January is almost done and February is just around the corner. Winter begins to lose some of its punch the further we advance into February, with the days growing longer and the average temperatures on the rise.

There are only a few lakes in the Bemidji area with roads on the ice for anglers to use vehicles on the lakes. Access to most lakes is best with anglers using long track snowmobiles. Other types of vehicles with tracks or anglers using vehicles with tires are still getting stuck on the lakes in many areas.

There are dangerous thin spots in the ice on many lakes in areas that are unpredictable just by looking at the ice. Going off established trails or roads on the lakes is risky, with anglers almost assured of getting stuck.

The two lakes with the best access and the most roads on the ice are still Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake. All resorts on these lakes are plowing roads to their fish houses and many also have room for anglers with their own houses or for anglers fishing out of portable houses.

There are other resorts on a few local lakes that are plowing roads to their own fish houses, but are not maintaining a road for the general public. This is a different year on most lakes, with different rules.

Anglers should call ahead to the resorts or check their websites for the most up to date information on specific lakes. The bait shops should also have information about many local lakes and how anglers are getting on the ice.

The lack of fishing pressure on many lakes has created an opportunity for anglers with the right gear to get on the ice and be able to find a good bite that has been largely untouched most of the winter.

A long track snowmobile spreads out the weight of the sled much like a snowshoe and lets anglers go over many areas that other types of transportation would sink into the snow and get stuck. Anglers often step off their sleds and immediately go over the tops of their boots, while the snowmobile stays sitting on top of the snow.

The slow melt that has been occurring during a warmer weather pattern is helping to compact the snow on the lakes, but it is not melting so fast there is a run-off of water on top of the lakes.

The compacting snow will help the remaining slush to freeze once colder temperatures return, which may happen next week if the extended forecast is correct.

Resorts on Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods continue to move their houses to new areas on the lakes. Fishing pressure eventually reduces the number of fish around the houses and the bite slows down.

There is something good to be said about finding fish on a spot that hasn’t been fished by large numbers of other anglers. Anglers fishing with snowmobiles and portable fish houses can get away from the other anglers and fish areas that are not available to anglers fishing with large wheeled fish houses.

It is almost February, but there are still areas on the lakes where anglers should be checking the ice thickness as they travel on snowmobiles. There were still areas on many lakes with only 5 to 7 inches of ice under the snow and slush, which is not safe.

It is a good idea for anglers to follow the same path as much as possible once a safe path has been established. Anglers should keep checking the ice thickness anytime they travel on new areas on the lakes.

You don’t have to drill all the way through the ice to check the ice thickness. You only have to drill to a point where the ice is safe and any additional ice is just a bonus.

Holes can be drilled quickly with an ice auger bit on an electric drill, which is what many anglers have switched to over gas powered augers.

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.