10 Downstate Walleye Lakes

For some reason, we think we have to venture north to catch tasty walleye filets. But in reality, there are many productive lakes in southern and western Minnesota, too! (June 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Ask anglers from Minnesota to point toward the best walleye fishing in our state and most of their arms will swivel northward like a reliable compass. That is understandable, and that is also just fine with the folks living in southern and western Minnesota.

The valleys and prairies of "downstate" Minnesota are dotted with lakes, and most of those waters have good numbers of walleyes swimming in them. You could call it Minnesota's best-kept secret among Minnesotans, but it isn't a secret to folks from the Dakotas, Iowa or even Kansas and Nebraska.

"On the lakes down here, we have similar pressure estimates per acre as the rest of the state, but most of the pressure is local, and our main tourism comes from south and west of here," said Bob Davis, the Department of Natural Resources' Windom-area fisheries manger.

Those out-of-state anglers travel to southern and western Minnesota to avoid the longer drive to the northwoods. Why drive farther when you can catch just as many walleyes closer to home?

"We have quite a few walleye lakes down here, more than any other kind of lake, as a matter of fact," Davis noted.

Anglers and fisheries managers said these downstate lakes are worth checking out.

"Down here, you don't have the same walleye populations as elsewhere in the state, but you can get some really hot bites that are a lot of fun to be part of," said Jim Miller, tournament director of the Minnesota Walleye Trail and a resident of southern Minnesota near Fairmont.

John House is an avid walleye angler who fishes throughout Minnesota, including the southern and western sections. He said most southern and western walleye lakes look much different on a map from the lakes in the northern two-thirds of our state. If you are going to try these lakes, prepare to fish the weeds because they are walleye magnets. In a lake devoid of considerable structure, the clumps of cabbage and coontail are going to hold the majority of your walleyes because that is where the baitfish are hiding. Plastic worms work great in these locations because they can be easily rigged to be weedless.

"You want to keep the size of your plastic worms and grubs in the 3- to 4-inch range," House said.

Trolling and casting crankbaits also works on the southern and western Minnesota lakes.

"Minnow-shaped crankbaits like the 3 1/2-inch Rogue are excellent, especially in white-perch or fire-tiger," House said.

There are many good walleye waters in southern and western Minnesota, but here are the top 10 lakes.

FAIRMONT CHAIN

There are five lakes in this chain of lakes just outside the city of Fairmont in Martin County, which is right next door to Iowa. Miller said this is one of his favorite places to fish in Minnesota, with Hall Lake being his first choice on the Fairmont Chain.

"Last year, Hall was a great lake for casting crankbaits in the evening and producing some good-sized fish, although the numbers weren't there as much," Miller said.

Most of Hall Lake is a large shallow basin no deeper than 8 feet -- although there is one large hole going down to 24 feet -- with numerous underwater points and turns. The south end of Hall where Amber Lake flows in through a small creek is another good location, Miller noted.

"There's a yacht club down there with a big beach near the incoming water from Amber, which is a great spot for walleyes in the evening," Miller added.

His favorite tactics are casting Rapalas or Reef Runners, but he also uses spinner rigs with crawlers. Slip-bobbers work well at night, although because the water is stained, most people don't have much luck at night.

For more area information, go to the city of Fairmont's Web site at www.fairmont.org.

OKABENA LAKE

Okabena is a 750-acre lake located in the city of Worthington. It has four public accesses, and a good reputation for walleye fishing.

This lake is your typical southern Minnesota cereal bowl, but there are some interesting contours on both the eastern and western corners where dredging has been done. Miller said both of these troughs are good fishing locations, especially in the heat of summer.

"There's no real secret," he said. "You just go back and forth down that trough, which is a refuge of cooler water for the walleyes."

There are plenty of walleyes throughout the rest of the lake -- even when it's hot outside -- and the best way to find them is just to cover water. Planer boards are not a necessity, but they can help locate roaming fish.

"Troll stick baits that will run about 5 feet down and you'll do just fine," Miller added.

On the north side of the lake is a point with gravel and rocks that comes out and heads to the east, and it can be a very good spot. On the southeast corner, there is a 1-foot break that just goes from 7 to 8 feet but tends to act like a fish magnet.

