Cold temperatures firmed up many of the slushy areas on the lakes, especially where the snow had been disturbed by anglers. Some of the untouched areas still have random patches of slush on top of the ice.
Many areas have a layer of frozen slush, with a pocket of water and better ice below the water. The total thickness still varies and there are thin spots, but many lakes have 14 to 18 inches of white ice, which means there is snow and air mixed into the ice.
Another storm dumped 4 to 8 inches of new snow on the lakes, which was not as bad as some forecasts had predicted. There were a couple of cold nights after the storm, but the long range forecast is predicting warmer temperatures and some melting ahead this week.
The best hope is the melting will compact some of the snow on top of the ice. There is often a silver lining for the poor ice conditions. Every week that passes saves a few more fish for this summer and for spawning in the spring.
Crappies, sunfish and perch usually get heavy fishing pressure during the winter. Many anglers only pursue those species during the winter months, when they are concentrated into larger schools.
Many local lakes entered the winter with high water levels, which is usually good news for most species spawning in the spring. The snow will also increase the risk of flooding, if not here, further south on the Mississippi River.
The scary part is the last half of winter tends to be the snowy half, and the first half of the winter is usually colder with less snow. Let’s see how that works out.
The early snow this year increases the chances for shallow lakes to have a winter kill. It also puts additional stress on the deer herd. There are many variables still at play this winter as we near the half-way point.
Lake of the Woods still has the most fishing pressure of any lake in the state. Every resort on the lake is busy on the weekends, with plenty of business during the weekdays too.
The bite has slowed down a bit, just because the schools of sauger and walleyes get fished down with all the houses. Most anglers have been fishing the basin in 28-32 feet during the day and 22-26 feet off structure in the mornings and evenings.
Lake of the Woods walleyes like to swim off structure in a straight line, so they are often suspended off the sides of structure during the day.
Anglers watching their sonar should keep an eye on fish coming through way off the bottom. These fish are often good sized walleyes and they will bite if you put a bait at, or slightly above, their eye level.
You can spook the fish if you move too slow and get too sneaky. It usually works better to reel the bait past the fish quickly and then work the bait back down to the fish from above.
Once a walleye makes a move on the bait, they usually bite unless the angler makes a bad move that spooks the fish.
Once anglers have established the depth the walleyes are coming through suspended, it can be very effective to put a dead-stick with a lively minnow at that depth and leave it there.
Many anglers are using jigging spoons in glow colors combined with red, gold or pink. A plain colored jig and minnow works well for dead-sticks. Most anglers are fishing some type of jigging lure a few inches off the bottom for sauger and walleyes in the same hole as their sonar.
Small lipless crankbaits also work for walleyes and larger saugers. They usually work best without bait because bait often messes up the action of the lure. A small snap also helps give the lures better action. Four-pound test line works best for the small sizes, to get the most vibration out of the lures.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.