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.
Another unseasonably warm week in the Bemidji area is holding surface water temperatures in the lakes to the low 50s, which is still pretty warm for this point in the season. Anglers should be prepared to launch their boats without the aid of a dock. Most of the docks will be removed from the public accesses by early November, before the rifle deer season begins. Leaves on the trees have changed color and have begun to blow off the trees with the strong winds. Area grouse hunters typically have their best luck the last half of October, when visibility is better in the woods.
The first frost of the season occurred in most parts of the Bemidji area this past week. Surface water temperatures in the lakes are in the mid-50s, which is the point where fall movements of fish are at their peak. Walleye anglers have been finding walleyes anywhere from the outside edge of the weeds all the way down to where the hard bottom turns to mud. The deeper walleyes go, the more visible they become on sonar. Some anglers like to run their boats until they see fish on sonar before putting their lines in the water.
October arrives this weekend with no frost yet in most of Minnesota. Surface water temperatures in the local lakes remained in the 60s for most of September, which is very unusual for the Bemidji area. The thermocline is the thin layer of water between the warm water on the surface and the colder water on the bottom of the lakes. Once the water temperatures above the thermocline equalize with water temperatures immediately below the thermocline, the thermocline in the lakes will disappear. This usually happens as the water temperatures in the lakes dip into the 50s.