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.
Winters are long enough in the Bemidji area without any bonus time. This winter is turning out to be at least a month longer than last year, with the cold weather extending well into April with no real end in sight. This coming week is the last week of the spring walleye season on Rainy River, with significant parts of the river still locked up with ice. It would take a drastic change in the weather pattern to open up the river all the way to Lake of the Woods before the season ends on April 14.
There will definitely be ice fishing in April in most of northern Minnesota this year, and this is not an April Fools' Day joke. Colder temperatures this past week have slowed down the melt on the lakes and has once again extended the ice fishing season. The accesses on the lakes are the first places to go during the meltdown because the standing water washes off dirt and salt from the vehicles, which speeds up the melting process.
Spring arrived on the calendar this past week, but it still looks more like winter than spring in the Bemidji area. Anglers are usually fishing out of boats on the Rainy River by this time of year, but the ice pack was still several miles east of Birchdale this week. Anglers are still a week or more away from fishing the Rainy River, with the first week of April likely when the first anglers will be able to get their boats into the Rainy River.
Lakes in the Bemidji area has been in a stable melting pattern this week. The high temperatures have been consistently above the melting point each day, while the overnight lows have remained well below freezing at night. The ice conditions are not very good on most lakes in Northern Minnesota. There is a layer of water that has developed on top of the ice in many areas, creating slush problems for anyone trying to travel away from the plowed roads on the lakes.
March certainly came in like a lion this year, with several measurable snowfalls at the end of February and beginning of March quickly making a mess of most lakes in Minnesota. Anglers in the northern one-third of Minnesota need to get their fish houses off the lakes no later than March 19. Considering the poor conditions on the Bemidji area lakes, anglers may want to get their houses off the lakes ASAP in case the conditions get even worse.
The season for walleyes and other gamefish species has ended on the inland waters of Minnesota. New 2018/19 Minnesota Fishing Licenses went into effect Thursday, March 1. The deep snow on the lakes began to melt this past week with high temperatures exceeding the freezing point on most days. The melting snow has to go somewhere. The run-off will find its way down old fishing holes, cracks or ice heaves in the ice, with the rest of the water running off the ice along the shoreline.
The big stories this past week in the Bemidji area were a couple of significant snowfalls, the Eelpout Festival this weekend and the end of the walleye and other game fish seasons for the Inland Waters of Minnesota, which close at midnight Feb. 25. The total amounts of snow varied across the north country, with most areas receiving between a foot to 2 feet of snow this week. Temperatures were on the cool side when it snowed, so the snow was light and fluffy and prone to drifting when the wind blows.
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.