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PAUL NELSON COLUMN: Almost time to get off the ice (and clean up as you go)

There was more melting on lakes in the Bemidji area earlier this week, but there was another strong cold front right behind the warmer temperatures that brought more snow and considerably colder temperatures that were able to refreeze the surface of the lakes again.

The ice fishing season has fallen apart about as far north as Brainerd, with Lake Minnetonka declared open this week. Most lakes from Bemidji north to the Canadian border still have enough ice for ice fishing.

Anglers still need to be careful and use good judgement on how and where they access the lakes. Lake of the Woods and most large lakes are notorious for having big cracks open up during strong winds like there were earlier this week.

Paul NelsonAnglers need to watch the ice as they travel across the lakes, looking for cracks, dark spots and anywhere that looks like there may be water on the ice. Always need to drive slow enough to leave room to stop in time for any potential obstacles, regardless of the mode of travel.

When the snow and ice on the lakes melts, the water has to run-off or drain into the lake. The most common places for the water to flow is down cracks, pressure ridges, old fishing holes and along the shoreline.

Anglers with fish houses still on the lakes in northern Minnesota have until March 20 to remove their houses. Anglers are allowed to use fish houses overnight on the lakes after that date, but the houses have to be occupied and can’t be left unattended.

Anglers are reminded to pick up their trash and anything else that doesn’t belong on the lakes when they remove their fish houses.

Please take ownership of the garbage and pick up anything you see including wood blocks, regardless of who put it there. The fish, birds and other anglers will thank you...actually they probably won’t, but they should!

Lake of the Woods is one of the busiest places in Minnesota for ice fishing late in the season. The extended season for walleyes, sauger and northern pike draw anglers from all over Minnesota and neighboring states after the gamefish season closes in Minnesota.

Many of the walleyes from Big Traverse Bay in the south end of Lake of the Woods will head for the Rainy River to spawn in the spring.

The walleyes and sauger spread out into the basin of Big Traverse Bay during the winter, but late in the winter they begin to head towards Pine Island and the mouth of the Rainy River.

Pine Island is a barrier island that runs from Morris Point to the Gap. Pine island is long and narrow and effectively provides a wind break between the large expanse of open water and the mouth of the Rainy River.

Four Mile Bay is the water between Pine Island and Lake of the Woods. The island forces walleyes and other migrating fish to go one way or the other to the Rainy River.

The shallow way to get to Lake of the Woods from the Rainy River is to swim west along Pine Island towards Morris Point, which is shallow and full of wood stumps.

The other way is to head northeast towards the Gap and Canada, which provides deep water all the way into Lake of the Woods. This is the choice most walleyes make when heading in and out of the Rainy River.

The Rainy River opens in the spring from east to west. The Rainy River begins coming out of a dam on Rainy Lake and ends up flowing into Lake of the Woods.

Anglers on the Rainy River using start at the Franz Jevne or Birchdale Access on the Rainy River, which is where the line from open water to ice is located right now.

The Spring Walleye Season on the Rainy River runs from March 1 to April 14.

The spring walleye season doesn’t actually begin until anglers can get their boats into the river. The second week of March would be considered early.

Nelson runs the “Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.” He can be contacted at panelsonbemidji@gmail.com.

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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