Cold, snow, slush hamper anglers on Bemidji area lakes
It's half way through March and the Bemidji area is still locked into a cold and snowy weather pattern that shows no signs of letting up.
Virtually all of the lakes are covered with deep snow and mired in slush. Anglers usually have to stand in several inches of water while they are fishing, which makes waterproof boots a must if anglers want to have any chance of keeping their feet dry.
New snow is being added to the lakes faster than it can melt. Until the overnight temperatures stay above freezing, the lakes will be stuck in an alternating pattern of melting and re-freezing.
Signs of impending spring are hard to find when looking at the weather forecast. There is a chance of more snow today and below-zero overnight temperatures predicted for this weekend.
A closer look at the extended forecast predicts several more chances for measurable snow in the next 10 days, zero days with highs above 35 degrees and no overnight lows that stay above freezing, which takes us into the last week in March.
Many local anglers are feeling cheated by the poor ice conditions this March. Late ice fishing can be fantastic, arguably some of the best fishing of the winter. The bite just keeps getting better until the ice on the lakes is too rotten to walk on.
Anglers from outside the Bemidji area plan their winter vacations for March. Once they get here, they are going ice fishing even if they have to walk through an ice swamp to do so.
Anglers with snowmobiles are the only ones with access to most lakes. The snow on the lakes is so deep and slushy most snowmobiles are having problems sinking in the snow, especially if the drivers try to pull a loaded fish house behind the sled.
Anglers with vehicles are limited to plowed roads on the lakes. Once the roads are cleared of snow, the weather has been cold enough to re-freeze the ice.
Bad ice conditions tend to concentrate anglers on the lakes. Anglers in vehicles stay on the roads and anglers on snowmobiles usually try to find a fresh trail and follow it, rather than breaking a new trail.
This means somebody is leading and somebody is getting followed. The trailing anglers usually check any old holes they find along the way, so good luck trying to hide any fish. There will likely be somebody sitting on your holes when you try to come back to the spot.
Lake of the Woods probably has the best ice conditions in the state because there are so many resorts plowing roads on the lake.
The extended season for walleyes, sauger and northern pike on Lake of the Woods has made it just about the only show in town, or state for that matter.
Anglers from all over Minnesota and beyond have been flocking to Lake of the Woods. This is creating crowded conditions in many areas but the fishing has been pretty good.
There has been a good evening bite for walleyes in 18 to 24 feet along most of the south shore and along Pine Island. Most anglers are using two rods, with one rod having some type of jigging lure and a second dead stick rod with a lively minnow and a gold or glowing ice jig or plain colored hook and a split-shot sinker.
The jigging rod usually catches the more active fish and the dead stick catches some of the reluctant fish that are lured in by the jigging lure.
Sauger have been biting in 28 to 32 feet of water during the day, with some suspended walleyes also in the same areas. The depth of the suspended walleyes can give anglers a clue to how deep they should be fishing along structure in the evening.
Northern pike are staging close to their spawning areas in Lake of the Woods. Most anglers are using tip-ups rigged with oily dead baits or larger minnows.
All stationary fish houses must be off non-border lakes by midnight on Sunday, March 18th. Anglers are allowed to use shelters after this weekend but they must be occupied or removed from the lakes each day.