There are only three weekends left in the fishing season for walleyes, northern pike, large and smallmouth bass and sauger in the inland lakes of Minnesota.
The gamefish season and the dark house spearing season close for inland lakes on Feb. 28, with the 2015 Minnesota Fishing Licenses also set to expire on Feb. 28.
The coldest part of the winter typically occurs between Christmas and Valentine’s Day — basically the last part of December through the first half of February. This would mean we should be about to turn the corner on the coldest part of the winter, with warmer days ahead.
Fish can feel spring approaching as the days grow longer, even though the water temperatures in the lakes are still about the same as they have been all winter.
All fish will step-up their feeding patterns as they enter the pre-spawn phase of their calendar year. Both males and females have increased nutritional requirements in the last stages of gestation.
Imagine a chicken egg, with the yolk and the white part of the egg. The yolk is the part that develops into the chicken (or fish) and the white part is the nourishment for the yolk until it is ready to hatch and begin to utilize external food sources.
Female fish will add to the white part of their eggs close to the end of gestation, which requires them to increase their food intake to provide the concentrated nutrients needed to ripen their eggs.
Early spawning species include eelpout, which are the only fish to spawn under the ice. Other early spawning species include walleyes, northern pike and perch.
Fish eventually begin to move out of their mid-winter locations and feed their way closer to their spawning sites, especially in larger lakes. Sometimes the two locations can be many miles apart, which can impact the timing of the migration.
Northern pike will move closer to the rivers, streams and backwater areas where they plan to spawn. Upper Red Lake gives a good example of the lengths pike will go to spawn, with many pike running up the small rivers and streams through culverts under roads and into the flooded ditches, often spawning many miles from the lake.
Walleyes are another early spawning species that can spawn in rivers and streams or stay in the lake and spawn along areas with gravel bottom and the right conditions for spawning.
A good walleye migration example comes from Lake of the Woods, where walleyes come from many miles away to spawn in the Rainy River.
Prespawn walleyes from Lake of the Woods will begin to stage up around Pine Island in late February and early March, which is located at the mouth of the Rainy River.
The walleyes will continue to gather around Pine Island, feeding while they wait for the right moment to arrive that signals them to enter the Rainy River for their annual spring spawning migration.
Later spawning species like crappies and sunfish will also begin to leave their mid-winter locations, but they do it for different reasons. The deep holes where panfish are often located much of winter will begin to lose oxygen near the bottom as decomposing organic matter and fish respiration use up the available oxygen.
Crappies and sunfish will begin to suspend further off of the bottom at first and will eventually leave the deep holes and begin to relate more to the edges of the holes closer to structure.
Panfish eventually re-enter the shallows as melting snow and ice begins to flow into the lakes. The run-off provides oxygen rich water to replace the stale, oxygen depleted water that has collected in the shallows around the decomposing weed beds.
The snowfall and heavy winds this past week drifted over many of the trails and roads on the lakes and also piled up snow on the windward sides of fish houses.
Anglers may need snowmobiles to access some areas, while anglers using four wheel drive vehicles should travel in pairs and bring a shovel and a tow strap in case they get stuck.