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PAUL NELSON FISHING: Ice conditions a sticky situation this season

The fishing season closes at midnight tonight (Sunday, Feb. 24) for the inland waters of Minnesota. The species closing include walleyes, sauger, northern pike, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass.

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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 fishing season closes at midnight tonight (Sunday, Feb. 24) for the inland waters of Minnesota. The species closing include walleyes, sauger, northern pike, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass.

Anglers will need to purchase 2019 Minnesota Fishing Licenses to continue fishing on and after March 1.

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Paul Nelson

Anglers can purchase an optional $5 Walleye Stamp if they want to help stock more walleyes in the Bemidji area. For an additional 75 cents, anglers can have the collectable walleye stamp sent to them in the mail.

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Trout Stamps are also available for anglers who want to fish trout in Minnesota. Anglers can have the collectable trout stamp sent to them for an additional 75 cents, too.

Trout Stamps cost $10 and support the cost of stocking trout into select streams and lakes in Minnesota. There is some natural reproduction for trout in Minnesota, but most of the small trout lakes are "put and take," with their populations of trout solely the result of stocking.

Anglers are allowed to fish for trout in lakes until March 31. Anglers are also allowed to fish for crappies, sunfish and perch continuously in Minnesota. There are no closed seasons for species such as whitefish, tullibees and eelpout.

The ice conditions are a sore topic for serious ice anglers in the Bemidji, Leech Lake and Grand Rapids areas.

Many anglers from outside the area make plans to ice fish Minnesota in late February and early March. These dates are very popular for fishing panfish, with some anglers making their reservations more than a year in advance, to be sure they get the dates they want.

Most of the visitors hear the ice conditions are bad in this area before they come, but most don't fully understand the extent of the problem until they get here and try to get out on the lakes.

Many anglers are just following the roads on the lakes until they find somewhere they want to fish and find a spot they can pull off the road without getting stuck.

Track vehicles and snowmobiles are the best mode of off road travel, but they are far from invincible when it comes to getting stuck in the deep snow and slush.

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Some anglers try to follow their GPS to spots they want to fish and end up going off the roads. This is when it starts to get a little dicey, with many of the off road journeys quickly turning into horror stories about getting stuck.

The extended forecast for northern Minnesota is not showing any good chances for significant melting into the first week in March.

The longer it goes into March, the better the chance the meltdown is going to happen suddenly and it is going to get real messy on the lakes in a hurry.

The best bite in the Bemidji area for walleyes has been on Lake of the Woods for the last month or more. This is certainly no secret by the large number of anglers on the lake, even during the weekdays.

Once the season is over for walleyes on the inland lakes on Minnesota, the number of anglers on LOW will increase even more. March is usually a huge month on Lake of the Woods, with anglers extending the ice fishing season for walleyes as long as the weather will allow.

Many anglers on Lake of the Woods are fishing 10 to 16 miles offshore from shore for walleye and sauger. Anglers are also catching some huge perch, a few large northern pike and an occasional eelpout in many of the same areas.

Glowing or brightly colored UV lures tipped with half an minnow have been the most effective presentation for walleyes and other species.

A few anglers have been using small lipless rattle baits for larger walleyes, especially during the prime hours of the day, when the fish are actively feeding. Hold on tight, because the hits on the rattle baits can be very hard when the fish try to inhale the lures.

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Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided trips for 2019 can be booked by calling or texting 218-760-7751 or by email at panelsonbemidji@gmail.com .

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