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Rifle deer season nearing an end but ice fishing almost here

The rife deer season in the Bemidji area ends Sunday night. The muzzleloader deer season begins on November 26 and there is still archery deer hunting until Dec. 31.

Most anglers have given up on the open-water season even though there is still open water on most of the deeper lakes in the Bemidji area.

Anglers are also able to extend the open-water season on the Rainy River, with Four Mile Bay and the first couple of miles of the Rainy River usually the best areas for walleyes late in the fall.

Most anglers fishing walleyes on the Rainy River anchor along the edge of the river channel and wait for groups of walleyes to pass under the boat. Vertical presentations usually work best, with jigs and minnows, jigging spoons or jigging minnows all productive baits.

Lakes in the Bemidji area started to freeze over this past week as daily high temperatures dropped below freezing. Most lakes freeze over on nights with calm winds and temperatures in the low teens or colder.

There is usually somewhere in the Bemidji area with enough ice to walk on before December 1, which is when the season for spearing northern pike opens.

Anglers fishing with hook and line are allowed to begin ice fishing as soon as there is enough ice on the lakes to support anglers.

Lakes often freeze in a somewhat predictable order, with small shallow lakes freezing first and large deep lakes freezing last.

Occasionally a night of sub-zero temperatures will freeze most of the lakes in the same night. Otherwise, the lakes usually freeze over a period of a week or two.

Many anglers have a traditional spot where they go on first ice. Shallow lakes with a shoreline break within easy walking distance of shore are usually the first areas hit by anglers.

It looks like there will be at least a week to wait for ice fishing after the rifle deer season ends, so anglers have time to ready their equipment for ice fishing.

Some anglers use the same reels for ice fishing that they use in the summer for open water-fishing. Anglers should put new line on their reels for ice fishing and spool the reels about 2/3 full for the best performance.

Many anglers fish with ice fishing combos that are designed for specific species or for specific fishing situations.

There are many qualities that make a good ice fishing rod, depending on what anglers plan to do with it.

Ice fishing rods for crappies need ultra-sensitive rod tips so anglers can feel bites on two to four pound test line when fishing with tiny baits in deep water. The ideal crappie rod is usually 23 to 27 inches in length.

Sunfish rods are similar to crappie rods unless anglers are sight fishing in shallow water. Sight fishing rods are usually much shorter, around 18 inches, so anglers can sit closer to the hole and look down and see their bait.

Perch rods need a heavier tip than crappie or sunfish rods. A rod tip that is too soft will sag with the weight of the lure and negatively affect the action. Anglers need to be able to give the lures some bounce, which takes a stiffer rod tip. Most perch rods are between 24 and 28 inches long and use three to six pound test line.

Walleye rods are much like perch rods, only slightly heavier, to handle four to eight pound test line and heavier jigging lures. Most walleye rods for ice fishing are between 26 and 30 inches long.

Rods for pike or lake trout will be even heavier than walleyes rods to accommodate even heavier lures and braided lines. Most pike or lake trout rods are between 30 and 36 inches long and able to handle braided lines from 10 pound test on up.

Anglers also need to give their augers a test run. Worn plugs and blades should be replaced and filled with new gas, especially if no fuel stabilizers were added last spring.

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