Bassin' It Up in Southern Minnesota

Bassin' It Up in Southern Minnesota

While largemouth bass can be found in nearly every fishery south of the Twin Cities, some waters have better potential than others. (May 2009)

While those of us that call southern Minnesota home would not normally like to admit it, there is no denying the fact the largest individual fish of nearly every species within our state are swimming in the cold and deep lakes of northern Minnesota.

Northern pike and walleyes are just naturally more likely to reach trophy size in the more suitable environments of our northern waters. Panfish and perch also seem to gain extra girth in the water north of the Twin Cities, as compared to those situated south of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

This is not the case, however, when it comes to largemouth bass. The warm, fertile lakes found in southern Minnesota are certainly capable of producing monster largemouths. In fact, over the past several decades, numerous state-record fish have been recorded in the south. The current state-record largemouth bass of nearly 9 pounds was caught in Auburn Lake in Carver County, just southwest of Minneapolis.

Regardless of the location, the shake and shimmy of a largemouth bass is bound to bring a smile to the eyes of the beholder. The ability of this fish to fight both above and beneath the surface is a feat rivaled by few other species. While largemouth bass can be found in nearly every fishery south of the Twin Cities, some have better potential than others.

FOUNTAIN LAKE
Located in Freeborn County, Fountain Lake serves as the centerpiece for the city of Albert Lea. A reservoir, with a noticeable current in many locations, the lake twists and turns as it flows through the town. It's a dream come true for most shore-fishermen. City streets, fishing piers, and numerous parks make angling along the shoreline possible around much of the lake.

Public boat access is available at two locations. Edgewater Park is located across the bay from State Highway 13, in the northwestern portion of the city. In addition to a concrete boat ramp, this spacious park has plenty of shoreline, a fishing pier, restrooms and picnic facilities.

A second access site is located in the northern channel of the lake, within Brookside Park, west of the Freeborn County Fairgrounds.

As the water exits Fountain Lake, it pours over a dam located at the lake's southeastern corner before moving through a channel into neighboring Albert Lea Lake. Boaters should be cautious when venturing to this portion of the lake and remain a safe distance from the dam.

In recent years, Fountain Lake has not been widely recognized for its largemouth bass potential, but it has been very productive in the past and appears to be on the rebound once again.

At one time the producer of a state-record largemouth, Fountain Lake has spent several years recovering from a partial winterkill of its fishes. In summer 2007, good fishing reports revealed the largemouth bass bite was improving.

While most of the fish that are going to be caught this year will be somewhat small, ranging from 1 to 3 pounds, it is likely that a few much larger fish are present. As long as the lake's aeration system is able to maintain safe oxygen levels during the winter months, the largemouth bass angling here should continue to improve through this year and beyond.

Fountain Lake reaches a maximum depth of 14 feet, but a majority of the 525-acre lake is very shallow and has very poor water clarity. Aquatic growth along the lake's flat and sandy bottom is limited, and there is very little natural cover for largemouth bass. The heaviest vegetation is located in the northern portion of Edgewater Bay, with small patches of lily pads scattered around the rest of the lake's shoreline. Surface plugs usually produce a few fish in these areas.

A small bay at the northern end of the channel is another spot that provides a little cover for largemouths, but the water here is very shallow and the fish will be easily spooked. A small amount of fallen timber is available in a few locations along the northern shoreline, and some of the largest fish can be found tangled within these branches.

Nearly completely surrounded by development, Fountain Lake also features hundreds of docks that provide shade for largemouth bass. Fish hiding beneath this cover can often be taken on spinners and plastic worms.

Downstream, Albert Lea Lake is home to a few largemouth bass of its own, and they can get quite large. This lake is much larger than its neighbor to the north. Finding its bass can be somewhat difficult. If the largemouths don't cooperate, both of these lakes have more to offer. Anglers are often successful when looking for the panfish, walleyes, northern pike, and channel catfish that are found in both fisheries.

BEAVER LAKE
One of the only natural bodies of water found in Steele County, Beaver Lake is a consistent producer of largemouth bass. This little lake has plenty of bass habitat squeezed into its 95 acres. A firm and sandy bottom, wind-protected spawning locations, and a large variety of vegetation all contribute to maintaining a healthy population of largemouth bass.

A county park and fishing pier provide public access along the eastern shore of Beaver Lake. From Interstate 35, and the town of Ellendale, the lake is located just a few miles to the west. Signs are posted along State Highway 30.

With the exception of the area near the park, private homes and cabins surround Beaver Lake. Recreational watercraft can choke up the lake during summer weekends, making this a better place to visit on a quiet weekday morning or evening.

Deep and clear, Beaver Lake has a maximum depth of 27 feet. Its average bass weighs about 2 pounds. Largemouths that exceed 3 pounds are fairly common, and I have seen several 5-pound fish, too.

Look for bass to be congregated along the entire shoreline of the lake, using docks as their main source of cover. Crankbaits and spinners are usually productive in these shallow areas. Moving away from the shoreline and over the deeper weedbeds, I've often garnered success by trolling a spinner tipped with a night crawler.

In the lake's western bay and along its southern shoreline, lily pads dot the surface of the water. Near these features, plastic worms and frogs usually bring bass to the boat.

In addition to largemouth bass, Beaver Lake has good populations of black crappies, bluegills and walleyes. A few northern pike also play a part in the food chain. A favorite for local walleye anglers, this lake is regularly stocked. Walleyes

are numerous and are present in a wide variety of sizes. As you can see, even if the bass refuse to bite, this is a lake that will seldom disappoint.

