36 Minnesota Fishing Hotspots
September 30, 2010
Whether you want to catch a stringer of fish or that particular trophy you want, here are 36 can't-miss destinations for year-round fun. (Feb 2009)
The dictionary on my computer explains the term, hotspot, as a place of significant activity. For anglers, that would mean a lake where the fish are biting. While no body of water can brag about fish biting all the time because of the weather or other conditions beyond control, there are lakes that have reputations as hotspots due to their ability to consistently provide anglers with outstanding fishing. Here are 36 hotspots that fall into that category.
Natural reproduction maintains a decent population of walleyes in 3,100-acre Boy Lake. Winter anglers will discover that from the access they can head north into the bigger basin and find plenty of deep water to key on. Walleyes will be moving along the southwest shore of this basin as they travel from the midlake saddle to the western bay. Drill near the deeper water and use the sonar to pinpoint walleyes. In the eastern basin, start drilling on the north end and work south until you find walleyes.
Long points, inside turns and great midlake structure make Lake Osakis a great body of water for winter anglers chasing walleyes. There's no need to follow the crowds on this lake because any of the high-percentage areas will be productive. With a hand-held GPS and a map chip, anglers can drill right on the best structure on the lake without much searching, which means more time figuring out the best technique to trigger bites from Osakis' hungry walleyes.
Crappies are abundant in Carver County's Lake Waconia and so are the anglers that target them, but there are plenty to go around and they always seem to be biting. This is a lake where following the crowds is not a bad idea. There will be ice shelter towns that spring up over the huge schools of crappies, so find an opening and pitch the portable.
Big Carnelian Lake
When northern pike numbers jumped to record levels in Big Carnelian, the DNR incorporated some special regulations to try to grow some of these pike into respectable fish. Anglers may keep fish under 24 inches and one longer than 36 inches but none in between. There are loads of pike under 24 inches in this lake, so catching some keepers is no problem. There are also some big pike available, so make sure to take some big sucker minnows along if you want to go toe to toe with a big one.
All anglers should take some time out of their busy winter schedules and head north for some lake trout fishing. This species hits hard, never quits fighting and is very tasty. Fishing for lake trout is like turkey hunting. Once you try it, you can't get enough.
On Greenwood Lake, the structure seems endless. Drill plenty of holes and use shiny jigging spoons to attract fish. The water clarity is high, so trout can spot a shiny lure from a distance. Deep water near points and the regions around a midlake structural element are great places to start looking.
Everyone loves to find a great walleye lake that is not so large that you need a week to find a good spot or two. Dixon is a small lake with numerous walleyes concentrated in a few areas, so anglers can spend all their time in the south basin finding schools of walleyes over the deep water in the center. Walleyes also like to lounge in the 15-foot hole on the south end of the lake and between the narrows and the tiny island to the south.
Crappies tend to move a lot during periods of open water, but in the winter, when they're suspended over the deepest water, they're easy to find because they sit tight over the deepest spots in the lake. There are many crappies in Sand Lake and some big ones show up regularly. March is a great time to find them because there is plenty of deep water in both basins.
Pine Mountain Lake
Just west of Backus sits 1,500-acre Pine Mountain Lake, a body of water that gives anglers plenty of opportunities for every species during the year, and in March, it's perch that put smiles on everyone's faces. Set up near the bulrushes in 7 to 10 feet of water and make sure you not only have some small minnows along, but some maggots too. Perch to 13 inches are a regular catch on this lake.
Prior Lake is full of islands and bays, and some of the arms that break off the main basins can be very good for crappies. Look for those that are deep. Some examples are the north arm of the center basin, which is 60 feet deep. Find these and you find crappies.
Big Stone Lake
Big Stone County
In mid-April, the border waters of Minnesota and South Dakota open for walleyes, and anglers head out in droves to Big Stone Lake. For those who can't wait for the inland opener, it's a great option. Slow-troll spinner setups with leeches or drag jigs tipped with minnows. Walleyes are spread out all over and the techniques that cover some ground work best.
