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Fish ready to spawn as ice melts from Bemidji area lakes

Most anglers are done ice fishing for the season, but there are still a few diehards who were out on the area lakes this past week.

The reason some anglers are so reluctant to give up on the ice fishing season is the crappies, sunfish and perch have been racing up the hole to bite if anglers can find the right locations.

Each lake is different, so the locations vary from lake to lake. Some lakes have a shallow bite right in the weeds. Other lakes have fish holding on the edge of the drop-off, close to the areas they will move into after the ice goes out.

Perch are ready to spawn almost immediately after the ice goes out. Female perch lay their eggs on old standing weed beds, where the eggs cling to the weeds in strands until they hatch.

Male perch move into the shallows first, where they wait for the larger female perch to arrive. Female perch spend very little time at the spawning sites. They move in when they are ready, grab a quick bite to eat, lay their eggs and then head back into deep water, where they stay until they have recovered from the spawn.

Male perch linger in the spawning sites for a period of time after the main spawning run is done, in case there are any late-arriving females.

Northern pike and walleyes are also ready to spawn as soon as the conditions are right. Northern pike will spawn in backwater areas, small streams and shallow bays that connect to the main lake. Northern pike often start spawning before all of the ice is off the lakes.

Walleyes break into two basic groups when the spawn. One group makes a spawning run up a river system, while the second group of walleyes spawns in the lakes on wind-swept gravel shoals.

Walleyes begin to run up the rivers before the ice is off the lakes. Lake spawning walleyes wait until the ice is gone and the water temperatures are right before spawning.

Crappies and sunfish spawn much later than perch, northern pike and walleyes. They are more concerned about feeding early in the season and won't spawn until water temperatures reach the upper 60s.

The types of areas crappies and sunfish look for after ice out are many of the same areas they were attracted to on late ice. They typically move shallow under the ice, then back out into deeper water when the ice goes out, then move back into the shallows when the water temperatures begin to warm.

Crappies and sunfish usually seek out the warmest water in the lake early in the spring. Any part of the lake that warms up more quickly than the rest of the lake can be a potential feeding area for crappies and sunfish in the spring.

Shallow, dark-bottomed bays are classic early season locations for crappies and sunfish, because insects can begin hatching out of the shallows before the ice is all they way off the lake.

Wild rice beds, reed beds and other old standing vegetation are all potential areas for feeding crappies and sunfish in the spring. Rocks and wood in the water absorb heat from the sun and provide cover for baitfish, so they are also attractive to feeding panfish.

Inlets and other sources of water flowing into the lakes can bring in warm water, which can attract panfish. Anglers may find warmer water on the north or west sides of lakes because the angle of the sun warms those areas more quickly.

Anglers wondering when all the ice will be gone in the Bemidji area can take a cue from Lake Minnetonka, which was ice free on April 14.

The ice out dates for lakes in the Bemidji area are typically between 10 days and two weeks later than lakes in the metro area. This would mean most of the ice should be gone from the lakes in the Bemidji area before the end of April.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.