Weather Forecast


Too much snow hampers travel on Bemidji area lakes

The good news is the snowmobile trails are in great shape in most of northern Minnesota so there is no need to travel to the Upper Pennisula in Michigan to go snowmobiling this winter.

The conditions are also great on the ski slopes, there is no reason to travel to Colorado to use your skis or snowboards.

The trails in the woods are also presumably in good shape for cross country skiing and snowshoeing, although this does not come from first-hand information.

The lakes and rivers should also benefit from all of the snow. The ground froze hard early in the winter, so when the snow finally does melt much of the water should run into the lakes and rivers. This should guarantee high water levels this spring.

That’s about as much positivity as this writer can muster when it comes to snow.

March is supposed to be the best month of the winter for ice fishing but this year is going to be tough because of the poor ice conditions.

The snow has made a slushy mess of the lakes. Anglers trying to drill holes in most lakes have to kick away most of the snow to have enough auger to get all the way through the ice.

Lake of the Woods has some of the thickest ice in the area, with anglers needing to use an extension on their augers to get through the ice.

Many lakes have a double layer of ice so anglers will feel the auger jump as it breaks through the first layer. The holes fill with water as the auger drills through the ice because the surface of the lakes is saturated with water in many locations.

Anglers with snowmobiles rigged for ice fishing have the best access to the lakes. There are accessories available for snowmobiles to haul augers and small tubs for hauling gear onto the lakes.

Anglers can also haul a portable fish house behind their snowmobile to transport their gear and provide shelter.

Many fish have been staging for spring, even though the lakes are still covered with deep snow. Eelpout, walleyes, northern pike and perch all spawn early in the spring so they have to be ready to go when the snow begins to melt and the ice starts to go out on the lakes.

The snow on the lakes can delay how soon the fish move shallow but the fish still know spring is coming. In late springs, the fish will stage near the spawning sites and wait until the conditions are right before they make their move.

Some anglers have been fishing for eelpout at night on many of the larger lakes. Eelpout spawn under the ice in March on bars and humps that are close to the deepest parts of the lake.

Anglers who find an eelpout spawning area can have consistent action most of March, with schools of eelpout moving in to feed and eventually spawn.

Northern pike is another fish that will begin to spawn before the ice is all the way off the lakes. Pike like to spawn in rivers and streams and any backwater areas that have calm, slack water.

Large lakes like Lake of the Woods may have concentrations of big pike migrating to the best spawning areas. The pike will stage close to the spawning bays on late ice where they will feed until they are ready to spawn.

Pike have been known to travel long distances to spawn, especially in high-water years. There are people miles away from Red Lake who have pike spawning in their ditches in high-water springs.

Anglers along the south shore of Lake of the Woods or in Buffalo Bay in Manitoba can have great trophy pike fishing late in the winter with the extended gamefish seasons there.

Pike anglers can use oily dead baits like cisco or smelt or they can use live bait like suckers or shiners on tip-ups to catch big pike.

Anglers on Lake of the Woods have also been catching walleyes in the evenings in 18 to 24 feet of water along most of the Pine Island area.

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