PAUL NELSON COLUMN: Hope for early ice fishing season are remote this year

The first weekend of the rifle deer season was warm enough to allow most deer hunters to sit in their stands much longer than usual without getting cold.

The first weekend of the rifle deer season was warm enough to allow most deer hunters to sit in their stands much longer than usual without getting cold.

The forecast for the second weekend of the rifle season is almost as warm as the first weekend, with high temperatures expected to exceed 50 degrees again.

The warm weather is helping hunters have a good start to the season, with more than 68,000 deer harvested statewide during the first three days of the season.

Hunters may have noticed the swamps and small ponds that are usually frozen by the second week in November are still wide open this year.

The same goes for the shallow lakes that are usually starting to have skim ice around the edges by the middle of the deer season.


The hopes of having an early ice fishing season this year appear to be remote. Many hunters hope they can go right from deer hunting to ice fishing by the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Many lakes in the Bemidji area had water temperatures in the mid 40s this past week, so they still have to cool down even further before they are ready to start freezing.

There are a number of milestones we have to go past as the lakes begin to freeze. The weather has been so warm that the low temperatures most nights have still been above freezing, which has been holding the lakes at about the same temperature for a couple of weeks.

The next step in freezing the lakes after the water temperatures reach around 39 degrees is to have a few days where the daily high temperatures stay below freezing.

It usually takes a night with calm winds and temperatures in the single digits or colder before the first group of shallow lakes will freeze. There have been years when all the lakes weren’t frozen over until early December, which may be the case again this year.

There have been anglers on most of the larger lakes like Bemidji, Leech Lake, Winnibigoshish, Cass Lake, Pike’s Bay and Walker Bay virtually every day, unless the winds are too strong.

There are also anglers fishing many of the other lakes if there is a good bite going for some species, which usually means crappies at this time of the year.

There are also many lakes where anglers can have the entire body of water all to themselves.


The stalled water temperatures in the lakes have concentrated the pre-spawn tulibees in the shallows longer this fall than in most years.

This creates a golden opportunity for muskies and large pike to put on some weight while the tulibees are shallow, which makes them easier for large predators to catch.

Tulibees spend most of the year in open water suspended over the mud basin feeding on insects, which makes them harder for large predators to target.

If there is ever going to be another state record muskie caught, it is likely going to happen in a year with a late fall, much like this one.

The ethics of catch and release are so strong in the muskie fraternity, the record fish might be released without ever knowing it was larger than the record 54 pounder caught on Lake Winnibigoshish in 1957.

Walleye anglers are still finding active fish in the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods. The stained water helps the day bite for walleyes and fish in current are also more likely to be active during the day.

Anglers have also been finding walleyes in most of the larger lakes, but the bite has been sporadic. The most predictable walleye action has been in the late afternoon and evening in most lakes.

Crappie anglers usually have success in the fall if they are able to use their electronics to find the fish. The trick to late fall crappie fishing is being able to hold over the fish and keep small jigs or small lures directly below the boat at or slightly above the eye level of the crappies.


Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at

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