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Paul Nelson column for April 9: Ice leaves many area lakes in record time

The ice is gone from all of the lakes in the Bemidji area. Many lakes in Minnesota set records for the earliest ice-out dates in their recorded histories.

The average ice-out date for Lake Bemidji in 73 years of recorded history is April 26. The earliest ice-out date on Lake Bemidji before this spring was April 11, 1973. The latest ice-out date was May 22, 1950.

Depending on the "official" ice-out call for this spring, Lake Bemidji was ice free on April 3.

Leech Lake has 72 years of recorded ice-out history. The average ice-out date on Leech Lake is April 27. The earliest ice-out on Leech Lake before this spring was April 9, 1945, and the latest ice-out date was May 23, 1950.

Unfortunately for anglers, the record breaking ice-out landed on the same year as the latest possible fishing opener. Anglers will have about six weeks of open water this spring before the walleye season opens on May 15.

This leaves plenty of time to fish for panfish, but only several more days to fish the spring walleye season on the Rainy River, which closes on April 14.

The water in the Rainy River has stayed clear the entire spring and the walleyes have been biting well. The hot bite may last the rest of the season, or it could suddenly slow way down as most of the walleyes begin to spawn.

Regardless of the bite, the Rainy River is likely to be packed with anglers for the rest of the season. Anglers wanting to be assured of getting a parking spot at their favorite access better plan on getting there early.

Anglers preferring to stay closer to Bemidji should choose a lake with the warmest water possible to have the best chance for a panfish bite.

The window for pre-spawn perch may be over, with the perch spawning in the shallow weeds. Male perch will hold in the spawning areas longer than the females, who usually move in and out very quickly.

A bobber with a jig and minnow is usually the best presentation for spawning perch. Anglers can sight fish and look for the perch and then spot cast to specific areas in the reeds or shallow flats.

A temperature gauge is an extremely handy tool for locating fish in the spring. Anglers can know what to expect from the fish based on the temperature of the water.

Surface temperatures will be higher later in the day and in calm weather. The most accurate water temperature readings are taken early in the morning, before the sun has had a chance to warm the water.

If there is any water in the lake significantly warmer than the rest of the lake, chances are good the crappies will find it. Anglers can use a temperature gauge to do the same thing.

Crappies are capable of swimming all the way into backwaters and are usually willing to pass though very shallow water to get there.

The back water area usually has to be at least six feet deep to hold crappies. A good rule of thumb for anglers is a crappie hole has to be deep enough for the bottom to disappear from sight for the crappies to feel safe.

Crappies will move very shallow to feed in the spring, but they usually want a fall back location close by, to use when they are resting or when they get spooked out of the shallows by a predator or too much fishing pressure.

Lakes without a "classic spring spot" will have crappies holding in deeper water until the shoreline of the lake becomes warm enough to trigger a feeding movement.

Anglers can use their electronics to find the crappies in deeper water and then hover over the top of them and try to put their bait in the same zone as the fish.

The north and west shores of bays and lakes get the most sun in the spring, so crappies usually show up there first, before getting active in the rest of the lake.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at