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Paul Nelson: Gamefish seasons end Feb. 23 on Minnesota inland lakes

There is one more week in the gamefish season for inland waters of Minnesota. The season closes at midnight on Feb. 23.

Licensed anglers are allowed to fish continuously for non-gamefish species in Minnesota. The 2013 Minnesota fishing licenses will expire on Feb. 28 and a 2014 fishing license will be required to continue fishing beginning March 1.

There are extended seasons for gamefish on many of the border waters surrounding Minnesota. Anglers can also travel to locations like Devil’s Lake in North Dakota where the fishing season is open year-round for most species.

The weather eased off a little bit this past week but the temperatures in the Bemidji area are still below the norms for this time of year. Average temperatures for this date in the Bemidji area are around 24 degrees for highs, with overnight lows around 2 degrees.

There is good news in the extended forecast for next week, which predicts a return to more seasonable temperatures. There is a chance for a February thaw next week and also a chance for more snow with the warmer temperatures.

If the lakes could lose some of the snow, the ice conditions would be great heading into the late-ice portion of the season. March can be the best month of the winter for ice fishing, if anglers are able to have good access to the lakes.

The February full moon is tonight. The night bite for species like walleyes and crappies is usually best under a full moon. The snow and opaque ice on the lakes limit the amount of moonlight penetrating through the ice but the fish still seem to know it is a full moon and get more active.

Anglers should use lures with glowing paint when fishing under low light conditions to help the fish target the bait. Some tackle companies are using UV paints, which really glow when properly charged with light.

Anglers can up their chances at night by charging their glow lures with a strong light. There are LED lights anglers can use to charge their baits, although any light will work.

One method to really make the lures shine brightly is to use a flash bar from a camera. Anglers should close their eyes or point the flash away from their eyes when they give the lure a shot of light to avoid temporary night blindness from the flash.

Recharging the glow lures frequently with light can significantly increase the number of bites anglers get because the fish can see their bait from a much greater distance.

Smell is also important at night. Anglers should keep using fresh bait and try using scents or scented micro-plastics to encourage the fish to bite once they locate the bait.

Tungsten lures help anglers get small presentations into deep water faster and work well for crappies, perch and sunfish. The small lures usually have small hooks, so anglers can slightly bend the hook opening out further to help the hooks hold better during the fight with the fish.

Fishing has been picking up in the Bemidji area for most species. Lake Winnibigoshish has been tough much of the winter, despite having historically high numbers of walleyes.

There is also an abundance of small perch in Winnie, which may have slowed fishing for walleyes with the abundance of natural forage in the lake.

The walleye action in Winnie has been improving recently, with good bites on many of the mid-lake humps. There are still a few pockets of slush in Lake Winnibigoshish, with most of the slush on the south end of the lake closer to shore.

Walleyes in Upper Red Lake are moving back towards the shoreline and there have been good bites both in the basin and along shoreline break in 9 to 12 feet of water.

Leech Lake has been a tough lake to fish this winter for both perch and walleyes. The perch numbers have dropped significantly in the past few years but the walleye numbers are good if anglers can find the fish.

Lake of the Woods continues to be good for walleyes and sauger, with most anglers fishing 22 to 26 feet in the mornings and evenings and 28 to 32 feet during the day.

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.