Cold weather this past week helped lakes in the Bemidji area add several more inches of new ice. Most lakes now have about a foot of ice, with a little more on shallow lakes like Upper Red Lake and a little less on some of the deep lakes like Lake Bemidji.
We are still more than two weeks behind a “normal” year for ice formation. Anglers are usually able to drive vehicles on the lakes by the Christmas break, but snowmobiles and ATVs are still best way to access most lakes for ice fishing.
Anglers looking for a return of “El Nino” will have to wait a little longer. Another cold blast is expected to chill the bones of Bemidji area residents through the weekend and into early next week.
Snow is the other wild-card variable in ice formation, along with temperature. The Bemidji area had a chance to add some additional snow late this week and there will be another chance next week, but neither snow fall looks like a major event.
Anglers fishing in wheeled fish houses don’t mind the cold. They can be comfortable fishing in almost any conditions. As long as they don’t run out of propane, they should be good to go.
Upper Red Lake continues to be a destination for anglers from all across Minnesota. The Waskish area doesn’t have a lot of places for anglers to stay while in “town,” so many anglers bring their lodging with them in the form of a wheeled fish house.
Upper Red Lake has some of the best ice in the state and it also has some of the best walleye fishing in Minnesota during the winter. Anglers are able to drive their vehicles and fish houses on the ice and stake their claim to their very own patch of ice, almost like modern homesteaders.
Most anglers are fishing in 10-12 feet of water in Upper Red Lake, with jigging spoons, jigging minnows or rattle raps being some of the more popular lures for jigging aggressive walleyes.
A dead-stick is a good choice for anglers’ second line, whether anglers are using a bobber rig, a Bro-Band or a rattle reel, the concept is the same. Put down a lively minnow on an ice fishing jig or a plain hook with a split shot sinker and let the bait sit anywhere from a foot and a half to a few inches off the bottom.
Winnibigoshish has been good for walleyes, with anglers fishing many of the humps on the main lake. The generous limit of six walleyes with a protected slot limit of 18-23 inches gives anglers a good chance to have a fish fry at the end of the day.
There is a strong age class of walleyes in Winnie that are 13-15 inches long that are getting big enough to be harvested by most anglers. The bulk of the walleyes being caught by most anglers are coming from that one age class of fish.
There are also harvestable walleyes from lesser age classes of walleyes that are under the slot and several age classes of walleyes longer than 23 inches, if anglers want to take advantage of the “one-over” walleye allowed in a limit.
There are many age classes of perch in Winnibigoshish, but the top end perch are still a couple of years off. Anglers have had to catch quite a few smaller perch to get a few perch big enough to keep.
Leech Lake has continued to be good for walleyes in the mornings and evenings, but tougher during the day. There are larger perch in Leech Lake than in most lakes, but the numbers of big perch are not as plentiful as they have been in the past.
Lake of the Woods froze over about the same time as Lake Bemidji. The ice is just getting thick enough for ice fishing. Anglers have been catching walleyes on hard bottomed areas in 18-24 feet of water in the mornings and evenings. Sauger have been biting in 28-30 feet of water over mud bottom during the day.
Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at email@example.com