Weather Forecast


Ice is here but thickness will vary on Bemidji area lakes

Lakes in the Bemidji area have been slowly freezing over for the last couple of weeks. A few lakes froze early and a few lakes still have open water, with the rest of the lakes somewhere between the two extremes. Anglers really need to know where they are going early in the ice fishing season. The lakes vary greatly in how they make ice and how long it takes them to freeze over completely. Many lakes have current areas that can stay open most of the winter. Lakes can also have springs which can cause thin ice in unpredictable areas. Springs are usually most dangerous to anglers when they are close to shore. Most lakes also have seams in the ice, which is where two ice sheets that froze at different times meet. The ice typically gets thinner as anglers cross the seams and go onto the newer ice. Seams in the ice can be weak spots all winter, with pressure ridges often forming on the seams later in the winter. Anglers need to be extra cautious until a safe path has been established to a new area. Some anglers like to walk with an ice pick when they go onto a lake for the first time, striking the ice frequently to see if the spud punches through the ice or draws water. Other anglers like to use a hand auger and count the number of turns it takes to get through the ice. From personal experience, anything less than eight turns on my auger is too thin. Anglers can try to figure out how many turns equals how much ice so they can make the minimum number of turns to check the ice thickness and then keep going if the ice is safe. This is much quicker than drilling all the way through the ice and measuring each time. The local bait shops will know what lakes anglers are fishing and should be able to help anglers select a lake that has enough ice to walk on. There is still some open water on a few of the deepest lakes, including Bemidji, Cass, Pike Bay and Walker Bay of Leech Lake. Many other lakes are covered with ice but very few lakes have enough ice for anglers to walk on because it has not been cold enough yet. The light covering of snow on the lakes also slows the formation of ice. Upper Red Lake usually has the most ice in the Bemidji area and parts of URL already have more than six inches. A few of the resorts on URL may be allowing ATVs on the ice as early as this weekend. Most anglers on Upper Red Lake have been fishing along the shoreline break in six to eight feet of water. The shoreline dropoff is closer to shore on the south side of URL so that is where most anglers have been going. Anglers planning to make their first ice fishing trip of the season are encouraged to fish in pairs, wear life jackets and have ice spikes to help pull them out of the water in an emergency. Anglers should also have a plan for rescue if an accident should happen, even if it is just a rope and a boat cushion to throw or a whistle to blow if anglers insist on fishing alone early in the season. If fishing on thin ice is not your idea of a good time, consider traveling to the St. Paul River Center this Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the 20th annual Ice Fishing and Winter Sports Show. Anglers will be able to visit with some of the biggest names in ice fishing and have access to a huge selection of the newest products and some of the best deals of the season. Many vendors also give free products and there will be seminars each day with many items making their début. It is a very popular event for those who love ice fishing and other winter sports. 

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