Weather Forecast


Paul Nelson: Access to Bemidji area lakes difficult because of slush

The Bemidji area is still in the deep freeze after last week’s major snowstorm and there have been very few anglers on most of the lakes since the snowstorm.

Once anglers begin to venture back on the ice they will find many lakes covered with slush and the ice in generally poor condition, despite the bitterly cold temperatures.

Snow is a powerful insulator and on many lakes in the Bemidji area there are 18 inches or more of snow on top of the ice. Eventually the slush on the lakes will freeze, but it usually takes a very long time, even with temperatures way below zero.

Wind chill is also overrated and does nothing to freeze the lakes. Wind is seldom steady and the sun warms things regardless of how cold it is. If you want to stay warmer, get out of the wind, wear dark clothing and use dark colored fish houses to absorb more heat.

The ice on most lakes wasn’t nearly thick enough to hold the weight of the latest snowstorm. Once the ice begins to sink, it forces water out of any holes or cracks in the ice and floods the lake.

Once the water is on top of the ice, it mixes with snow and creates slush. As the slush freezes, it creates a double layer of ice, with a weak snowy layer of ice on top and a stronger hard layer on the bottom. There is usually another layer of water trapped between the layers of ice.

The slush can eventually freeze but anglers can easily break through the first layer of ice and hit the layer of water between the layers of ice.

A few shallow lakes like Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods had almost a foot of ice when the snowstorm hit and were less affected by the weight of the snow.

Lakes with larger areas of deep water had less ice when the snowstorm hit so most of the deep lakes have significant amounts of slush, making travel on the ice potentially dangerous.

Even walking on lakes with slush carries some risk, with anglers often getting wet and having to get back to shore with soaked feet or worse if they make the wrong step and break through the first layer of ice.

Anglers need to resist assuming the lakes are okay with all the cold weather. Check with the local bait shops for the most up to date information on ice conditions. Anglers can also call ahead to their destination to be sure what modes of travel are being used on the lakes.

Some resorts on Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods are providing shuttle services for a fee so anglers can be transported onto the lakes with their gear without having to bring their own snowmobile. This service is limited, so calling ahead is still a good idea.

Anglers who have been able to access the lakes are finding that the fish have been biting. The walleye action on both Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods has been very good early in the season.

A jigging spoon tipped with a minnow head has been a good presentation for anglers fishing walleyes using sonar. The sonar allows anglers to see the fish coming through under their holes and gives instant feedback, allowing anglers to know how the walleyes are reacting to their presentations.

Anglers can upsize and downsize their presentations based on what they are seeing on sonar. Sometimes a minnow head works well, sometimes half a minnow works better and sometimes the whole minnow is best. Some anglers go beyond a full minnow and will use several small crappie minnows on their jigging spoons to give walleyes the “school of minnows” look.

Fish are usually triggered by size as much as movement. Aggressive walleyes usually want a larger presentation fished aggressively while finicky walleyes often want something smaller with less movement.

Anglers need to constantly adjust their presentations based on what they are seeing on sonar or by down viewing with a micro underwater camera to turn more of the “lookers” into “biters”.

PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at

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