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PAUL NELSON FISHING: Ice fishing season has arrived

Most lakes in the Bemidji area have enough ice to walk on, but the ice conditions still vary greatly from the shoreline to the middle of the lakes and also from one lake to the next.

Everyone is responsible for themselves when it comes to ice safety. Don't rely on secondhand information for your ice safety, especially early in the season when the margin for error is slim.

With that said, there will probably be lots of people on the lakes going ice fishing for the first time of the season this weekend.

Upper Red Lake has at least 8 inches of ice in most locations and is probably one of the most popular locations for walleyes early in the season.

Lake of the Woods may also be open to anglers by this weekend out of many resorts. Most anglers wait until they can use an ATV or snowmobile to get on the ice and will fish the shoreline break early in the season.

Deep lakes like Lake Bemidji and Cass Lake have considerably less ice than URL or LOW, with closer to 4 inches of ice near shore and thinner ice further away from shore on the large deep lakes.

Some other shallow lakes with more ice than most lakes include Lake Irving, Blackduck, Winnie and the shallow bays of Leech Lake, which are also popular early season walleye lakes.

The resorts take anglers' safety seriously, so checking ahead to the place you plan to access the lake is a good idea. Anglers fishing out of public accesses need to take responsibility for checking the ice conditions themselves.

Anglers can also ask at the bait stores close to their access points when they get their bait for the most current information on the ice conditions and the early ice fishing reports.

There has been a decent walleye bite on some of the lakes with the most ice. Good reports are coming in from Upper Red Lake, with anglers catching walleyes along the shoreline break in 6 to 8 feet of water.

The stained water allows the walleyes to feed some during the day, but the best bites are still centered around low light. The evening bite on Upper Red can be spectacular if anglers are on the right spot.

The lack of structure in URL doesn't mean the walleyes don't like structure, it means anglers might have to change their definition of what "structure" means.

Paul Nelson

Structure in Upper Red Lake means anything different from the surroundings. The shoreline break from 6 to 8 feet is the first breakline, with anglers often needing to be close to the break to be in the best spots for active fish.

Walleyes will work the edge of the drop-off chasing schools of minnows, with the turns and steepest sections of the drop-off usually the most productive areas.

There is another break line that goes from 10 to 12 feet of water in URL, which is usually better later in the winter.

The first drop-off is closer to shore on the south side of URL than on the east and north sides of the lake, with most anglers fishing in about 8 feet of water.

The other primary structure on URL other than the drop-offs are the patches of rocks. The most productive rocks are usually on the flats between the first and second breakline.

Jigging spoons tipped with a minnow head or half a minnow is usually the most productive presentation. Not using the whole minnow gives the fish a more compact target and makes it more likely the fish will get the hooks when they hit the bait.

Glow colors and UV colored lures help the fish target the spoons in the stained water. The walleyes are usually very aggressive, so anglers just need to be in the right general location and give the fish something the fish can see easily.

Anglers are allowed four walleyes in URL, with one walleye longer than 17 inches allowed in a limit of fish.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips for 2019 can be booked by calling or texting 218-760-7751 or by email at