Cold snap extends ice fishing season

The ice fishing season was a day or two away from ending at this time last week, but now it has been given new life by an extended period of cold temperatures this past week.

The ice fishing season was a day or two away from ending at this time last week, but now it has been given new life by an extended period of cold temperatures this past week.

This has been a strange winter, with many of the larger lakes not producing for anglers the way they normally do. The lack of production from lakes like Winnibigoshish, Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake has put more pressure on many of the smaller lakes in the Bemidji area.

Winter tends to concentrate fish into predictable areas, especially panfish. Anglers' old holes, permanent fish houses left on the ice and tracks from snowmobiles or vehicles leave behind signs of activity that other anglers can follow.

Populations of fish in smaller lakes can be very vulnerable to over-harvest in the winter. Panfish are especially vulnerable because they feed more often and don't move around as much as gamefish, which can make them sitting ducks, just waiting for someone to come along and find them.

Hopefully, when someone finds the "mother lode" they show some restraint when it comes to harvesting fish. The problem gets magnified when other anglers follow behind and stumble on to the fish and don't treat the spot with the same reverence as the angler who opened up the spot.


Internet chat rooms, fishing columns and other means of sharing fishing information, along with more intelligent use of increasingly sophisticated electronics, all reduce the chances of fish being able to find sanctuaries where they can hide and go relatively unnoticed by the bulk of anglers.

During the summer, fish use more of the lake than the do in the winter. There are often several patterns occurring at the same time. Warm water makes fish move much more frequently, with their movements largely dependant on water temperature, water clarity, the availability of food and the daily weather patterns.

Fish are cold blooded which limits how much they can move around in the winter. Anglers are able to eliminate large portions of the lakes as unproductive water, leaving only small sections of the lake for knowledgeable anglers to search for fish during the winter.

Seasonal movements occur during the winter, but they usually happen at predictable times. Panfish travel in larger schools in the winter and tend to be concentrated in deep water in the type of lakes we have in the Bemidji area.

Shallow patterns may occur during the winter, but the fish don't usually stay in one place very long, which makes them much more difficult to pattern.

Deep water patterns during the winter are different than shallow water patterns. Panfish often stay in predictable areas much longer and won't get pushed out of their deep water locations until many of the fish have been caught.

Most bag limits don't go far enough to protect the fish when anglers find concentrations of panfish in the winter. Compliance with regulations and restraint by anglers is often a necessary component of the equation if the current regulations are going to be effective and leave enough fish behind to maintain quality fishing.

The new limit of one walleye over 20 inches takes effect on the walleye opener this spring and is one example of a regulation intended to protect brood stock to help increase natural reproduction.


Stocking is a useful tool to give fish populations a boost, but spawning habits of many fish species don't lend themselves to stocking programs and the reduction of bag limits may be the only viable answer to protect them from over-harvest.

I believe the perch regulation of 20 fish daily and 40 fish in possession hasn't been able to increase the average size of perch in Winnibigoshish or the other good perch lakes.

In my opinion, good big bluegill lakes are increasingly difficult to find and the 20 fish bag limit is too liberal to protect the lakes when anglers find the concentrations of bluegills during the winter. More lakes need to have the 5 fish special regulation to protect the few remaining lakes with large bluegills.

Anglers have been granted a reprieve and the ice fishing season has been extended by the cold weather for those not ready to put away the ice fishing gear for the season.

Paul A. Nelson is a fishing guide in the Bemidji area. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.

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