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Get ready. Ice fishing season is just around the corner

Now that the rifle deer hunting season is over in the Bemidji area, outdoor enthusiasts are waiting for the lakes to freeze, so the ice fishing season can begin.

The weather will obviously determine how quickly anglers are able to get on the ice.

If the lakes freeze gradually, they will freeze in a somewhat predictable order. The small shallow lakes will freeze first, the large shallow lakes will freeze next, then the small deep lakes and finally the large deep lakes.

Lakes can also take another route when they freeze. There can be a sudden cold snap with a night or two of below zero temperatures and all of the lakes will freeze over a much shorter period of time.

There is already some ice on a few smaller lakes that have a shallow average depth. Three Island Lake, Lake Irving and Stump Lake are good examples of lakes that are usually among the first lakes to freeze.

Upper Red Lake, Lake Winnibigoshish and the south end of Lake of the Woods are large shallow lakes that usually freeze early in the season.

Lakes like Bemidji, Cass and Walker Bay of Leech Lake are usually among the last lakes to freeze each winter.

The way lakes freeze can determine what kind of winter it will be for ice fishing. Dark, clear ice is the strongest ice, which forms best with colder temperatures, light winds and sparse snowfall.

Larger lakes are vulnerable to wind and can re-open after they initially freeze. The ice chunks will blow into the windward part of the lake, which is usually the southeastern part, and they leave jagged shards of ice for anglers to navigate over when the lakes re-freeze.

The worst conditions for ice forming on lakes are uneven temperatures that are not cold enough to freeze the ice quickly, along with strong winds and heavy snow before the ice is strong enough to support the weight of the snow.

Northern Minnesota has the most consistent ice conditions of all the states in the "ice belt."

Northern Wisconsin, Upper Michigan and all of the states surrounding the Great Lakes usually get too much snow for good ice.

The Dakotas and Montana only have a few lakes and the winds are usually strong enough to affect ice conditions.

Iowa, Nebraska, Idaho, Washington, Ohio and Pennsylvania do not stay cold enough for long enough to form good ice most winters.

Minnesota has the perfect conditions for ice fishing and usually has a long season, often beginning in December and ending sometime in March.

Other parts of the country may only have a couple of weeks in January or February for ice fishing.

Ice on lakes in most parts of the country never gets thick enough for vehicle travel. Some areas prohibit the use of ATVs and snowmobiles on the ice and anglers have to walk to go ice fishing.

Anglers have to carry all of their ice fishing gear in buckets or pull them out on sleds and they use hand augers or chisels to make holes in the ice.

Some states allow anglers to use up to six lines when ice fishing. The common school of thought for most anglers in these areas is to set out a string of tip-ups to use all of the lines available to them to catch whatever will bite.

The idea of driving on the ice with vehicles loaded with sophisticated ice fishing gear and having cities of ice houses left on the ice in the winter is distinctly Minnesotan.

We like power augers, fish houses on wheels, portable shelters, heaters, sonar, GPS and sensitive graphite rods specifically designed for ice fishing.

Most bait stores are in the process of putting out their ice fishing tackle for the season.

Anglers can view the most popular and latest innovations in ice fishing at the annual Ice Show at the River Centre in St. Paul. This year's event is scheduled for Nov. 30 though Dec. 2.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.