How the ice freezes in the fall can have a big impact on the early part of the ice fishing season. Bad ice early in the year can have a negative impact on the ice conditions much of the winter, especially if too much snow falls on too little ice.

There are a couple of good chances for measurable snow this week, before colder temperatures are expected to arrive in early December.

The ice conditions took a hit as the lakes were forming ice, when temperatures above freezing caused considerable melting and left the ice unstable on most lakes. .

The ice conditions vary on each lake. Most lakes have significantly less ice farther from shore than along the shoreline.

Anglers planning to go on the ice have to find a safe route to the part of the lake they plan to fish.

The first step is finding a place to access the lake close to where they want to fish. Then, stay close to shore and avoid crossing deep water. The last step is checking the ice thickness every 100 feet or so, until a safe path has been established.

Once there is snow covering the ice, anglers really have to watch for areas where the snow looks grey. This usually means the area has water on top of the ice, which could mean dangerous ice conditions under the snow.

The vast majority of the deep lakes are not ready for ice fishing, with the possible exception of a few areas close to shore.

Most of the shallow lakes have enough ice for walking, but anglers have to personally know how thick the ice is and not take second-hand information when their safety is involved.

If we receive the amount of snow that is forecast for this weekend, it is going to cause more problems with the ice conditions.

It is a race between the snow and the cold weather. If the cold arrives next week and the snow is minimal, there should be good ice in many more places very soon.

If the lakes get measurable snowfall on top of the ice before the ice gets thick enough to support it, it is going to further delay anglers ability to get on many lakes.

Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods are two lakes that will be popular with anglers all winter because of the stained water and consistent day bite for walleyes.

Some anglers have been able to get out along the shoreline break on Upper Red Lake and have had some good early season success for walleyes.

The regulations changed on Upper Red Lake for this winter. There is a four walleye limit, with one walleye longer than 17 inches allowed.

There are several strong age classes of walleyes in Upper Red Lake are already longer than 17 inches. This means anglers may have a tougher time catching their “unders” than they will have catching their one walleye longer than 17 inches.

Anglers need to accurately measure their walleyes on any lake with a slot limit. Anglers should bring a bump board that allows them to push the nose of the fish into the end of the board and then fan both ends of the tail to see the longest length.

If the fish touches or exceeds the mark when you measure the fish, you can be assured a game warden will be able to do the same thing when they measure the fish. If it touches or breaks the line let it go.

Photos from small aircraft flying over Upper Red Lake have shown some considerable cracks in the ice, so anglers need to stay in the areas that have been marked by the resorts.

The ice on both Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods is still thin enough for it to break open during high winds, so anglers need to be aware of all the weather conditions to play it safe on the ice.

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