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PAUL NELSON FISHING: Good chance for lake ice for opener

Paul Nelson

The elephant in the room turns out to be a white elephant. Most residents of Bemidji are probably very sick of snow and cold by now and would really like to see some warmer weather as soon as possible.

There is a very good chance there will still be ice on many of the local lakes when the walleye season opens May 12, unless there are some drastic changes in the weather pattern soon.

The average ice out date for Lake Bemidji is April 26, with the earliest recorded ice out on April 2, 2012, and the latest recorded ice out date on May 22, 1950.

Lake Minnetonka has one of the longest recorded histories of ice out dates in Minnesota, so it works well as an indicator for other lakes in Minnesota.

Minnetonka's average ice out occurs April 13, so ice out on Lake Minnetonka is usually about 13 days ahead of ice out on Lake Bemidji.

Anglers can keep an eye on what happens on Lake Minnetonka to predict what will likely happen on most of the larger lakes in the Bemidji area.

Leech Lake and Cass Lake have similar average ice out dates as Lake Bemidji, with Lake of the Woods a couple days later and Lake Winnibigoshish a couple of days earlier than Lake Bemidji.

If all the ice is not off Lake Minnetonka by the end of April, the chances for ice on the opener for most of the larger lakes in the Bemidji area goes up significantly with each day that passes.

Seasons can change quickly in the Bemidji area, but it takes some time to melt about 30 inches of ice, which was about the amount of ice remaining on many local lakes this past week.

The extended forecast is not offering much encouragement for the next 10 days and there was another significant chance of snow in parts of Minnesota for this weekend.

The spring walleye season closed on the Rainy River on Saturday. The walleye and sauger season also closed on Lake of the Woods and the other Canadian border lakes Saturday.

Many anglers avoided the Rainy River this spring because of the cold temperatures and ice. Much of the Midwest is also having a late spring this year.

It is hard for anglers to feel the urgency of getting ready for spring when the area still looks like winter with all the ice on the lakes and snow on the ground.

There were still a few anglers on the lakes ice fishing this past week, with most lakes still able to support vehicle traffic.

Anglers are not the only ones who need to start getting ready for the fishing opener. The DNR and other entities have to put the docks in on literally hundreds of public accesses before the walleye season begins.

Bait dealers need to trap minnows and leeches before the opener to be ready for all of the anglers wanting live bait on the opener. Most leeches in the bait stores come from ponds in this area, so the supply of leeches will likely be poor when the season opens.

Most walleye anglers want spottail shiners on the opener. Spottail shiners are trapped in lakes and won't begin to come into shore until the ice is off the lakes and the water begins to warm.

The DNR also needs to harvest walleye eggs for their stocking program. Bait dealers also harvest sucker eggs in the spring to raise in their minnow ponds.

Most anglers need to service their boats before the season opens. Batteries need to be charged or replaced. Many anglers also change their spark plugs and put in fresh lower unit grease before the season opens.

The ideal situation for most anglers is to have enough time to put their boats in the water before the season starts, so they can make a test run on their boats before it is time to catch the walleyes and avoid any nasty surprises on opening day.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips for the 2018 season can be booked at