Just a few miles to the northwest in Waseca County, St. Olaf Lake holds an excellent largemouth bass population. With features very similar to Beaver Lake, the water here is also home to a few 5-pound fish. I've personally found that the largemouths swimming in St. Olaf Lake have a sweet tooth for small creek chubs.

LURA LAKE
Found along the southern border of Blue Earth County, popular Lura Lake is one of many prairie pothole lakes in southern Minnesota that has the potential to produce big largemouths.

However, bass anglers may want to wait until later in the season to visit Lura Lake. During spring and much of the summer, heavy vegetation mats a good portion of the lake's surface. This can make most of the lake very difficult to fish.

Lura Lake covers about 1,300 acres, averages 5 feet deep and reaches a maximum depth of only 9 feet. A public boat ramp is located in Blue Earth County-Daly Park, along the eastern shoreline. From Mapleton, take County Highway 7 to the south, and then follow the signs leading to the park. Camping, picnic shelters, and a fishing pier are all available at this location. A second boat ramp is located in the lake's northwestern corner. All boaters should be aware that Eurasian water milfoil has been documented in Lura Lake.

In the distant past, Lura Lake has had a problem with winter kill of its fishes. Aerators have been in operation for the past 30 years, and the last known fish kill occurred in the early 1990s. The lake was reclaimed and restocked at that time, and numerous fish species have been prospering ever since.

Bass anglers typically scour the shores when looking for the largemouths of Lura Lake. With nearly 13 miles of irregular shoreline, the lake is loaded with cover. Fallen and submerged trees are common. In other areas, thick and shallow vegetation provides plenty of hidden haunts for hungry bass. Points, islands and shoreline rocks are also a part of the lake's structure.

While 2- to 4-pound bass are the most prevalent, much larger fish are numerous. With 10 years' experience in largemouth bass tournaments and leagues throughout southern Minnesota, Chris Eckert is very familiar with a fishery that offers improving action as summer progresses.

"Once the weeds go down," Eckert says, "that is when you want to get out there. Fish that weigh more than 5, even close to 6 pounds, they're not uncommon at all."

Walleye anglers in southern Minnesota are very familiar with Lura Lake. It's loaded with walleyes, and they have been known to surpass 10 pounds. Northern pike, bluegills, black crappies and jumbo perch are also found here. All these species have prospered for the last 15 years.

CEDAR LAKE
You can find this 800-acre lake in Rice County, west of the city of Faribault. A state-owned public boat ramp is located on the north shore of the lake's eastern bay, off County Highway 38.

Cedar Lake is a popular place during the summer months, but there is plenty of room for fishermen and recreational boaters all to enjoy themselves. The lake is divided into two basins, with islands and vegetation breaking the surface of both portions. This is a deep body of water. Its maximum depth of 42 feet is reached near its eastern shoreline.

Cedar Lake has a history of producing some nice largemouths, and the lake seems to be maintaining a healthy population of fish The average size of the bass caught here will not be remarkable, but fish as large as 6 pounds could be found anywhere within habitat and structure very favorable for largemouth bass.

After catching your fill of largemouth bass, you may want to try one of Cedar Lake's other options. Crappies, bluegills, northern pike and walleyes can all be caught here. These species are fairly abundant and reach respectable size. White bass are also a part of the mix and they can provide an entertaining change of pace for anglers, especially during the late summer and autumn. All boaters should be aware that Eurasian water milfoil has been found here.

RAYS LAKE
A well-kept secret, Rays Lake in Le Sueur County lies just a few miles north of the town of Elysian and State Highway 60.

Fairly small, with coverage of only 150 acres, the lake reaches a maximum depth of 32 feet. A public boat ramp is located on the lake's western shore, along County Highway 11. The ramp here is gravel and very compact, being best suited for small watercraft. A small fishing pier is accessible adjacent to the ramp. I hooked a few chunky largemouths while casting from this point during my last visit. They weren't huge, but they were respectable.

Rays Lake may never produce a state-record largemouth, but when you're looking for plenty of action, it's a great destination. It's not out of the question for bass fishermen to hook into a largemouth bass of 5 pounds or more, but it's much more likely that an angler will be entertained by a multitude of average- sized fish.

At times, it seems like surface lures are the only lure capable of fishing over the abundance of plant growth at Rays Lake. Work your favorite topwater pattern around the shallow weeds found in the northern portion of the lake, the edge of the lake's southern weedline, and around any of the lily pads that are found near the shoreline in some locations.

Rays Lake is also populated with panfish, northern pike and a few walleyes. And despite the light fishing pressure, it's a quiet location that can make noise in a lot of different ways.

Also located in Le Sueur County, Sunfish Lake is a 120-acre pond that has been on the mend following a winterkill in 2001-02. Its maximum depth of 34 feet found in the center of this bowl is surrounded by a heavily vegetated shoreline. In recent years, electrofishing surveys conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has revealed that Sunfish Lake can produce quality-sized largemouth bass.

Before the most recent winterkill, this was a popular body of water with local bass anglers. It appears it soon will be again. A public boat ramp to Sunfish Lake is found along State Highway 13, about five miles north of the town of Waterville

For more information regarding resorts and lodging near the lakes mentioned above, contact the chambers of commerce in the following cities: Elysian, phone: (507) 267-4040; Faribault, phone: (507) 334-4381; Mankato, phone (800) 657-4733; Albert Lea, phone: (800) 345-8414. Lake maps are available by contacting the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, phone: (800) 657-3757.

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