PAUL NELSON FISHING: Deep freeze leads to spotty fishing

The ice conditions off of the roads and trails on the lakes are about as bad as they can get. There are still large pockets of slush on most lakes, even after some of the coldest temperatures in the past 20 years. The snow on the ice is packed ha...

Ice fishing houses on Lake Bemidji on Monday. State law requires the houses be removed from lakes in northern Minnesota by about March 21. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)

The ice conditions off of the roads and trails on the lakes are about as bad as they can get.

There are still large pockets of slush on most lakes, even after some of the coldest temperatures in the past 20 years.

The snow on the ice is packed hard and deep. Most of the time anglers can drive on top of the snow, but the second they break through the crust and drop down, they can be stuck with the tires off of the ground and the vehicle packed with snow and hung up on the frame.

The frozen ruts in the snow are like driving back and forth across a set of railroad tracks, with vehicles launching off the ice as anglers try to drive across the ruts.


Paul Nelson

When anglers pull their wheeled fish houses across the lakes, there is a good chance everything inside the house will be scattered like they were in a car accident when they reach their destination.

The extended forecast isn't quite as bad as it has been, but it is still no bargain. Anglers may notice it's a little warmer toward the weekend and then another chance for snow and more cold temperatures.

Walleye fishing has been spotty on most lakes. The best flurry of activity on most lakes has been in the late afternoon until shortly after dark. Any night bite has been related to the moonlight.

The deep snow has moved many fish out of the deepest holes, to more moderate depths closer to structure. The snow blocks out much of the sunlight that is able to get through the ice. The areas that don't get any sunlight will eventually have dropping oxygen levels as the winter progresses.

The most active species has been perch, but anglers have to find the right bite at the right depth on the right lake, with low numbers of larger perch on many of the lakes anglers usually fish for big perch.

Many perch have been feeding on minnows and crayfish, which puts them in more moderate depths. Most fish have left the deepest parts of the lakes and using more moderate depths closer to structure.

Anglers have been using jigging spoons and minnow heads for perch, with dropper rigs a good idea if the perch are finicky and they are not hitting the spoons very aggressively.


Crappies and sunfish have also been in more moderate depths, with many of the fish leaving the deepest holes in the lakes.

The secondary holes in slightly shallower water are more likely to be holding fish. Crappies and sunfish often like holes between structures or holes that are surrounded by other structures.

The point where the sunlight is able to penetrate through the snow and ice is a key depth, with many of the panfish holding close to this edge. This is also the zone that holds the most zooplankton, insects and minnows, which is usually the key to walleyes, crappies, sunfish and perch locations.

Eelpout are going to be getting ready to spawn during February, so more anglers will be going for pout as the walleye and northern pike seasons near the end on Feb. 24.

Eelpout are actually freshwater cod and are top shelf eating despite their salamander-like appearance. They occupy the deepest parts of the lakes, with the steep breaks from deep water to structure often the key areas for eelpout in February.

Eelpout are the first fish to spawn in the spring, spawning under the ice in March in many deep lakes. Their eggs are very large and will sit on the bottom for more than a month, until they hatch after the ice goes out on the lakes in April or early May.

The ice conditions remain very poor on most lakes. Anglers should stay close to the roads and trails on the lakes and then try to get off the road a little so they can fish.

Hopefully the ice conditions will improve as the season progresses, but things can also get worse if we get much more snow.


Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips for 2019 can be booked by text or phone at 218-760-7751 or by email at .

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