As soon as the ice is off Pleasant, hit the deep water in front of the small bays and fingers and anchor up. Fish small slip-bobbers with ice jigs and maggots, just like you were doing a few weeks earlier when the water was hard. The big bluegills move up to the mouths of these bays and make for easy pickings to those that understand they're there.
Otter Tail Lake
Otter Tail County
On Otter Tail, the perch will be moving up to the edge of the shallow sand flats and there are some big fish there for the taking. Sit over the schools of perch with a slip-bobber and jig and settle in for some great fishing.
Leech Lake has made a strong comeback for walleyes and has proved itself over the last couple of years as a great opening day destination. Key on the long points with a live-bait rig and leech during the low-light periods. For a good midday bite, use that same setup on the big sand flats. There will be plenty of boats around, so use that marker buoy sparingly.
Winnie has a stellar reputation as a great option for opener and it deserves it. If the big lake is becoming kicked up by the wind, tuck into the Cutfoot Sioux where all those post-spawn walleyes will be sitting on the first dropoff. On the main lake, it's the points that will be productive.
Boats load up at the river mouths on Red Lake on opener, but there are many walleyes cruising the shallow sand as well. If you're not anchored up with a slip-bobber where the rivers run, pull a spinner rig with a leech over 8 to 10 feet of water and pick off the fish that are spread out over that featureless bottom.
On Chisago Lake, all largemouth bass over 12 inches must be released immediately. This means there are bunches of big bass there, and if you get to them around the opener of the bass season, they will still be biting on whatever you put in front of them. A good early-season technique on this lake is a white spinnerbait pulled slowly over the top of the emerging vegetation.
Lake Belle Taine
The smallmouth bass will be shallow on Belle Taine on opener and for a few weeks after. There's plenty of rubble mixed in with the sand near the bulrushes, but don't rule out the emerging beds of cabbage and coontail. The smallies in Belle Taine are tricked easily with a 1/4-ounce tube jig twitched past their nose.
Boundary Waters Canoe
June is a great month to be in the BWCAW because the walleyes are biting and the bugs aren't'¦yet. The mosquitoes and flies will come out when it heats up in July, so take advantage of that early-season walleye fishing when it's still cool in the northwoods.
On the Kawishiwi River, fish the base of the riffles with a jig and minnow. Yes, you want to take some live bait in with you. Live bait ups your odds dramatically and ensures that some of those big walleyes tug on your line.
By the first of July, the vegetation in the lakes is well developed. On lakes that have high numbers of big bluegills, the edge of that vegetation is where to find the fish. German Lake is full of big bluegills and has a well-developed weedline. Drift that 10- to 12-foot depth contour with a jig tipped with a small leech and you will find out why German has such a good reputation for big bluegills.
Big Swan Lake
For the past 10 years, any pike caught on Big Swan that was 24 inches or larger had to be released. This year, the new regulations allow one pike over 36 inches to be kept. There are plenty of big pike in Big Swan, and they like to fight. Casting big crankbaits, heavy spinnerbaits and even a big spoon will trigger some arm-wrenching strikes from those Swan Lake pike.
Lake Melissa is loaded with structure and there are plenty of walleyes using it. Use a live-bait rig and leech on the deep edges of the midlake humps and you'll find those walleyes. Anglers also have great luck on Melissa at night casting shallow-diving crankbaits over the shoreline vegetation.
Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods County
While many of the great walleye lakes are slowing down during dog days, Lake of the Woods is churning out walleyes. Consider taking advantage of one of the great resort launch boats where you head out to the open water of the big basin and target huge schools of suspended walleyes with downriggers. It is fun. Troll along and watch the rods. When a rod tip pops up, call for the angler who is in the hot seat to reel it in. When all the other lakes are dead for walleyes, Lake of the Woods is a lively option.
You must release every largemouth bass caught in Lake Minnewashta. It has been great for the resource. Thick mats of milfoil require flipping jigs tipped with scented plastic trailers, and when you set the hook, it's bound to be a bruiser bass. Get out early in the morning and you won't have to be rocked by the water-skiers who love this lake as much as bass anglers do.
