournament on May 3.
The decision whether to hold the tournament or not will be made at the last minute, based on the amount of ice left on the lakes. Anglers can get entry forms or more information at Bluewater Bait or by calling 444-2248.
Crappies start moving into the shallows to feed while there is still ice on the lakes. They will move in and out of the feeding areas based on the weather conditions.
Warm weather will entice crappies into the shallows to feed, while cold fronts will push crappies back out of the shallows.
Crappies will use old reed beds, wild rice beds, areas with wood in the water or shallow areas with mud bottom to feed during the spring.
Water temperature is often the key to crappie location early in the season. The main feeding areas will usually be several degrees warmer than the main body of water.
When a cold front arrives or crappies become inactive, they tend to retreat to nearby depressions with slightly deeper water or move off the break and suspend over deeper water.
Crappies feeding under late ice are able to feed through light that is filtered by the ice. Once the ice goes out, the light penetration is much greater in the clear water. Crappies often react to the change in light by moving into areas with darker water or waiting to feed until the sun is lower in the sky.
Crappies usually return to the same areas year after year, as long as anglers don't disrupt the pattern by harvesting too many of the crappies.
Fish are anxious to spawn and may switch where they spawn because of the late spring. Walleyes in most lakes are already leaving the lakes to spawn in the rivers and streams.
Some walleyes that usually spawn in the lakes may head up the rivers to spawn this year because they don't want to wait any longer to spawn.
Northern pike also spawn early, usually heading out of the lakes long before the ice is gone from the lake. Pike spawn in backwaters and may swim many miles from the lake to reach their spawning areas.
Sooner or later spring will arrive and the fishing season will open on schedule. The good news is anglers won't miss any of the hot action this spring, waiting for the season to open.
A reminder to anglers that the 2007 fishing licenses will expire on April 30, so anglers will need to purchase a new fishing license after May 1.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.