The first week in February has been cold, with temperatures dipping back below zero most nights, with highs in the single digits or low teens.
Anglers are still able to get around on the lakes with four wheel drive vehicles that have good clearance and good tires. Anglers can take two vehicles and be able to pull each other out of most situations if they get stuck.
One of biggest obstacles on the large lakes right now are ice chunks leftover from the lakes braking up in the wind late last fall. Lake of the Woods is one of the worst lakes for ice chunks, so anglers on snowmobiles going off the trails really need to be careful and watch where they are going.
Anglers also need to watch out for ice heaves and old fish house sites that have deeper drifts and bumpy ice, with who knows what hiding under the snow drifts.
One of the most upsetting things on the lakes is the garbage some anglers leave behind on the ice. Please pick up your junk and take it with you. A special thank you to anyone who picks up other people's garbage to keep the lakes clean.
The mid-winter fishing patterns are still in control of the lakes, with flurries of activity during low light and slower action during the day.
Unstable weather and severe cold fronts will shut down the bite for most species of fish. Anglers need to play the odds and be satisfied with less action when the mid winter patterns are in control of the lakes.
Anglers need to learn how to read the conditions correctly and be able to put themselves in the right place at the right time, to take advantage of the peak periods of activity.
Anglers were able to fish the recent full moon period for species like walleyes, crappies and eelpout with good success.
The mid-winter patterns will continue as long as the cold weather persists. Fishing for most species should steadily improve as February progresses. Fish will begin to get more active and feed more frequently in their last stage of gestation, to provide the nutrition they need to be ready to spawn in the spring.
Anglers need to stay mobile and fish for something besides walleyes during the day to stay on an active bite. The numbers of jumbo perch are down across the Bemidji and Grand Rapids areas, which is a big change from the past when there were always several lakes with a good bite for larger perch.
Lake Winnibigoshish has some of the highest numbers of perch in the area. Anglers usually need to sort through a lot of perch to catch some "keeper size" fish.
Anglers may have better success targeting shallower perch in Winnie because the shallow fish tend to feed more on minnows and crayfish and less on insects, which favors the larger fish.
Sorting through any fish in deep water is a bad idea for the resource. The fish located in deep water tend to get the bends when they are brought to the surface and will usually have trouble getting back to the bottom.
Anglers need to target fish in shallow water whenever possible or plan to keep most of what they catch if the only bite they can find is located in deep water.
It is hard for most species of fish to survive being released into water deeper than 25 feet. Fish adjust their air bladders to the depth where they are located. When fish get caught out of deep water, the pressure change can cause their air bladder to become distended and the fish will have trouble getting back to the bottom.
Leech Lake still has a few big perch, but the overall numbers of perch are down. Leech Lake perch tend to be shallower than most lakes, so anglers can usually sort fish successfully.
Cass Lake and Pike's Bay have larger perch, but they are usually deep and harder to pattern. Lake Bemidji also has larger perch, with both shallow and deep water patterns most of the time.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips can be booked for 2018 at firstname.lastname@example.org.