The ice fishing season got off to an early start this year, with most estimates putting the season at least two weeks ahead of what is considered "normal" for the Bemidji area.
Temperatures have been mild this past week, with above average temperatures and a couple days with highs above freezing. The mild temperatures are expected to continue into next week, with a chance of more snow mid-week.
The lakes continue to make more ice, but the progress is much slower when the high temperatures come close to or exceed the melting point during the day.
The usual pattern is to have a stretch of below zero temperatures at some point in the second half of December than helps set the ice on the lakes and allows anglers to begin driving vehicles on the ice.
We are not to that point yet in most areas, even though there have been a few vehicles sighted on several lakes this past week.
Some resorts on Upper Red Lake may be allowing vehicles on the ice by this weekend, so anglers might want to check ahead to the location they plan to use to access the lake, to see what modes of travel are being allowed on the ice.
There seems to be a lemming-like response by some anglers when they see someone else drive on the lakes. Many anglers will follow someone else onto the ice without checking the ice conditions, solely based on the fact that another angler with a vehicle made it on the lake without falling through the ice.
Resorts have the responsibility of making the decision for the people they allow out of their resorts and usually try to err on the side of safety when they decide when to allow vehicles on the ice.
The biggest vehicles on the lakes are usually the ¾- to 1-ton trucks pulling a dual axle wheeled fish house, which usually required 15 inches or more of good ice to support their weight. Most plow trucks also weigh more than the average vehicle.
The wheeled fish houses have become extremely popular with anglers, who use the fish houses as a portable motel room on the ice.
Many anglers show up with their families or friends on a Friday and spend the whole weekend on the ice with lines in the water.
This fundamental change in the way people fish has more than doubled the number of "man-hours" anglers spend on many of the most popular lakes during the winter.
The total population of anglers on Upper Red Lake can exceed 10,000 on the weekends, which would make it one of the largest cities in Northern Minnesota, population-wise.
Lake of the Woods is also getting close to being fully underway, with most resorts busy putting out the rest of their fish houses and marking trails this past week.
Most resorts on LOW were only allowing ATV's, snowmobiles and UTV's on the lakes this week, but that will likely change very soon.
The huge increase in "man-hours" on the lakes have prompted some new regulations on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River, which will go into effect on March 1.
The eight fish aggregate limit of walleyes and sauger on LOW during the winter will be adjusted to six fish on March 1, with no more than four walleyes in a limit of fish
The protected slot limit for walleyes and sauger will remain the same, with walleyes from 19½ to 28 inches needing to be released. Anglers are allowed to keep one walleye longer than 28 inches in an limit of fish.
The other change that will go into effect on March 1, will be the two-walleye limit during the spring walleye season on the Rainy River will be eliminated.
The spring walleye season on the Rainy River runs from March 1 until April 14 and will become "catch and release" for walleyes, sauger and also sturgeon.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips for the 2019 season can be booked by texting or calling 218-760-7751 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org)