PAUL NELSON FISHING: Snow depth on the lakes impacts fish location
The big stories this past week in the Bemidji area were a couple of significant snowfalls, the Eelpout Festival this weekend and the end of the walleye and other game fish seasons for the Inland Waters of Minnesota, which close at midnight Feb. 25.
The total amounts of snow varied across the north country, with most areas receiving between a foot to 2 feet of snow this week. Temperatures were on the cool side when it snowed, so the snow was light and fluffy and prone to drifting when the wind blows.
The extended forecast is predicting warmer temperatures and several more chances for additional snowfall in the next week to 10 days. The melting snow will likely make things sloppy very quickly on the lakes, with most of the wet areas on the lakes refreezing each night.
Most anglers with stationary fish houses on one of the area lakes likely wishes they would have removed their houses before the snow started to fall.
Having an isolated fish house on a lake that gets buried by snow is one of the more unpleasant things about ice fishing. Most anglers will want to avoid experiencing this scenario more than once, especially if they don't have access to a snowplow.
Shelters must be removed from Minnesota lakes by March 5 in the southern two-thirds of Minnesota and by March 19 in the northern part of Minnesota, which includes most lakes in the Bemidji area.
Anglers are allowed to use shelters on the lakes overnight after the removal deadlines as long as the houses are occupied and attended between midnight and one hour before sunrise.
The ice thickness on most area lakes is pushing 30 inches, with even more ice on a few lakes. Anglers will need an extension on their ice augers to get through the ice on most lakes. The extra snow on top of the ice makes it even tougher to drill holes without shoveling down to the ice first.
Anglers are reminded the 2017/18 Minnesota Fishing Licenses expire Feb. 28. Anglers should also note the 2017/18 Shelter Licenses are still good through April 30, so anglers with wheeled fish houses or stationary fish houses DO NOT need to purchase a new shelter license at this time.
The heavy snow on the lakes has blocked out much more sunlight than at any other point so far this season. Any sudden changes in snow depth on the lakes will have an impact on fish location in all types of lakes because it reduces the amount of sunlight that is able to penetrate through the ice.
Walleyes and eelpout will begin to move further up the breaklines when they feed and will continue to be most active under low light, even with the additional snow.
Eelpout are one of the most active species in the lakes at night and will even bite after dark on Lake of the Woods, which has an almost nonexistent night bite for most other species of fish.
Fish species like crappies, sunfish, whitefish and tullibees will begin to move closer to structure with the loss of sunlight due to the snow. Some of these species may also start suspending further from the bottom, to stay on the edge of where the sunlight is able to penetrate through the ice and snow.
Border waters like Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River have extended seasons for walleyes, sauger and northern pike. The border lakes will become the "go to" locations for anglers who want to continue to fish for gamefish.
Anglers are able to fish continuously in Minnesota for species like crappies, sunfish, perch, eelpout, whitefish and tullibees.
There are also extended seasons for trout in designated trout lakes inside and outside the BWCA in Minnesota. The trout season in lakes ends April 1 for anglers with a trout stamp endorsement on their fishing license.
Anglers should check the regulations on the Minnesota DNR website whenever they have a question about any specific regulations.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips for 2018 can be booked at firstname.lastname@example.org.