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PAUL NELSON COLUMN: Fishing continues to be spotty for most species

The extended forecast for the Bemidji area is predicting above average temperatures for this coming week.

Paul Nelson

The average temperatures in early February are still pretty cold, with average daily highs in the upper teens and average lows a couple of degrees below zero.

The lakes are still locked in mid-winter mode in the Bemidji area. There is plenty of snow on the ice, with the surface of most lakes heavily rutted and very bumpy.

Fishing continues to be spotty for most species, with anglers needing to do some searching to find schools of fish that haven't been pressured by anglers.

There are established trails coming out of most public accesses and plowed roads on most of the larger lakes that are maintained by resorts for a fee.

The fish houses on the lakes tend to get concentrated into specific areas, with many anglers sharing the same schools of fish.

Walleyes react negatively to fishing pressure and will usually shy away from areas that are too noisy or have too much commotion on the ice.

Fish feeding in shallow water tend to be more spooky than fish feeding in deeper water. Anglers should note that fish caught in water deeper than 20 feet get increasingly difficult to release.

Some fish that get released may make it back down the hole, but they don't make it back to the bottom and end up under the ice near anglers houses. If you don't believe it, use an underwater camera and check the ice under the holes.

The most aggressive fish usually get harvested quickly when a group of anglers are fishing the same area. This is especially true on lakes where the fish are feeding on flats like they do on Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods.

Anglers fishing in a group of houses usually have better success when there are less anglers on the lakes. Walleyes in clear lakes may feed after dark to avoid some of the fishing pressure and noise on the ice.

Walleyes are most active under low light, with the best action usually starting about an hour before dark and lasting about the same amount of time after dark.

The opposite scenario usually plays out in the mornings, with the bite beginning before sunrise and lasting into the morning.

On the days with favorable weather conditions, the walleye action usually starts earlier and lasts longer. Days with less favorable weather conditions often have a much shorter window of opportunity for an active bite.

A good approach for anglers fishing on lakes like Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods is to drill a test hole and fish it for 10-20 minutes to see if anything will bite.

If anglers catch a fish or see several fish on sonar in a spot, then they can set up their fish house and drill some more holes. If nothing happens, anglers should keep moving until they catch a fish.

Fishing flats can be tricky because everything looks the same and anglers can't set up on structure like they normally would on most lakes.

The presence of insects or baitfish is usually the biggest key to finding fish on most lakes, but this is doubly true on lakes where the fish are located on flats.

Fish don't want to be too far from their food during the cold water period. The fish are cold blooded, so the cold water discourages them from making any long distance feeding movements.

Fish want to stay close to their food during the winter, so they don't have to go too far when they get the urge to feed.

Most of the larger lakes have been producing some walleyes, with Lake of the Woods still having the most consistent action.

Lake Winnibigoshish has good numbers of perch feeding on the shoreline break in 18-22 feet of water. Anglers are having to sort through a lot of smaller perch to catch enough "keeper size" perch.

Anglers on Winnie have been catching most of their walleyes in the mornings and evenings on mid-lake structures that are holding baitfish.

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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