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PAUL NELSON FISHING: The wait for open water begins

Most anglers have given up on ice fishing for the season. Any anglers still on the lakes this past week were walking out on the ice.

Rain and warmer temperatures melted a lot of snow and ice during the week. The rivers and streams flowing into the lakes are full of water and have started to open up the ice around the inlets in the lakes.

The overnight temperatures have been staying above freezing for the past few days, so the lakes are now melting 24 hours a day.

The wait for open water has already begun for most anglers. The average ice-out date for Lake Bemidji is about April 27, so it looks like the lakes may be a little late this year, but they should be open in plenty of time before the walleye season opens May 11.

One of the few places anglers can go fishing out of a boat that is relatively close to Bemidji is on the Rainy River. The catch and release season for sturgeon continues through April 23, with the harvest season beginning on April 24.

Anglers need to know the regulations if they plan to try keep a sturgeon. Only one sturgeon is allowed per person per season, with a tagging system similar to deer hunting. There are also length restrictions, with anglers allowed to keep a sturgeon between 45 and 50 inches or one longer than 75 inches.

Anglers are also allowed to fish for northern pike continuously in Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River. There is a protected slot limit of 30-40 inches for pike. Anglers are allowed to keep three pike, with no more than one pike longer than 40 inches allowed in a limit of fish.

Anglers can catch pike from shore in backwaters like Zippel Bay or anywhere else the ice is receding from shore near an inlet. Most anglers cast lures for pike or they use bobber rigs with larger minnows or dead baits.

Other opportunities will emerge for anglers as some of the smaller lakes begin to open. Anglers familiar with lakes in the Bemidji area know which lakes usually open up first.

Spring is a good time to go for a drive and check out the lakes. Walleyes and northern pike will begin spawning up the rivers and streams connected to the lakes before all the ice is off the lakes.

Walleyes and northern pike spawn when water temperatures reach the mid 40s, so it won't be long before there can be fish spawning in some surprising locations.

There are ditches connect to Upper and Lower Red Lake that can run for miles along the roads. Some homeowners with deeper sections of ditches near their homes can have pike or other species spawning in their ditches, even if they are miles away from the nearest lake.

There can also be shiners and other minnows spawning in pools and backwaters connected to the lakes, so everything will be getting more active as the ice and snow melts.

Anglers can check bridges along the backroads to look for fish as the streams pass below the roads. Anglers can often recognize walleyes by the white tips on their tails, even when the entire fish is not clearly visible in the water.

You never know what you will see in the streams in the spring. Other than walleyes, there may be suckers, redhorse, northern pike and many other species in the streams.

All the fish need is to have is a stream that flows into a lake, so they can swim upstream, sometimes for miles, looking for pools or slack water that might be suitable as a spawning site.

The melting snow and rain will start to wake up the animals in the woods too. Species like bears, raccoons and skunks wake up hungry when they start getting wet and will begin rummaging around for food after hibernating or sleeping most of the winter.

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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