Anglers received a little break from the bitter cold temperatures that have held the Bemidji area in its grip for most of January and February. There were a couple of days this past week that were close to the freezing/melting point, but most of the break was simply a return to the average/normal temperature range for February. The cold weather has continued to add more ice to the lakes, with some of the large shallow lakes having 30 or more inches of ice.
There are only two weeks left in the gamefish season for the Inland Waters of Minnesota. The season closes Feb. 25, with extended seasons for walleyes, northern pike and sauger on many of the border lakes and border rivers of Minnesota. Licensed anglers are allowed to fish for crappies, sunfish and perch continuously in Minnesota. Rough fish species like tullibees, whitefish and eelpout are also open to angling all year long in Minnesota.
The first week in February has been cold, with temperatures dipping back below zero most nights, with highs in the single digits or low teens. Anglers are still able to get around on the lakes with four wheel drive vehicles that have good clearance and good tires. Anglers can take two vehicles and be able to pull each other out of most situations if they get stuck.
The Bemidji area missed the big snowstorm that hit the southern half of Minnesota this past week, which is good news to anyone who likes ice fishing. A late January thaw was able to melt enough snow on area lakes to create a few wet spots under the snow. There are only a few areas with slush, with between 15 and 20 inches of good ice on most lakes. Anglers with wheeled fish houses may need an extension on their ice augers for drilling the holes inside their houses. Anglers fishing outside can still get through the ice without an extension in most areas.
Walleyes in most clear water lakes have two peak feeding periods per day, with one in the morning and the other in the evening. All of the walleyes do not feed at the same time. The number of walleyes participating in any feeding movement depends on many factors including the weather, the availability of food and how much the walleyes ate in previous feeding movements. Generally speaking, more walleyes will participate for a longer amount of time when the conditions are favorable than when they are less favorable.
The ice conditions are good across the Bemidji area, with 14 to 20 inches of ice on most lakes. There can still be trouble spots near ice heaves or anywhere there is current or springs under the ice, so anglers can never let their guard down completely when they are on the lakes ice fishing. The fishing has been spotty for most species, with the weather dictating when the fish are most likely to be active. Anglers can choose what lakes they fish and what species they fish for based on the conditions and the time of day.
The cold temperatures have added a significant amount of ice to the lakes, with most lakes now having at least 14 inches of good ice in most locations. Anglers have started to drive their vehicles on most lakes, with many people rushing to get their stationary fish houses on their favorite locations before someone else beats them to the spot.
Most lakes in the Bemidji area have finally froze over, with the deep lakes like Lake Bemidji and Cass Lake always among the last local lakes to freeze. Anglers have started to use ATVs and snowmobiles to access a few of the lakes that have been frozen the longest. The primary lake in this category is Upper Red Lake, which usually has the most ice of all the lakes in the Bemidji area. The ice conditions vary greatly between lakes and also on the same lake, with the ice in the middle of the lake usually thinner than the ice along the shoreline.
The large deep lakes like Lake Bemidji, Cass Lake and Walker Bay of Leech Lake have become super-cooled by the persistent high winds that won't let the lakes freeze, even though the water is more than cold enough to freeze. The waves keep mixing the upper layer of the water column and won't let the water stratify and freeze. This can drive the fish into deeper water than usual as the fish try to find the warmest water in the lake.
One night of below zero temperatures froze over most of the shallow lakes in the Bemidji area last week, with some lakes currently having 4 to 5 inches of ice. Most of the deep lakes like Bemidji, Cass and Walker Bay of Leech Lake are still open, with a few anglers (mostly muskie anglers) still out on the lakes trying to extend the open water season to the bitter end. Lake Bemidji is usually one of the last lakes to freeze, while Upper Red Lake is usually among the first lakes to freeze every winter.