PAUL NELSON FISHING: Fish houses should be off by March 19
March certainly came in like a lion this year, with several measurable snowfalls at the end of February and beginning of March quickly making a mess of most lakes in Minnesota.
Anglers in the northern one-third of Minnesota need to get their fish houses off the lakes no later than March 19.
Considering the poor conditions on the Bemidji area lakes, anglers may want to get their houses off the lakes ASAP in case the conditions get even worse.
Anglers need an extension on their augers to get through the ice on most lakes. Anglers also have to kick away some of the snow before drilling holes, to avoid having the snow collapse back into the hole.
The amount of snow on the lakes is starting to cause slush to develop on top of the ice in many areas. Anglers risking getting stuck whenever they try to go off of the roads on the lakes and most of the roads are getting less attention now that the walleye season is closed and most of the fish houses are off the lakes.
Snowmobiles or track vehicles are the best way to navigate the lakes right now. March can be fantastic for fishing, but the deep snow and slush on the lakes will likely put a damper on ice fishing for the rest of the season.
The meltdown has been slow so far, which helps extend the ice fishing season. The colder overnight temperatures help freeze the water on the ice and also helps to preserve the accesses on the lakes a little longer.
Once the overnight temperatures stay above freezing for any length of time, accesses will deteriorate quickly and put an end to vehicle traffic on the lakes.
As long as anglers can get on the lakes, they have several good options for fishing. The species with open seasons include perch, crappies, sunfish, eelpout, whitefish, tullibees and even trout in some lakes.
Anglers also have the option of fishing the extended seasons on Lake of the Woods and other border waters for walleyes, sauger and northern pike.
Anglers from all over Minnesota head north in March to go ice fishing on Lake of the Woods and eventually to the Rainy River when it opens. Anglers can also head west to ice fish Devils Lake in North Dakota or head south to the Lower Mississippi River to fish out of their boats.
Eelpout have a growing following among anglers from the Bemidji area. Eelpout have been getting more active recently, with the best action at dusk and after dark.
Eelpout usually work their way up steep breaks when it starts to get dark and will end up on top of structures as the night progresses. This is the best time of year to catch eelpout, with the fish getting ready to spawn under the ice soon.
Eelpout gather into larger schools on late ice because they spawn in large communal groups under the ice. Once anglers find the right areas and catch a couple of pout, there are almost always more eelpout somewhere nearby.
Large glow jigs in the ½ to 1 ounce range loaded with several minnows are a good choice for pout, with larger glow spoons with pieces of minnows on each barb of the treble hooks is another good option.
Anglers should check their eelpout lures for the strength of glow paint and use the ones with the brightest glow. Recharging the lures with light is important, so anglers should give their lures another shot of light every time they bring their jigs to the surface.
Crappies, sunfish and perch will move toward the shallows as the season progresses. Crappies can be right below the surface of the ice on some lakes, so don't assume all of the fish are close to the bottom.
Schools of perch move out of the basin late in the season and begin to eat more minnows and crayfish. Crappies and sunfish also begin to feed on more minnows as spring approaches to add more calories, protein and fat to their diets.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips for 2018 can be booked at firstname.lastname@example.org.