The freezing process is slow when there is slush on the ice. As long as the temperatures stay near or below zero, progress is being made.

The first areas the slush will begin to freeze is where there are some kind of tracks in the snow, or areas where the water has reached the top of the snow. If the air touches the water, it will freeze.

The last areas to freeze are the untouched pockets of water that are completely covered with snow. These areas take the longest to freeze because of the strong insulating properties of snow.

The problems began when the Bemidji area received heavy snow early in the season, when the ice on the lakes was still thin. There were patches of open water on some deep lakes when the snow started falling this winter.

Anglers can see the history of the ice in any location simply by drilling a hole and paying attention to what they hit with the auger while drilling.

Most areas start with snow, then a little ice, then water, then more chippy ice and finally some black ice towards the bottom of the hole.

Ideally, the holes would eventually be all ice with a little snow on top, but it is going to take more cold weather without significant additional snow for that to happen.

The only way to know the ice conditions for sure, is to drill a hole. Anglers can get a good idea of the ice conditions just by driving on the lakes with a snowmobile and seeing if they hit any patches of water.

Anything with wheels needs to stay on the roads. If there are no roads or established trails on the lakes, keep off the ice with any vehicle or ATV with only tires and not tracks.

Anglers have been trying to get out on more lakes. Most anglers have been staying close to their access points and trying to stick to an established trail.

Anglers can open up more areas on the lakes simply by going back and forth with a snowmobile to make a new path and expose the water to the air. Then just give the area time to freeze. Don’t stop in the middle of a wet spot and pick a dry spot to turn around the sled.

Most panfish lakes are getting a break so far this winter. Any fish that doesn’t get harvested this winter is another fish that might make it to spawn in the spring.

Anglers fishing crappies and sunfish have been using small finesse baits with wax worms, euro larvae or with small micro plastics.

Tungsten lures or jigs are good choices because they have more weight for the size of the lure than lead. It is always a challenge to get small baits into deeper water.

Anglers will catch more fish if they can get down to the fish faster. This works better with tungsten than lead. The fish usually come and go, so you have to get your bait down to the fish fast when they are there under your hole.

Matching the rod and line to the lure is critical. If the line is too heavy, it will impede the action of the lure and result in less fish caught.

Monofilament and fluorocarbon line deteriorate when exposed to direct sunlight. Many walleye anglers use fluorocarbon leaders during the summer, but seldom spool an entire reel with fluorocarbon.

Some anglers like to use fresh fluorocarbon line and buy new line every year. The extra line can be used during the winter on ice fishing reels.

Using straight fluorocarbon line ice fishing has multiple benefits. Most monofilament and braided line have some buoyancy, so it slows down the sink rate of small lures.

Fluorocarbon line sinks, so it has low visibility, increases the sink rate and improves the action of small lures. Anglers can use their extra fluorocarbon line for ice fishing and buy fresh fluorocarbon in the spring.

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 panelsonbemidji@gmail.com.