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PAUL NELSON FISHING COLUMN: Not all lakes are equal when it comes to ice

Paul Nelson

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.

There are several interesting comparisons between Upper Red Lake and Lake Bemidji that constantly happen every year.

Upper Red Lake usually has enough ice to walk on before Lake Bemidji freezes, with anglers driving ATV's on Upper Red Lake about the same time Lake Bemidji finally freezes over.

Anglers usually start driving smaller vehicles on Upper Red Lake just before anglers are able to use ATV's on Lake Bemidji.

Obviously these are generalizations and anglers need to check the ice conditions for themselves before going on the ice. The point is, all lakes are not created equal and neither is the ice on top of them.

Just because there is enough ice on one lake to support anglers, does not mean every lake with ice is ready for ice fishing. With all the usual cautions in mind, anglers have started ice fishing on many of the shallow lakes in the Bemidji and Grand Rapids area.

Most anglers fishing early in the season concentrate on the shoreline break and avoid crossing over deep water or traveling long distances over the ice. Finding a place to access the lakes close to where anglers want to fish is one of the most important parts of getting on the ice.

The lakes freeze in layers, so anglers have to watch out for seams in the ice. The ice along the shore is usually the oldest and thickest ice, with each seam away from shore having younger ice that is usually thinner than the ice next to shore.

Anglers need to walk with a chisel and be sure a sharp strike on the ice doesn't yield any water. A hand drill or a drill bit on an electric drill all will work to check the thickness of the ice every few steps and especially before crossing any seams in the ice.

There are several different brands of floatation suits on the market, but anglers walking on early ice can also wear a life jacket to make them float if they fall through the ice.

Ice picks are one of the cheapest and most useful safety devices ever made for ice fishing.

When an angler falls through the ice, they usually can't find anything to grab onto to help pull themselves out of the water in an emergency.

Ice picks are designed to wear around your collar so they are easily accessible at all times. Some ice fishing clothing manufactures build a set of ice picks right into the collars of their jackets.

The ice picks usually have retractable points so anglers aren't poking themselves on the sharp spikes, which will come out when anglers strike the ice with the picks. The point is for anglers to be able to pull themselves out of the water on their stomachs and get far enough away from the hole to reach stronger ice.

There is one more weekend of the rifle deer season in the 100 series, which includes most of the Bemidji area. The season closes one half hour after sunset on Sunday, Nov. 19.

Once the rifle deer season has finished, the archery deer season will continue until Dec 31. Deer hunters that haven't tagged a deer during this calendar year can also hunt the muzzleloader deer season that runs from Nov/ 25 to Dec. 10.

Many of the deer hunters that got their deer will want to quickly make the switch to ice fishing as their prefered sporting activity for the rest of the winter.

Paul A. Nelson runs the “Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.” He can be contacted at