Published March 23, 2012, 12:00 AM

Many lakes should set ice-out records this spring

Spring arrived later on the calendar than it did outdoors this year, which is extremely unusual for anywhere in the North Country.

By: Paul Nelson, Bemidji Pioneer

Spring arrived later on the calendar than it did outdoors this year, which is extremely unusual for anywhere in the North Country.

Statistically speaking, there is still plenty of time to have another snow storm or a brief return to sub-zero weather, but it really doesn’t seem like that is possible this year, especially after the wonderfully balmy winter.

Lakes in the Metro area are already open, with lakes in the Bemidji area usually less than two weeks behind. The average ice-out date for Lake Minnetonka is April 13 while the average ice out date on Lake Bemidji is April 26.

Many Minnesota records for ice-out dates were set in 2010 and it looks like many of those records will be broken again in 2012.

Lake Minnetonka has the longest history of recorded ice-out dates in Minnesota, with the earliest ice-out date set on March 11, 1878, so this spring was not the earliest recorded ice-out date for Lake Minnetonka.

Both Lake Bemidji and Leech Lake set their earliest recorded ice-out dates on April 6, 2010. Lake Winnibigoshish set the record on April 4, 2010 and Pokegema near Grand Rapids set its earliest ice-out date on April 3, 2010.

Some other notable records for earliest ice-out dates include Lake of the Woods on April 8, 2000, Rainy Lake on April 10, 2010 and Mille Lacs Lake on April 2, 2000.

There is still ice on the lakes in the Bemidji area but the ice conditions are very poor, with the ice turning dark and starting to pull away from shore. There should be open water somewhere in the Bemidji area by next weekend, if not sooner.

Many anglers from the Bemidji area put their boats in the water for the first time each spring in the Rainy River. This spring the Rainy River has a walleye season that runs from March 1 to April 15.

Anglers are allowed to keep two walleyes less than 19.5 inches during the spring walleye season on the Rainy River and are also allowed to catch and release sturgeon during the same time period.

The typical spring on the Rainy River has good fishing early, with the bite peaking as the water warms into the 40s. At some point during the spring, rain and run-off from connecting rivers muddies the water and shuts down the fishing.

Anglers are usually better off fishing the Rainy River as early as they can to get ahead of the peak and fish when the water is still relatively clear, rather than trying to perfectly time the peak fishing.

Jigs and minnows are the most common presentation for walleyes in the Rainy River. Emerald shiners or rainbow chubs are usually the most productive minnows, but bait can be tough to get in the spring so many anglers end up using fathead minnows.

Many anglers like to use glow jigs or metallic gold jigs for walleyes in stained water lakes and rivers. Color can make a big difference in the number of bites anglers get, so anglers should switch colors if someone else in the boat is getting way more bites on another color.

Anglers on the Rainy River can handle the current in several different ways, which can also have an impact on the number of bites they get. Anglers can drift at the same speed as the current or they can slow their drift with a trolling motor to control the speed.

Anglers can also go into the current, either going directly up-river or cutting back and forth across the current as they go up-river. Another option is anchoring the boat and either casting or dropping jigs directly over the side of the boat.

The action on the jigs is also important. Sometimes hopping the jig up and down works fine, other times dragging the jigs or holding them still in the current can be a better option.

Anglers fishing for sturgeon usually do it from an anchored position, although anglers fishing for walleyes often hook sturgeon by accident.

PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at panelson@paulbunyan.net

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