"Every time you cross (the break), put down a waypoint on the GPS and then you can go back over it, zigzagging with crankbaits or a crawler, and it's amazing," Miller said.

For more information, go to www.worthingtonmnchamber.com.

LAKE WASHINGTON

Most lakes in southern Minnesota are very shallow, but Lake Washington in southwestern Le Sueur County is the exception to that rule. This 1,487-acre lake has several deep holes bottoming out over 35 feet, and one that goes down 51 feet. Compared with other lakes in the area, Washington is loaded with structure in the form of points, humps and saddles.

The DNR reports a healthy walleye population with a good mixture of sizes and year-classes, which means the action should be good for years go come.

"A good place to fish in June is around Grassy Island and the Third Point area," said Dave Quandt of The Bobber Shop in Mankato.

Simple presentati

ons tend to work the best in June, with a Lindy Rig and leech being tops for most anglers.

"During the low-light hours, don't be afraid to throw crankbaits into the shallows," Quandt said, while noting that perch and golden shiners make up the bulk of the forage base, thus you should try to match their patterns.

John House fishes Washington, and he focuses on the weedlines with plastics, such as a Vibra King Tube or Yum's Wally Grub.

"I've had a lot of great luck with cotton candy-colored plastics while tossing them up to the shore, working them to the inside break, then coming across the top, dropping it into the pockets and then let it settle down at the outside edge," House said.

Lake Washington is located northeast of Mankato and southeast of St. Peter. It has two nice concrete public accesses. For more information, visit the Greater Mankato Chamber of Commerce's Web site at www.greatermankato.com

LOON & CRYSTAL LAKES

This mini-chain just southwest of Mankato off Highway 60 consists of 400-acre Lake Crystal and 755-acre Loon Lake. Both lakes are shallow and have very little underwater structure.

"On Loon, you basically just want to fish the rockpile in the middle of the lake, while on Crystal, you want to just keep moving because it's nothing but a bowl," Quandt said.

The small point on the east side near where Loon flows into Crystal is a good location because it extends far into the lake.

Quandt said the same tactics that work on Washington also work on Loon and Crystal, because perch and golden shiners are also the major food sources of walleyes here.

Crystal has a small city-run public access on the southwest shore, while Loon is accessible by a DNR ramp on the southwest shore. For more information, check out the city of Lake Crystal's Web page at www.ci.lake-crystal.mn.us

LAKE ELYSIAN

Almost 2,000 acres in size with a maximum depth of 13 feet hardly sounds like a walleye factory, but Waterville DNR fisheries specialist Dave Weitzel said Elysian is a tremendous 'eye fishery. He should know, because it's close to his office.

"The lake offers a high abundance of walleyes, and they are fast growing, meaning that even in their third or fourth year, they are prime walleyes from 16 to 18 inches in length," Weitzel said.

With a report like that, it's no wonder you can count up to 150 boats on the lake, especially during the first few weekends of the fishing season.

"Like other lakes down here, they are shallow and prone to winterkill, so it's hard to sustain a long-term fishery," Weitzel said, adding, "but with such high growth rates, we can produce a lot of fish in only a year or two."

House said he enjoys the fantastic fishing in Elysian. He generally works it by using a floating Rattlin' Rogue on the few sprouts of green cabbage and coontail weeds.

"I'll work a few spots, marking the ones where I caught walleyes, and then go back with a slower presentation like a jig and plastic Vibra King Tube or Rib Worm," House added.

More information on the area can be found at www.elysianmn.com.

BIG STONE LAKE

With 12,000 acres of water, 14 boat landings and over 20 million walleye fry stocked since 2000, Big Stone Lake is an 'eye angler's dream come true. A strong 2004 year-class is spread out across this border water with South Dakota, so everybody should be catching large walleyes this summer.

"Big Stone is a great walleye lake, with a ton of water to fish," said Jim Rasset of Bud's Bait and Tackle on Highway 12 in the heart of Ortonville on the south end of Big Stone.

On the border waters between South Dakota and Minnesota, anglers have been fishing since April 21. Most of the early-season fishing is with jigs and minnows, but when the calendar flips to June, so do the tactics.

"Usually by June we're looking more at leech-tipped slip-bobber rigs, with some trolling mixed in, and casting plugs in shallow water," Rasset said.

