It is not too late to have an early spring, but it’s not going to be quite as early as it once appeared it would be. The average ice-out date for Lake Bemidji is April 26. The earliest recorded ice-out was on April 2, 2012, and the latest recorded ice-out for Lake Bemidji was May 22, 1950. For comparison purposes, Lake Minnetonka was declared ice-free on March 18 this year, which is 26 days earlier than the average ice-out date of April 13.
The ice thickness on the lakes in the Bemidji area varies greatly from lake to lake and even between accesses on the same lake. The ice is totally shot on many of the smaller lakes, while a few of the larger lakes may still have enough ice for a few anglers to try to find a safe way to get on the lakes. The extended forecast is predicting temperatures to drop below freezing again at night into next week, but temperatures in the 20s likely won’t be cold enough to save much ice.
The winter fishing season closes at midnight Sunday for walleyes, northern pike, sauger, largemouth bass and smallmouth bass on the inland waters of Minnesota. This is a leap year, so the 2015-16 Minnesota fishing licenses last through Feb. 29, with anglers needing to purchase new 2016-17 licenses to continue fishing after March 1. Fish houses must be removed from lakes overnight in the Bemidji area by March 21, while fish houses on lakes in the southern two-thirds of Minnesota must be off the lakes by March 7. (Check the regulations for the exact north-south line).
Cold weather this past week helped lakes in the Bemidji area add several more inches of new ice. Most lakes now have about a foot of ice, with a little more on shallow lakes like Upper Red Lake and a little less on some of the deep lakes like Lake Bemidji. We are still more than two weeks behind a “normal” year for ice formation. Anglers are usually able to drive vehicles on the lakes by the Christmas break, but snowmobiles and ATVs are still best way to access most lakes for ice fishing.
Most anglers have been anxious for colder weather to arrive, so the lakes would make enough ice to go ice fishing. All of the lakes in the Bemidji area have been quickly adding more ice recently, but the long drawn-out process of freezing this year has made the ice very inconsistent from lake to lake and also from spot to spot on many larger lakes. Most lakes that froze over late now have between 6 and 8 inches of good clear ice. Upper Red Lake has more ice than most of the other lakes in the area with at least 10 inches of ice.
The snowfall earlier this week ranged from only a dusting of a few inches to more than a half a foot of snow, depending on the location. The area immediately around Bemidji didn’t get as much snow as some areas, so it is hard to tell how much snow fell in any one specific location.
Most of the deep lakes in the Bemidji area froze over last weekend, but unseasonably warm temperatures continue.
The firearms deer season is over in the Bemidji area, but bow hunters are allowed to continue deer hunting until Dec. 31. There are also an increasing number of deer hunters who prefer the solitude of hunting later in the season and will hunt the muzzleloader deer season, which begins Saturday and runs through Dec. 13. Deer hunting with a muzzleloader is a one-shot proposition, much like hunting with a crossbow or compound bow. Hunters use open sights on muzzleloaders and have to reload the gun after each shot.
This is the last weekend of the 2015 Minnesota rifle deer season, which ends at sunset on Sunday. The first two weekends of the season were unseasonably warm, but this weekend should be much more like what hunters are used to from past deer seasons. Deer harvest numbers were up early in the season. With a strong finish this weekend, the deer harvest numbers for 2015 should be up over 2014, when approximately 139,000 deer were harvested.
The first weekend of the rifle deer season was warm enough to allow most deer hunters to sit in their stands much longer than usual without getting cold. The forecast for the second weekend of the rifle season is almost as warm as the first weekend, with high temperatures expected to exceed 50 degrees again. The warm weather is helping hunters have a good start to the season, with more than 68,000 deer harvested statewide during the first three days of the season.