PAUL NELSON COLUMN: The time for melt and freeze, melt and freeze
Temperatures have moderated again in the Bemidji area, with another meltdown on the lakes in progress.
As long as temperatures remain below freezing at night, the lakes will alternate between melting and freezing, which significantly slows down the melting process and helps extend the ice fishing season.
The accesses to the lakes usually deteriorate faster than the rest of the lake. Water on top of the ice splashes under the vehicles and washes off the sand, mud and road salt from the vehicles.
Each little grain of sand melts its way through the ice. The old road salt mixes with the water on the ice and lowers the freezing point of the water.
Some resorts put straw on the accesses to help insulate the ice and absorb some of the sand, salt and mud that washes off the vehicles.
The extended forecast for the Bemidji area is predicting warmer temperatures in the next week, but it shouldn’t ruin the ice as long as it keeps refreezing at night.
Unfortunately vehicle traffic has already been prohibited for the Eelpout Festival in Walker, even though there is still more than 20 inches of ice on most lakes, including Walker Bay of Leech Lake.
The bite for eelpout has been improving since the February full moon. The bite will continue to improve as they enter “pre-spawn”, which is their most active time of the year.
The 38th Annual Eelpout Festival will be held on February 23-26, headquartered on Walker Bay of Leech Lake.
Walleye fishing has been spotty on most lakes. Lake of the Woods continues to have the hottest walleye bite in the region.
Anglers have also been catching a few walleyes in the morning and evenings on lakes like Bemidji, Blackduck, Cass, Leech Lake, Upper Red Lake and Winnibigoshish.
Anglers have been finding perch on many of the same lakes as the walleyes. The numbers of larger perch continue to be down on most lakes, with anglers having to sort through numbers of smaller perch to catch some keepers.
When perch fishing is tough, many anglers lower their standards and start keeping smaller perch to try fill their limits.
This delays the comeback of the larger perch because any decent size age class of perch starts getting harvested sooner than they would if the lakes had more large perch.
The jumbo perch decline is region-wide and is likely the result of several factors that have combined to knock the top off of the perch population in most of the best perch lakes.
Generous limits, increased fishing pressure (especially during the winter) and the walleye slot limits on many lakes are all likely contributors to the decline in numbers of larger perch.
Most problems with fish populations are complex and the result of several factors. The problems develop slowly over time and fixing the problems usually takes time because the first reaction is usually to do nothing and hope the problem fixes itself.
By the time any action is taken to fix a problem, it is usually pretty late in the process, which delays how fast things are able to recover.
Fortunately, nature is very resilient and will usually help in the recovery if given enough time. The fixes that happen naturally may not be the ones most people would prefer or anticipate, so some type of intervention is usually needed to steer the problem in the direction wanted.
Good examples of nature’s fixes would be the crappie boom on Upper and Lower Red Lake and the explosion of smallmouth bass in Mille Lacs Lake when the walleye populations in those lakes crashed.
Any gaps in the biomass get filled by whatever species of fish that is fastest to react. It may be one species or several species, depending on the lake.
The two biggest tools people have to influence what species fill the biomass are stocking and changes in regulations.
If the stocking is too slow or unsuccessful, it becomes the proverbial “box of chocolates” and you never know what you are going to get.