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Extended cold weather helps create solid ice on area lakes

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Lakes in the Bemidji area were busy making some serious ice this past week during the first extended period of sub-zero weather. The Christmas holidays can be very cold in the Bemidji area. There have been years when owners of wood heated homes were afraid to leave their house overnight because their back-up heating system may not be sufficient to keep up with the bitter cold. There is a positive aspect to the cold weather, at least for those who want full access to the lakes for ice fishing. It often takes an extended period of sub-zero weather to set the ice and firm the seams and thin spots on the lakes. Moderately cold temperatures will make ice but it can be a slow process. When the temperatures hover near the freezing mark during the day and only drop into the teens at night, the lakes basically break even during the day and only make a little ice each night. It is a different situation when the temperatures drop way below zero at night and then have daily high temperatures that struggle to reach above zero. The lakes freeze hard 24 hours a day when the temperatures are as cold as they were this past week in the Bemidji area. Most lakes added several inches of ice during the cold weather, with at least 10 inches of ice in the deep lakes and as much as 16 inches of ice in lakes like Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods. Anglers will likely be driving vehicles on many lakes this weekend, even though there may be less than a foot of ice in some areas. Nobody can ever say the lakes are totally safe at any time during the winter, so anglers are personally responsible for checking the ice conditions and knowing where they are going on the lakes. With that said, many lakes are ready for anglers to get onto the ice. There will likely be a flurry of activity on the lakes this weekend as anglers jockey for position to get their stationary fish houses set up on their favorite spots. Anglers continue to enjoy good walleye fishing on Upper Red Lake even though some of the walleyes have been moving further from shore. Anglers on URL are usually more successful if they are close to a breakline rather than further from structure on a flat. Anglers should keep moving until they find an active bite rather than waiting for the walleyes to come to them. Anglers should note that the walleye limit on Upper Red Lake is still four fish but the protective slot limit stayed at the summer level of 20 to 26 inches, so anglers will be able to keep larger walleyes this winter. There is also a protected slot limit of 26 to 44 inches on northern pike in URL, with a 3-fish limit and one northern pike longer than 44 inches allowed per angler. The walleye and sauger bite has also been good on Lake of the Woods this winter. Anglers are allowed a mixture of eight walleyes and sauger, with no more than four walleyes in a limit of fish. The protected slot limit on walleyes in Lake of the Woods is 19.5 inches to 28 inches, with one walleye over 28 inches allowed per angler. The northern pike limit on Lake of the Woods is three pike, with a protected slot limit of 30 to 40 inches and one northern longer than 40 inches allowed per angler. Lake Winnibigoshish should be good for walleyes this winter, with two strong age classes of walleyes under the protected slot limit of 17 to 26 inches. Anglers are allowed six walleyes on Winnie, with one over 26 inches per angler. Anglers fishing Leech Lake are allowed to keep four walleyes, with a protected slot limit of 18 to 28 inches and one walleye longer than 28 inches allowed per limit. With lake by lake management the norm for Minnesota anglers are responsible for knowing the regulations in each lake they fish. It is a good idea for anglers to pick up a copy of the regulations and have them on hand.

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