Ice angling access limited

Temperatures have stayed above freezing the last few nights in the Bemidji area. Much of the snow on the lakes has melted and there is a lot of standing water on the ice.

Temperatures have stayed above freezing the last few nights in the Bemidji area. Much of the snow on the lakes has melted and there is a lot of standing water on the ice.

Most of the heavily traveled accesses on lakes like Upper Red, Winnibigoshish and Lake of the Woods are badly flooded near shore and will likely be closed to vehicle traffic before the weekend, with access limited to snowmobiles or ATV's.

Ice on the lakes is frozen tight to shore during the winter, but when spring arrives, the ice begins to separate from shore. Water that doesn't run off the lakes along the shoreline will try to find other ways to drain through the ice.

Ice heaves, cracks and anglers' old fishing holes can become funnels that allow standing water on the ice to drain off the lakes. A whirlpool can be created if the water drains off too quickly, with sink holes created in the ice from the rushing water.

Anglers should be extra careful on late ice and watch for rotation in the water when crossing through big puddles of water on the ice. Always travel slow enough to stop quickly if the need arises.


The problem for anglers wanting to extend the ice fishing season is finding ways to get on the ice safely. Shaded areas may stay connected to shore longer than areas with direct afternoon sun, so anglers may have to choose more carefully where they access the lakes.

ATV riders can flip very easily if they hit a rut in the ice, so traveling slow is critical for safety. Snowmobiles actually spread out the weight better on the ice than wheeled vehicles, especially after the water drains off the ice.

The run-off of water is actually part of what triggers panfish to move shallow under late-ice conditions. The stagnant water in the shallows is revitalized by the inflow of fresh water.

Perch will spawn almost as soon as the ice is off the lakes and right now they are hunting for minnows and anything else they can find to eat.

The water rushing into the lakes brings oxygen and small bits of food into the shallows for minnows, crayfish and other small baitfish to feed on, which starts the food chain that brings in the predator species.

Perch will often be concentrated on the edges of large flats and on top of points with direct access to deep water. The best areas usually have old cabbage weed beds outside of reeds.

Crappies will also move shallower right before the ice goes out on the lakes. Inlets, the mouths of bays or the shoreline break outside of canals or harbors are prime examples of late ice crappie locations.

Crappies and sunfish will be looking for the warmest water in the lakes when the ice goes out. The key areas usually have dark bottoms with mud, which holds the insects and micro organisms.


Another option for anglers right now is the Rainy River, which has had a hot walleye bite this past week.

The best presentation for walleyes in rivers is often a jig and minnow. The old rule of thumb to use the lightest jig possible while keeping in contact with the bottom doesn't apply when fishing in rivers with current. Larger jigs are then the rule.

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

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