The weedline on Lake Mary extends to about 18 feet, the heaviest mix of vegetation from 6 to 14 feet deep. However, it's that 18-foot depth level where the huge sunfish hang. Pray for light wind so you can slowly drift along that depth contour and vertical jig a 1/16-ounce jig tipped with a panfish leech. The bluegills are big in Lake Mary, and when you find them, stay on top of them.
Lake Mille Lacs
Mille Lacs County
September is peak time on the big lake for smallmouth bass. All those shallow rockpiles load up with the huge bass and if the water is calm, they are susceptible to a topwater lure, which is as good as it gets. On windy days, use a crawfish-colored crankbait and get it down to where it's occasionally whacking the rubble and rock. You'll wonder where the small fish are on this lake, but they must be somewhere because there are loads of big ones.
When the walleyes start biting again in September, it's time to hit a textbook perfect walleye lake like Alexander and fish some of the points and inside turns with a jig and minnow. Cast the jig as far as you can and drag it over the sand and rubble. The pickup is light, so anytime you feel a little drag, set the hook. You need plenty of minnows for this presentation.
There is a protected slot on Lake Ada for northern pike, so when you hit this lake it's all about catching, not about keeping. There are some big weed flats extending out from the shoreline that makes a spinnerbait the go-to presentation. Drift over the flats and cast for some big-fish action.
West Battle Lake
Otter Tail County
Hunting seasons are in full motion, but so are the muskies in the lakes in Minnesota. What a dilemma. Anglers will be tempted to toss bucktail spinnerbaits into the bulrushes, and they could be rewarded for their efforts, but there are some great humps and rockpiles where the big muskies reside. Hit those spots with a jerkbait or even a topwater lure and you'll find the muskies in West Battle to be aggressive in nature.
Bald Eagle Lake
Bald Eagle has been a favorite of muskie anglers in the east-metro area for many years. There are just so many humps and holes and points and bars that sometimes an angler might not get past the first few with muskies chasing baits from all of the spots where they are sought. A trick anglers have had luck with lately is using big plastic bodies on jigs and swimming these over the rocks and weeds.
Those southern potholes become quiet during the heat of summer, but when the water cools in the fall, those walleyes activate again. Lake Sarah is the queen of the pothole lakes, and the high numbers of walleyes are the result of natural reproduction, not stocking. So, dust off the shallow-diving crankbaits and head for Sarah. They're biting again.
Round Lake is about as south as you can get and still be in walleye country in Minnesota. It's about as south as you can get, period. A pothole lake, Round functions well because of an aeration system. Maximum depth pushes 10 feet. Walleye anglers who are familiar with the lake will tell you the fish can be anywhere, so use techniques that let you cover some ground. Once you get a bite, mark the spot and work the area. There is likely to be more where that one came from.
Those huge muskies in Cass Lake will be up chasing the perch and ciscoes that are hiding in the bulrush beds. A lure that resembles one of these two species th
at can be jerked or swam through or around the edges of this emerging vegetation can result in some huge fish thrashing at boat side.
Anglers should put their emphasis on the deep weedline for walleyes on Pulaski. This means pitching jigs and minnows at close range to the breakline where the weeds end. Let the lure sink to bottom and twitch it until a nearby walleye swims over and inhales it. There are plenty of walleyes in Pulaski and they bite in November.
Hope for early ice on Knife Lake, and if your prayers are answered, expect some great first-ice walleye action. Drill over the little humps that dot the bottom of Knife Lake and fish the tops and the edges. The water is not deep in this lake, so any little bottom change is going to hold walleyes.
Otter Tail County
There are a couple of humps on the west side of Sybil before entering into the shallow western bay. Crappies will stage around these humps near the deep water right before ice-up and right after ice forms on the lake. The technique is the same whether open water or ice. Vertical jig a small minnow and take home some slab crappies.
There are some big bluegills in the shallow vegetation in Grace Lake right after ice-up. Walk softly on the ice and work a maggot-tipped jigging spoon between the stalks of cabbage and coontail and you will find some big sunfish feeding heavily before winter sets in.