This is the last weekend of the rifle deer season in most of the Bemidji area. The season for areas in the 100 series ends on Sunday, Nov. 24.

The number of deer harvested through this past weekend was about 140,000, with about 200,000 deer harvested in 2018. The total deer harvest for 2019 in Minnesota should be slightly more than last year if the trend continues.

The weather looks good for a strong finish to the deer season. There are a couple of chances for additional snow for tracking this week.

Lakes in the Bemidji area are not freezing as fast as they were earlier in November, with more seasonal temperatures forecast for this week. The ice thickness on the lakes varies a great deal, depending on the size and depth of the lake or bay.

Some of the shallow lakes and bays have 6 or more inches of ice. At the same time, most of the deep lakes still have open water in the middle and are just forming ice around the edges.

There were still a few boats on Walker Bay of Leech Lake this past week, which is usually one of the last bodies of water in the area to freeze.

Upper Red Lake partially opened back up in the wind this past week. The downwind shoreline buckles in the rolling waves and breaks up by shore. This opens up a hole and the upwind shoreline typically opens up a big crack as the ice sheet moves.

Both Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods have a history of partially re-opening early in the season in a windstorm. Once there is more ice, the ice might heave and form a pressure ridge, but it usually doesn’t re-open.

Anglers need to be aware of this tendency for the big lakes and avoid them early in the season on days with strong winds. First responders get called almost every year to rescue someone off the two lakes early in the season, and it happened on Upper Red Lake just last week.

Anglers can look at Lake Bemidji or other deep lake and see the ice freezing in sections as the ice slowly moves further from shore.

This forms seams in the ice as the ice freezes in stages. The seams stay in the ice, with the ice getting a little thinner beyond each new seem as they form.

Anglers need to be careful as they start to walk out on the lakes and cross the seams in the ice. The first time, anglers need to check the ice thickness constantly, especially near the seams.

There is no need to drill all the way through the ice when checking the ice thickness each time. If anglers stop the drill at about 4 inches, there is enough ice to hold them walking.

It is a good idea to drill all the way though once in a while and use a measuring board used to measure fish, to get an accurate measure of the ice thickness.

It’s amazing to see the evolution of ice fishing and the changes in the industry. The explosion of wheeled fish houses are a good example, but there are many others.

The same is true for the flip-over style fish houses. Portables used to have a floor and looked like a suitcase or a big folding card table. Now the most popular portable house styles are the wheeled fish houses, the flip-over style houses or the pop-up Hub style houses.

Ice fishing rods and portable sonar/gps are another example of things that have changed in the ice fishing industry. Most anglers now fish with a sonar. Many anglers would turn around and go back home if they forgot their sonar. It’s torture to fish without one.

There are also rod and reel combos made for ice fishing. Ice fishing reels have special grease for cold weather and only a couple of bearings. Most summer reels have many more bearings and thicker grease, so they get sticky in the cold weather.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided fishing trips for 2020 and the rest of 2019 can be booked by phone or text at 218-760-7751 or by email at