The spring meltdown continues to go slow, with temperatures staying below freezing most nights, which helps keep the access points on the lakes from breaking down.

The lakes get pretty bumpy when they melt during the day and freeze at night, so there are ruts and bumps everywhere, especially on the roads.

Most anglers are on the lakes looking for perch, but there are also anglers looking for crappies, bluegills, eelpout and whitefish (or tulibees).

Perch fishing has been very good on most of the larger lakes. Big perch don’t occur in every lake, so anglers need to be sure they go to a lake that has good numbers of larger perch.

Perch need to have everything they need for spawning and plentiful food sources for all times of the year at all stages of their lives or they get stunted and don’t grow to their potential.

This means standing weeds for spawning, a good base of insect larvae during the winter and ample minnows, crayfish and other forage all year long.

The generous limits on perch don’t help the numbers of larger perch in the lakes. The slot limits on walleyes also have an impact on perch, which are food for almost everything else in the lakes, including other perch.

Perch can live about ten years and maybe a little longer, with anglers starting to harvest perch around year seven in most lakes with moderate growth rates.

Many anglers consider perch a “winter fish” and only target them during the winter months. Anglers from all over Minnesota and Wisconsin come to the Bemidji/Grand Rapids/Walker area in March to target perch when they are schooled up and feeding aggressively.

Perch have a daily limit of 20 and a possession limit of 40, with most other species of fish having the same daily and possession limits, not double limits like perch.

Many larger perch are moving into moderate depths and will move up onto the shallow flats when they are actively feeding. Larger perch follow the schools of minnows including schools of last year's little perch.

Crayfish are also a popular forage for perch, especially in lakes with rusty crayfish, which are an invasive species. Rusty crayfish have prolific spawning habits and often out compete native crayfish. Most fish love to eat them.

Anglers need to keep moving until they make contact with larger perch or they need to find a spot where perch are feeding and moving through the area as they feed.

Schools of perch move through an area like an invading horde, wreaking havoc on anything that can be considered food. Perch are voracious feeders and will eat almost anything that isn't nailed to the bottom.

Anglers don’t have to get fancy to catch perch, especially when they are actively feeding. A small jigging spoon and some bait is all you need.

Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. If you are in the right spot, the perch will usually bite. Use presentations that are fast and easy to unhook the fish without damaging their mouth.

Sunfish have been feeding in the old weed beds, usually near an area with deeper water or a hole on a flat nearby, so they can retreat if they feel the need.

Sunfish often switch to eating more small minnows when spring approaches, so sometimes little jigging spoons work better than little jigs.

Sunfish like eating little perch, so small perch or fire tiger colored spoons are usually a good choice. Anglers should switch the treble hooks for a single hook. Sunfish with a treble hook in their mouths are very hard to unhook and it can do lots of damage to their mouth.

Eelpout are starting to spawn, so they will be dropping off into the abyss when they finish spawning. Eelpout have become very popular with anglers because of how good they are to eat. Telemetry studies indicate eelpout are residents of a specific area, so they are very vulnerable to over harvest. Please release the larger females.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips for 2020 can be booked by calling or texting (218) 760-7751 or by email at panelsonbemidji@gmail.com.