Published December 17, 2010, 12:00 AM

Area ice conditions continue to improve

Lakes in the Bemidji area have been making ice this past week in the cold weather and more cold temperatures is forecast through this weekend.

By: Paul Nelson, Bemidji Pioneer

Lakes in the Bemidji area have been making ice this past week in the cold weather and more cold temperatures is forecast through this weekend.

Local anglers were fortunate to miss the latest blizzard that recently hit the south half of Minnesota. The storm was responsible for deflating the Mall of America dome, home of the Minnesota Vikings, and dumped up to 20 inches of new snow onto the ground.

The weight of the snow was too much for the roof of the dome to hold, much like it would have been for the ice if that much snow would have fallen on the local lakes.

The Bemidji area was lucky to miss the blizzard. The post-frontal winds and cold temperatures actually helped blow some of the snow cover off the lakes and helped add several more inches of good ice in the process.

Most of the area lakes now have at least six inches of ice, with more than 10 inches of ice in some areas. The ice is thickest where most of the snow has been blown off the ice and thinnest where the ice is still covered with a significant amount of snow.

Once the resorts have roads plowed on the lakes, those areas will freeze thicker than areas away from the roads. Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods should be allowing vehicles on the ice soon, so anglers headed to those lakes may want to call ahead to their destination to see what modes of travel are being allowed out of their resorts.

Anglers fishing most other lakes are able to use ATVs or snowmobiles to access the lakes. There is a rush early in the season for anglers to get their stationary fish houses on the lakes as soon as possible so they can jockey for their favorite “spot on the spot” before another angler can claim it.

Anglers can be like lemmings early in the season when it comes to driving on the lakes. Once somebody makes it without falling through the ice, there will be other anglers ready to follow them without first checking the thickness of the ice.

Anglers need to wait until there is more than a foot of good ice before driving on the lakes, especially with full size vehicles. No ice is ever totally safe, with potential thin ice off the trails, in narrows or other current areas, near ice heaves or anywhere there is a significant amount of snow covering the ice.

Anglers have been catching walleyes on a number of lakes, despite the cold temperatures. Lake of the Woods has been very good, with anglers catching both numbers and good-size walleyes along with a good sauger bite during the day.

Most anglers on Lake of the Woods have been setting up on shoreline structure in 20 to 24 feet of water. That depth allows anglers to catch walleyes as they move in and out of the shallows to feed. It is also deep enough for sauger during the day.

Anglers willing to do some extra work can move shallower (12 to 18 feet) in the mornings and evenings for the hot walleye bite and then move to deeper water for sauger (24 to 32 feet) during the day.

The resorts have to pick a depth to set up their houses and don’t have the option of moving in and out the way anglers using portable fish houses can do.

Lake of the Woods is a stained lake so anglers can use heavier line, larger baits and more aggressive presentations with better success for walleyes than they usually will on lakes with clear water.

Blade baits, rattle spoons and jigging minnows will all usually work well in lakes with stained water because walleyes are able to hear and feel the baits, even if they can’t see them.

Upper Red Lake has also had a good day bite for walleyes in 10 to 12 feet of water, with clear water lakes like Bemidji, Cass, Winnibigoshish and Leech having their best bite in the mornings and evenings or after dark.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at