Our Red-Hot Pike Lakes

Here are nine lakes that are among the best in Minnesota for northern pike fishing.

By Eric Sorenson

Late-season ice-fishing offers exceptional opportunities for northern pike anglers, so there isn't a better time to hit one of Minnesota's red-hot lakes.

Minnesota's portion of Lake of the Woods is arguably the state's top destination for trophy pike. Vast habitat and a healthy forage base significantly contribute to its quality.

"It's a mix of several things," said Dennis Topp of the Department of Natural Resources. "It has good habitat and a limited harvest of fish because of its size."

Few lakes hold higher numbers of 30- to 40-inch fish. "If you are targeting fish over 30 inches and don't catch any, then something's wrong," said the DNR's Tom Heinrich.

Late winter offers the best action, and with a continuous pike season, good angling continues into April. "On those warm days in March, when the sun reflects off the ice and you can be out there in a T-shirt, we see a lot of parties fishing," Heinrich said. "That's when it starts taking off."

Figuring out where to fish on Minnesota's 317,000 acres of the lake can be intimidating, but there are plenty of productive locations. "For ice-fishing, the area from Warroad to Swift Ditch to Willow Creek is good," Heinrich said. "Zippel Bay and Morris Point also are good."

For additional information, visit the Baudette/Lake of the Woods Chamber of Commerce Web site, at www.lakeofthewoodsmn.com, or call 1-800-351-3474.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

The phenomenal winter crappie fishing on Upper Red Lake is no secret, but its trophy-pike fishery remains a relatively untapped resource.

Years of low pressure, attributed to the closure of walleye fishing, helped Upper Red improve from a good pike fishery to a superb lake that offers exceptional odds for a 40-inch fish.

"It's always grown big pike, but not as many as right now," said Gary Barnard of the DNR. "The closure of walleye fishing helped the northern pike, too. There's more larger fish."

Upper Red holds all the ingredients for large pike, including plenty of whitefish and suckers. "It's a large, shallow, flat lake, which is ideal for northern pike," Barnard said.

Just 48,000 acres of Upper Red are open to anglers; the remainder belongs to the Red Lake Indian Reservation. The lake's size may seem overwhelming, but finding pike is as easy as following crappie anglers.

"During the winter, a lot of the fish are taken right where they are fishing for crappies," Barnard said. "The best areas are out over the break in 9 to 11 feet of water. The breaks are pretty subtle down to 12 or 13 feet."

For additional information, contact Hudec's Resort at (218) 647-8291.

Though prized as the jewel of Minnesota's walleye lake, Mille Lacs also holds claim to one of our best pike populations. Mille Lacs is a large, shallow lake with exceptional forage - the ideal recipe for big pike.

Anglers who target Mille Lacs' pike know they have outstanding odds of landing a 40-inch fish. They also know they face little competition because most anglers pursue walleyes. DNR surveys show an impressive growth rate for pike, which is linked to healthy populations of forage fish. A recent sampling recorded an average size of 29 inches.

To locate pike on Mille Lacs' 132,516 acres, the best plan is to find weeds. Try bays like Cove, Garrison, Isle, Vineland and Wahkon. Fish often concentrate within the weedbeds in less than 15 feet of water.

For more information, visit the Mille Lacs Area Tourism Council's Web site, at www.millelacs.com, or call 1-888-350-2692.

Todd County's Big Birch Lake boasts one of Minnesota's most improved pike populations, thanks to a 24-inch limit established in 1996. Since the regulation's adoption, biologists have witnessed a dramatic turnaround.

"Big Birch Lake is a pride-and-joy example of aggressive fisheries management," said Jim Lilienthal of the DNR. "When I first started here in the 1980s, the average size was 17 or 18 inches. Now it's over 24 inches and anglers have a much better chance of catching pike over 30 inches. In our assessments, we've caught more fish over 30 inches than in all assessment periods going back to 1940."

The regulation change also reduced the lake's pike population to a healthier level. "A quality northern pike fishery has low numbers of fish, but good numbers of medium and large fish," Lilienthal said. "That's what we are seeing now."

Big Birch, which covers 2,108 acres, holds rolling structure with sunken islands and visible islands along the eastern and northern portions of the lake.

For more information, visit the Melrose Area Chamber of Commerce Web site, at www.melrosemn.org, or call (320) 256-7174.

Like Big Birch, Lake Sallie, near Detroit Lakes, transformed from a poor pike fishery to a quality lake for big fish in just a short time.

A 24-inch limit adopted in 1996 was the boost Sallie needed. With its healthy yellow perch, white sucker and cisco populations, Sallie is quickly emerging as one of the best pike lakes in the region. During DNR sampling, more than half the pike netted measured 25 inches or longer, and that average is increasing, according to biologists.

Sallie, which covers 1,246 acres, holds significant structure on its eastern side, including a series of bars and humps. It measures 50 feet in its deepest location.

For more information, visit the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce's Web site, at www.visitdetroitlakes.com, or call 1-800-542-3992.

Chisago County is not renowned for big pike, but South Center Lake, in Lindstrom, does carry a reputation for producing large fish.

This 835-acre lake holds healthy numbers of pike and some of the largest northerns in this portion of our state. Half the fish netted in DNR surveys exceeded 25 inches in lengt

h, and the largest measured 45 inches.

South Center's best angling is on the western side, which holds substantial structure, including rockpiles and dropoffs near a 110-foot hole.

For more information, visit the Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce Web site, at www.chisagolakeschamber.com, or call (651) 257-1177.

Historically, Leech Lake carried a reputation for producing big northerns, but today its value lies more in its high pike population.

"For the quality of its pike, no, it is not one of the best in the state, but for the quality of its numbers it is," said Harlan Firestine of the DNR.

Leech's large pike face high angling pressure, which contributes to a substantial number of smaller fish. "The big fish are harvested pretty readily," Firestine said. "That's why we are proposing a 24- to 36-inch limit next season." The rule aims at balancing the pike population and increasing the number of large fish.

Leech offers numerous hotspots, including Boy Bay, Headquarters Bay and Steamboat Bay.

To learn more, visit the Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce's Web site, at www.leech-lake.com, or call 1-800-833-1118.

A substantial population of medium and large fish earned Lake Vermilion a reputation as one of Minnesota's top pike lakes. Pike reproduction and harvest remains fairly constant each year, but the DNR stocks 13,800 fingerlings annually to help maintain Vermilion's quality.

As fishing pressure has increased in recent decades, the largest pike have felt the pinch, but DNR surveys reveal Vermilion still produces impressive numbers of big fish. During a recent sampling, the average pike measured 28.8 inches. That quality growth rate is directly related to significant forage of perch and ciscoes.

Top areas to fish include the breaks and weedbeds in and around Vermilion's numerous bays.

For more information, visit the Lake Vermilion Resort Association Web site, which is online at www.lakevermilionresorts.com, or call 1-800-648-5897.

Twin Cities anglers looking for large pike close to home should set their sights on Lake Independence, near Maple Plain. This 844-acre lake is among the best metro pike lakes.

Independence has a fairly low pike population but holds substantial numbers of medium and large fish. During DNR surveys, the average pike measured 25.6 inches and one-third of the fish exceeded 29 inches.

Anglers should concentrate on the island on the north end and the bar on the east side. Also try the rockpile in the middle of the lake and a pair of bars on the south end.

For more information, call the West Hennepin Chamber of Commerce at (763) 479-4222.

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