Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.
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The ice fishing season is over, and anglers are waiting for the ice to go out on the area lakes. The potholes, ponds and smaller bodies of water are mostly ice-free, while the rest of the lakes are in the process of losing their ice. Anglers in the Bemidji area should be able to get their boats into some lakes already, and the rest of the lakes should be opening up soon. Most lakes in the Bemidji area will have ice-out dates in 2017 that are between two and three weeks earlier than their average dates.
It's unusual for lakes in the Bemidji area to be making ice in the second week of March, but that's is exactly what happened this past week. The Bemidji area had several nights with temperatures below zero this week, which really firmed up the ice conditions and smoothed out the surface of the lakes. Some lakes in the metro area had opened up earlier in March, but have started to freeze over again with the cold temperatures.
There was more melting on lakes in the Bemidji area earlier this week, but there was another strong cold front right behind the warmer temperatures that brought more snow and considerably colder temperatures that were able to refreeze the surface of the lakes again. The ice fishing season has fallen apart about as far north as Brainerd, with Lake Minnetonka declared open this week. Most lakes from Bemidji north to the Canadian border still have enough ice for ice fishing.
Temperatures have moderated again in the Bemidji area, with another meltdown on the lakes in progress. As long as temperatures remain below freezing at night, the lakes will alternate between melting and freezing, which significantly slows down the melting process and helps extend the ice fishing season.
The extended forecast for the Bemidji area is predicting above average temperatures for this coming week. The average temperatures in early February are still pretty cold, with average daily highs in the upper teens and average lows a couple of degrees below zero. The lakes are still locked in mid-winter mode in the Bemidji area. There is plenty of snow on the ice, with the surface of most lakes heavily rutted and very bumpy.
A few inches of new snow was enough to help make travel on the lakes a little smoother by filling in some of the dead spaces between the bumps and ruts on the lakes. Pressure ridges, ice heaves and cracks in the ice continue to be obstacles for anglers traveling on the lakes, so anglers need to take it slow and watch out for any cracks or wet spots in the ice.
The ice conditions continue to improve in the Bemidji area. The extended period of below-zero temperatures so far in January has helped add more ice to all of the lakes. Most deep lakes in the Bemidji area have at least 14 inches of ice, while most shallow lakes have closer to 18. There was a brief warm-up this past week, which added even more snow to the lakes. The snow was sandwiched between two stretches of below-zero temperatures, which has been the pattern so far this winter.
January can be an unpleasant month in the Bemidji area. Another snowstorm followed by more bitterly cold temperatures has made going outside this week an adventure. Kudos to anyone working outside in this weather. A warm fish house can be enjoyable in almost any weather. Anglers using portable fish houses trying to stay mobile are at a distinct disadvantage when temperatures struggle to get above zero for highs during the day.
The Christmas Blizzard could have been much worse on lakes in the Bemidji area. Lake Bemidji probably received more snow than most lakes, with many other areas getting mostly rain. The hard crust under the snow is probably most difficult for deer, which have to scrape through the snow to get to their food.
Lakes in the Bemidji area were making ice about as fast as possible during what could turn out to be one of the coldest stretches of the winter. When temperatures stay below zero for several days at a time, the lakes can make more than one inch of new ice each 24 hour period, especially early in the season when the ice is still thin. Most lakes in the Bemidji area have at least six inches of ice, with a few shallow lakes having more than ten.