Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.
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It’s hard to imagine the cold weather this past week as a good thing in most people’s minds. After the tragically high number of lives lost on the frozen lakes already this year, an extended period of below zero temperatures was exactly what the ice on the lakes needed most.
Another angler lost their life after falling through the ice on Grace Lake near Bemidji recently and a second angler near Cohasset also died after their ATV broke through the ice. The inconsistent ice conditions this year have proven to be very dangerous for anglers. Now more anglers are beginning to drive their vehicles on the lakes, so colder temperatures forecast for this week come at a time when the lakes really need to add more ice to make the ice conditions more consistent and safer for anglers.
The 2017 ice fishing season continues, with the ice thickness varying greatly between lakes. A few lakes still have about 5 inches of ice, while many other lakes have 10-12 inches of ice and Upper Red Lake has between 12 and 15 inches of ice. The shoreline ice on most lakes is thicker than the mid lake ice, so anglers have to expect the ice conditions to vary from spot to spot on the same lake and watch out for areas with current or springs.
The extended forecast for the Bemidji area looks more like it should for this time of the year, with highs in the teens and overnight lows in the single digits through this weekend. An inevitable early snow storm hit the Bemidji area right before the cold weather arrived, which will slow down how fast the lakes can add ice in the colder temperatures.
The first weekend of the rifle deer season is behind us, with a good opening weekend for many hunters in the Bemidji area. Snow on the ground makes it easier for hunters to see the deer signs, so hunters know where the deer have been moving at night. The full moon this past weekend gave the deer plenty of light to see at night, with the deer actively in the rut over the weekend.
The rifle deer season begins on Saturday morning, Nov. 4. This should be a good year for local hunters to have success and put some venison in the freezer for the winter. Hunters in section 184, which includes most of the Bemidji area, are allowed to harvest either sex deer this season because of a forecast surplus of deer in the region.
Winter is coming. The fall cool down just got more serious late this week, with hard frosts forecast nightly in the extended forecast. Any lake that hadn’t gone through turnover yet was going through turnover this week. Turnover is when the colder water on the surface of the lakes becomes heavier and more dense than the warmer water on the bottom of the lake, so water on the surface starts to sink.
The October full moon was Thursday night, but anglers are able to have good success fishing walleyes at night several days before and after the full moon, so the opportunity should extend at least through this weekend. Night fishing is not for everyone, but with the zebra mussels expanding to more lakes, the trend of fishing for walleyes at night is just going to get more prevalent in the future. Trolling or casting floating minnow baits that dive just below the surface is the presentation most walleye anglers use at night.
September is here, with one last big weekend of summer before the unofficial beginning of fall in the Bemidji area. A warm weekend would have meant a busy weekend on the lakes, but cooler temperatures will likely mean more people will stay off the lakes and concentrate on getting their cabins ready for winter.
When you have as many distinctly different types of lakes as the Bemidji Area, anglers have an almost an unlimited playing field if they want to learn how to fish different bodies of water for different species of fish. Most of the lakes with zebra mussels are the larger lakes with the most fishing pressure, mostly from walleye anglers. Any smaller lakes infested with zebra mussels are usually on a chain of lakes downstream from one of the larger, infested walleye lakes.