PAUL NELSON FISHING: 'All lakes and all accesses are not created equal'

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The ice on the lakes is getting very weak, with the ice melting both on top and underneath the ice sheet.

The ice just crumbles when you drill a hole, so most anglers have either given up on ice fishing or are walking out on foot in front of an access point, to try extend the ice fishing season a little bit further.

There have been several reports of anglers on ATVs going through the ice. The best advice is to stay off the lakes with any type of transportation and walk out or stop going entirely and wait for open water.

All lakes and all accesses are not created equal. Some lakes are breaking away from shore, while other lakes are still tight to shore.

An angler's best bet to find a safe way to get on the ice is to find an access on the south or east side of a lake. The angle of the sun in the spring melts the north and west shores first, so they break up sooner in the spring.


Early in the season, the safest ice is close to shore. Late in the season, the ice on the lakes is usually better further from shore and weaker near shore, because of runoff from the land and melting from the sun.

The shore around the lakes erodes the fastest around inlets that are flowing into the lakes. Water levels rise in the spring, which eventually begins to lift the ice sheet away from shore.

Once the ice sheet is loose, it can begin to move in the wind, bumping the ice back and forth into shore. There will eventually come a storm that rains and blows from the south that pushes the ice sheet tight to the north and west shore.

After the front passes, the wind increases and shifts to the northwest, which catches hold of the ice sheet and rams it into the south and/or east shores hard enough to crumple the ice sheet.

Ice-out on most of the local lakes averages around April 25-27. The ice usually goes out on the shallow lakes first and the deep lakes last, the opposite of how lakes freeze in the fall.

The spring walleye season on the Rainy River closes on April 15. Very few anglers were able to fish the Rainy River this spring. The accesses were closed, so only anglers with private access were able to get on the river.

It is hard to predict what is going to happen on the fishing scene this summer. The Knights of Columbus Walleye Tournament on Lake Bemidji in mid June has been canceled, which might only be one of the first dominoes to fall.

Each state is going to hit the peak of the virus on their own timeline. Logic tells us we are more likely to be exposed from Wisconsin and Illinois than it is to come from any other direction.


Illinois is just starting to explode from the virus and Wisconsin just held an extremely dangerous primary election, so the virus in Wisconsin is likely going to be expanding soon.

The peak in the Bemidji area and in the rest of Minnesota is still coming, which would most likely happen in late spring or early summer.

The impact is going to be felt by everyone including resorts, bait shops, campgrounds, summer camps, fishing guides, fish stocking programs and any business that provides services to tourists and summer residents.

The summer population of Bemidji is significantly higher than it is during the winter, but the amount of health services stays the same. It’s not hard to imagine some serious problems from a worst case scenario.

This is all new territory and nobody knows exactly what is going to happen, because we haven’t been here before. It is safe to say it will be different, how different remains to be seen.

Anglers can spend time getting their boats, rods and tackle ready for the opener. Stay tuned, there is plenty more to come.

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


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