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PAUL NELSON FISHING: Ice fishing wrapping up in northland

Paul Nelson

Anglers have one more week to remove their fish houses from lakes in northern Minnesota. The deadline is midnight on Sunday, March 17.

Anglers 16 years of age and older also need new 2019 Minnesota Fishing Licenses as of March 1. Anglers can still use fish houses on the lakes as long as they are occupied, but they can no longer leave unattended fish houses on the lakes overnight.

There are not many good things going on for ice fishing on the local lakes. The ice conditions are historically bad. It is hard to find a way to get on any lakes without the risk of getting stuck.

If anglers can break a path and expose the water on top of the ice to the air, the areas have a chance to freeze. Unfortunately, that often means getting stuck to make the trail in the first place.

Many winter guides are canceling trips because they are not able to find a way to get people on the ice safely to an area worth fishing on a guide trip.

The best shot anglers have to get on the lakes is to be very smart about going around patches of slush (which is almost impossible) and use a snowmobile with a long, wide track with studs or an ATV or UTV with tracks instead of tires.

The bad part is if you get one of the track vehicles or long track snowmobiles stuck in the deep snow and slush, you are really stuck.

Ice fishing in 2019 has turned into a young man's' game, with anglers having to be willing to go to almost unprecedented lengths to get on the ice.

No one should be trying to get on the ice by themselves on many of the lakes with no plowed access roads. It is simply not worth risking your life to catch a few fish.

A slow meltdown that gets rid of the snow without ruining the ice is the only chance anglers have to be able to continue ice fishing at some point this season.

Lake of the Woods is the best option anglers have to be able to get on the ice. The numerous resorts on LOW are working long hours to keep the roads open for anglers. The extended season for walleyes is open until April 14.

Walleyes in Lake of the Woods will begin to concentrate around Pine Island soon, as they stage up near the mouth of the Rainy River to make their annual spring spawning runs.

The spring spawning migrations of walleyes and other species usually get more urgent as the snow begins to melt and fresh water begins to flow into the lakes.

The regulations have changed on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River as of March 1. The walleye/sauger limit on Lake of the Woods has been reduced to six, with no more than four walleyes in an aggregate limit of fish.

The protected slot limit between 19½ inches to 28 inches still remains on Lake of the Woods, with one walleye longer than 28 inches allowed in a limit of fish.

The regulations have also changed on the Rainy River, with anglers not allowed to keep walleyes or sauger of any size during the spring walleye season that runs from March 1 to April 14.

This may be one of those years where anglers don't get much time to fish for walleyes during the spring walleye season on the Rainy River.

It will take several weeks under the best conditions to melt all the snow and ice on the lakes and rivers, with all signs pointing to a late spring in most of Minnesota.

Looking at the extended weather forecast for northern Minnesota, temperatures slightly above freezing are expected this week, but as often happens in March, more snow is also in the forecast. Anglers are reminded to bring an extension for their auger if they plan to extend the ice fishing season.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips for 2019 can be booked by calling or texting 218-760-7751 or by email at panelsonbemidji@gmail.com.

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