Weather Forecast


PAUL NELSON COLUMN: Be aware of changing ice conditions on the lakes

January can be an unpleasant month in the Bemidji area. Another snowstorm followed by more bitterly cold temperatures has made going outside this week an adventure.

Kudos to anyone working outside in this weather.

A warm fish house can be enjoyable in almost any weather. Anglers using portable fish houses trying to stay mobile are at a distinct disadvantage when temperatures struggle to get above zero for highs during the day.

Lakes in the Bemidji Area received varying amounts of new snow from the last storm. The impact on the lakes depends on a number of factors, including what the ice conditions were on the lakes before the storm hit.

A few lakes had minor slush problems from the Christmas storm, when it rained in many areas before it snowed.

The snowstorm over the New Year Holiday likely made the existing slush problems worse on some lakes and created some new slush problems on other lakes.

The snow from the latest storm was more of the light and fluffy variety and not nearly as heavy and wet as the snow during the Christmas storm.

Lighter snow is more prone to blowing and drifting, so there will likely be some deeper drifts on the windward sides of many lakes.

A few savvy anglers have figured out that if they go through a patch of slush several times with their snowmobile, ATV's or vehicles (hopefully without getting stuck), their tracks will expose the slush to the air and make it freeze.

Anglers making a trail to their fish house can help freeze slushy spots by going through them multiple times, making the trail a little wider each time.

Frozen bumpy ice is preferable to slush, which presents a potential problem until it freezes. Slush can get deep in some situations, usually from a combination of deep water, deep snow and thin ice.

Anglers can learn how to “read the snow,” with areas of slush most likely to be located under deep snow drifts. The lakes most likely to have slush are the ones that had less than a foot of ice before the storm hit.

Gray or darker colored snow can tip-off anglers to the presence of slush under the snow. Anglers can also watch the trails from other anglers, to see if they exposed any wet ice in their tracks.

Paul NelsonSnowmobile or other vehicles with tracks have become the preferred mode of travel on most lakes. The two lakes with the thickest ice and the most vehicle traffic are Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods, which both have between 16 and 18 inches of ice.

There have been vehicles driving on a few other lakes in the Bemidji area, but some anglers have been pushing their luck driving on less than a foot of ice.

All vehicles are not created equal when it comes to driving on the lakes. Some two door vehicles with four-wheel drive may weigh little more than a large ATV.

Anglers driving extended cab 4-WD trucks pulling 20 foot wheeled fish houses are a different story. The combined weight of some rigs on the lakes is more than twice the weight of most smaller vehicles.

Anglers need to use some discretion when deciding whether they should drive on the lakes. Most of the largest rigs need at least 18 inches of ice to be “safe.”

Anglers should also be aware of changing ice conditions whenever they are on the lakes. Ice heaves can form at any time, especially on days with high winds.

The amount of snow on most lakes will likely impede anglers access to many areas on the lakes this weekend and possibly much longer. Anglers wanting full access to the lakes should bring snowmobiles.

The best action for walleyes and crappies on most lakes has been in the mornings and evenings.

The best day bite on most lakes has been for perch. There is a chance for a night bite on some lakes, with a waxing moon this week. The January full moon is on Thursday, Jan. 12.

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