PAUL NELSON OUTDOORS: 'Impacts of bad ice conditions are wide ranging'

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January is over, which is usually the coldest month of the year. This is a leap year, so February is one day longer this year.

The extended forecast is for cooler temperatures, but not the type of cold usually associated with January. This is more “average” temperatures for February, so the potential for another extended stretch of below zero weather gets less likely every day.

There are a couple of roads plowed on Lake Bemidji now, so anglers are starting to fish it for the first time this year. Traveling off road is still best with a wide track snowmobile on most lakes, because there are still random patches of slush in many areas.

The impact of the bad ice conditions are wide ranging, with a significant negative impact on many businesses that rely on ice fishing for a good portion of their income. Bemidji is losing another bait and tackle store, at least partially because of the lack of good ice this winter.

Even the resorts that are open this winter are not in full operational mode. Many are just servicing their own rental houses and are not allowing anglers with their own wheeled fish houses to use their access.


Lake of the Woods is one of the few lakes in full operational mode this winter. Mille Lacs Lake is also open to anglers with wheeled houses and has been busier this winter, despite the harvest restrictions.

The slot limit on Mille Lacs is one walleye between 21 and 23 inches or one walleye longer than 28 inches, so very few walleyes are being harvested.

The walleye bite on Mille Lacs has been pretty good, so the delayed mortality of released walleyes out of deep water could be higher than the number of walleyes actually being harvested.

Many of the best bites for walleyes are happening during low light. Inactive walleyes are often resting over mud bottom during the day and will make a feeding movement into structure when they get active.

Many anglers try to fish one rod well instead of fishing two rods. Anglers in wheeled fish houses usually want to put out as many lines as they can legally have for the number of people.

Fishing one rod in the same hole with a sonar gives anglers instant feedback on how the fish are reacting to their presentations.

Many anglers are more aggressive when there are no fish on the sonar and then use one of their “closing moves” on the fish once they are visible on the sonar screen.

Most anglers use less active presentation when they see fish on sonar. It is usually a good idea to fish lures further off the bottom, so they are visible to the fish from a further distance.


Once fish are visible on the sonar screen, anglers usually want to keep the lure moving, even if it is only a slight vibration, until they get the fish moving towards the lure.

It is usually effective to slowly lift the lure at the critical moment, when the fish are closing in on the bait.

Lifting the lure slowly encourages the fish to accelerate at the last second and gives anglers a head start on setting the hook and also tightens up the line to help anglers feel the bite better.

Anglers also learn important information about their presentations when the fish reject their lure and won’t bite. This tells anglers something is wrong about the lure itself or about how anglers are moving the lure.

Anglers can use lighter line, a different style, color, size or shape lure or they may just need to freshen their bait. If the change is right, the fish will react in a more positive way.

Deadsticks are the perfect combination with a jigging lure of some type. Most wheeled fish houses have rattle reels that anglers can use a simple sinker and hook combination with a lively minnow, to give the fish the most natural presentation possible.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. Guided fishing trips for 2020 and the rest of 2019 can be booked by phone or text at 218-760-7751 or by email at


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