The season for walleyes and other gamefish species has ended on the inland waters of Minnesota. New 2018/19 Minnesota Fishing Licenses went into effect Thursday, March 1.
The deep snow on the lakes began to melt this past week with high temperatures exceeding the freezing point on most days.
The melting snow has to go somewhere. The run-off will find its way down old fishing holes, cracks or ice heaves in the ice, with the rest of the water running off the ice along the shoreline.
The melting snow flowing into the lakes immediately begins to increase oxygen levels in the water. Some shallow areas with a lot of dying weeds become nearly abandoned late in the winter because of low oxygen levels.
The increasing amount of water flowing into the lakes from the melting snow and also from the tributary rivers and streams will eventually begin to raise water levels in the lake, which causes the floating ice pack to begin breaking free from the shoreline.
The melting process is always subject to change on the lakes, which appears to be what might be happening this coming week in the Bemidji area.
The weather conditions can turn on a dime, with the lakes melting one day and the next day more snow and cold weather can return. Such is life during March in the Bemidji area.
Travel on the lakes has become difficult in most areas. The roads on the lakes can get flooded when the temperatures rise, with the lakes refreezing again at night. The end of the season usually happens when the temperatures remain above freezing at night.
There is still too much snow on the lakes for anglers to go wherever they want with four-wheel drive vehicles. Track vehicles or snowmobiles are the best modes of travel in most areas right now, but anything can get stuck if anglers go through the wrong area. Anglers should travel in pairs with a tow strap and a shovel and have a plan to get themselves out if/when they get stuck.
The inflow of water into the lakes is like a breath of fresh air to the fish. After spending most of winter with the lakes literally frozen in place, the inflow of fresh water will reopen many of the shallow areas that have been nearly void of fish.
The general movement of most species of fish on late ice is toward shallow water. Crappies and sunfish that have spent most of the winter in the deep basin will begin to move toward the shallow areas they will occupy shortly after the ice goes out.
Early spawning species like walleyes, northern pike and perch will enter their last stages of gestation in March, so they will begin feeding more heavily and getting themselves in position to make their spawning runs when the conditions are right.
Anglers can use a lake map to try predict the most likely routes the fish will take between their winter feeding areas and their spring feeding areas.
Shallow bays, necked down backwaters and deep patches of reeds exposed to the southern angle of the sun are usually the areas crappies and sunfish will want to be close to on late ice.
Most fish don't swim in a straight line, so they will seek out good feeding areas close to where they want to be when the ice goes out.
Crappies and sunfish usually make several stops to feed along the way, with steep shoreline breaks and mid lake structures close to shore some of the usual spots most attractive to the fish on late ice.
Perch also begin to move shallow during March. Chara covered sand flats with some standing weeds and patches of rocks are often the areas the perch prefer, so they can feed on a mixture of minnows, insects and crayfish.
Anglers need to be on the move just like the fish during March, or they will lose the fish and miss out on some of the best action of the winter.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips for the 2018 season can be booked at firstname.lastname@example.org.