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Paul Nelson: Continued cold limits fishing options on Bemidji area lakes

Another month of winter is almost done, which should not cause anyone to shed any tears because they will just freeze to the side of your face.

It is hard to talk about anything outdoors this winter without first mentioning the cold. The weather has been nothing short of brutal again this past week and there is little relief in sight.

Going ice fishing with temperatures below zero and white-out conditions is not many anglers’ idea of a good time. Most anglers will stay in the fish house and take what they can get for fish rather than moving around and risking frostbite or getting stuck.

Most lakes now have at least 20 inches of ice and some lakes, including Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods, are getting to the point where anglers need an auger extension, especially those who are fishing out of wheeled fish houses.

Resorts and guides running a string of rental houses are having a tough winter with all the cold, snow and high winds. It is a constant battle to keep their roads open, which often means plowing all day long during the days with high winds and the worst weather conditions.

Most anglers are sticking to the plowed roads on the lakes with their vehicles. Some areas are accessible with an ATV or a vehicle but anglers really have to know where they are going and be prepared to get stuck.

The best mode of off-road travel is either a snowmobile or some other type of track vehicle. The technology of putting tracks on ATVs and even vehicles is advancing and the “dream vehicle” for many anglers now sports tracks.

Putting tracks on something can be one of those “good news…bad news” things. The good news is you can go where almost nobody else can go. The bad news is because you can go where others can’t go, you can find yourself in a difficult situation if you get stuck or break down.

The areas on the lakes with the large groups of fish houses tend to get fished down by this time in the season. Patterns are changing and the fish can be on the move.

Anglers have the dilemma of deciding whether they should make the effort to move and try stay with the fish, stay where they are and take what they can get or take the fish house off the lake early while a good road off the lake is still available.

Lakes like Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods usually have most anglers fishing walleyes on the flats, so sometimes a better bite can be found just by moving to an area that has not had as much fishing pressure.

The days have been getting longer by about 2.5 minutes per day since late December. Eventually the longer days and moderating temperatures should trigger a better bite for all species.

Walleyes have been biting in flurries, with longer periods of relative inactivity during the day. The best action on most lakes has been the evening bite, with a lesser bite in the morning.

Walleyes in stained water lakes like Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods seem to like gold lures during the day and glowing lures during low light. Jigging spoons with rattles also help the fish locate the baits and often help anglers get more bites.

Tipping the jigging spoons with a minnow head or half a minnow is usually better than using a whole minnow because the fish are more likely to get the hooks with a smaller piece of live bait. The smaller piece of minnow also doesn’t inhibit the action of the lure as much as a whole minnow.

When anglers use jigging minnows or blade baits, adding too much bait can ruin the action of the lure. If anglers want some scent, it usually works better putting a couple of eurolarvae on each of the treble hooks instead of a minnow.

With anglers able to use two rods during the winter, a second “dead stick” rod rigged with a colored hook and a split shot with a lively minnow will often catch some of the less active fish that are drawn in by the more aggressive jigging lures.

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