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PAUL NELSON COLUMN: Reassess ice conditions every day and make safe decisions

It's unusual for lakes in the Bemidji area to be making ice in the second week of March, but that's is exactly what happened this past week.

The Bemidji area had several nights with temperatures below zero this week, which really firmed up the ice conditions and smoothed out the surface of the lakes.

Some lakes in the metro area had opened up earlier in March, but have started to freeze over again with the cold temperatures.

Temperatures moderated some during the day late this week, but temperatures remain below freezing at night, which will refreeze the surface of the lakes each night.

Bemidji area anglers should be able to extend the ice fishing season at least another week and probably longer if the extended forecast is correct.

The ice fishing season usually ends after a two- to three-day period where temperatures stay above freezing overnight, which is still not in the forecast.

The surface of the lakes are extremely slick where there is no snow, so anglers are encouraged to wear some type of spikes on their boots to reduce the risk of falling and landing in the hospital with a broken bone.

It is a good idea to stop on the patches of snow instead of on glare ice. This gives anglers some traction when they step out of their vehicles to drill some holes.

Many anglers were still driving vehicles on the lakes this week, but anglers have to reassess the ice conditions every day and make safe decisions. Anglers with access to an ATV's or snowmobiles would be safer to use those instead of their vehicles when the lakes begin to meltdown again.

Lake of the Woods continues to be one of the hottest lake in the area. It is also the only show in town for anglers that want to fish for walleyes, sauger and northern pike.

The entire south shore of Lake of the Woods has been good, with more fish moving into the area around Pine Island to stage-up and feed before entering the Rainy River for their spring spawning migration.

Anglers have been having success using jigging spoons in UV glow colors tipped with an emerald shiner. Dead sticks with a gold or glowing jig tipped with an emerald shiner or rainbow chub has also been producing walleyes and sauger.

The Rainy River has not opened up much in the past week. The open water is still near the Birchdale access, with some anglers sliding smaller boats across the ice to get to the open water.

The cold temperatures have delayed the eelpout spawn in the deep lakes in the Bemidji area. Eelpout spawn under the ice and are the first fish to spawn in the spring.

The pre-spawn period is the most active time of the year for eelpout. Anglers have been catching most eelpout at night, with the best action usually off the sides of structures where eelpout plan to spawn.

Aggressively jigging larger jigs or jigging spoons in glow colors tipped with live bait is usually the most effective presentation for eelpout, which usually gather into large schools before they spawn.

If anglers can catch one or two eelpout in an area at this time of year, there will almost always be more eelpout somewhere nearby.

Jumbo perch, crappies and sunfish are always "in season" for licensed anglers. Most of the larger lakes have jumbo perch, although the number of jumbo perch are down in most lakes.

Most anglers consider a jumbo perch to be perch longer than 12 inches. Most anglers are willing to keep perch once they reach 8 to 9 inches in length.

Perch anglers have still been finding most of the perch in deeper water, although there are always some perch using shallow water. Perch in most lakes will move towards shallow water late in the season, to get ready to spawn.

Smaller jigs with scented plastics are usually the most efficient baits for late ice perch, but anglers can also use minnows, wax worms or eurolarvae with good results.

Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.
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