Rasset's favorite locations include the islands on the south end that tend to be the most productive throughout the summer. Slip-bobbers are the time-tested tactic on the points and rockpiles over the entire lake. He said the wind is a big factor regarding fish movement early in the summer, but once the lake warms up, it's not an issue.

For more information, visit the Big Stone Lake area's Web site at www.bigstonelake.com.

LAKE TRAVERSE

Lake Traverse and Big Stone Lake may as well be identical twins since they make up the "bump" on Minnesota's western border -- Big Stone the southern part of the bump and Traverse the northern part.

That is not where the resemblance ends, however. Traverse is big water at almost 12,000 acres, with eight boat launches. It is also jam-packed with walleyes because of 27 million fry stocked since 2000. Those stocked fry are on top of those that resulted from natural reproduction. The lake is stocked because the natural reproduction can be inconsistent, said Ortonville-area DNR fisheries specialist Nathan Olson.

The DNR reports that walleyes on Traverse are growing rapidly these days, and the lake is full of 17- to 20-inchers. This rapid growth is thanks to an abundant forage base of young-of-the-year sheepshead and white bass.

Because Traverse bottoms out just over 10 feet, there are some unmarked boulders scattered around, but especially by islands and on the north end. Boaters should use caution, and stopping by an area bait shop wouldn't hurt. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages two dams on the lake, which eventually flows north to feed the Bois de Sioux River. "Traverse can be a bit difficult to traverse," Olson said with a chuckle.

For more information on the area, go to www.cityofwheaton.com.

LAKE SHETEK

Shetek is the biggest lake in Murray County at nearly 3,600 acres, plus it's one of the best in southwestern Minnesota.

"The fishing around here is good, both from shore and from boats," said Jeff Carlson, owner of Carlson Corner in Slayton. "June is the month when the walleye action really picks up on Shetek."

Located 10 miles north of the town of Slayton on Highway 59 at the intersection of Valhalla Road, Carlson's bait shop is a popular stop for anglers heading to Shetek. He said the tactics on Shetek

aren't complicated.

"Most fishermen go with live-bait jigging, slip-bobbers or trolling Rapalas," Carlson said. "You also get a lot of people using artificials like twistertails."

The DNR has stocked over 8 million walleye fry here in the last few years, and surveys have shown that Shetek is one of the top-producing walleye lakes in the area. Lake Shetek is the headwaters of the Des Moines River.

"Shetek is a very fertile lake with a lot of forage, and the overall growth of walleyes in there is really good," said Bob Davis, the DNR's area fisheries manager in Windom.

Mille Lacs is known for its mudflats, but Carlson said Shetek is nothing but one big mudflat.

"Walleyes are caught almost everywhere on the lake because there's very little structure, but generally the middle of the lake is good during the day and the shorelines are good in the evening and morning," Carlson said.

Lake Shetek State Park is on the eastern shore, and more park information can be found at the DNR's Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us. For more information on the area, visit the city of Tracy's Web site at www.tracymn.com.

LAKE SARAH

Lake Sarah is a stone's throw away from Lake Shetek in Murray County. It is considered one of the premier walleye lakes in the area because it has consistent natural reproduction and an ample forage base, thus creating very fast-growing walleyes.

There are almost 1,100 acres of water, with a maximum depth of 11 feet. There are three public landings. Carlson said the majority of anglers on Sarah troll or drift across the middle of the lake during the day, but at night, these folks chill out.

"In the evening, they'll sit by the shore, put a bobber out and relax," Carlson said. "You'll see a lot of people around the shore of the lake doing the same thing, which is just a relaxing way to spend the evening."

LAC QUI PARLE

Lac qui Parle is another lake managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a flood-control lake, which means there is a dam at the foot of the lake on the south end. Right near that dam as it feeds the Minnesota River is Mitlyng's Bait and Tackle.

"Basically, the lake breaks down like this: The north end is shallow with very little structure, while the south end is deeper with more rockpiles and points," Steve Mitlyng said. "The great thing about the lake is that you can fish throughout the entire system, and some of the best angling tends to come between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m."

Artificial lures are the way to go on LQP, with Shad Raps being one of Mitlyng's favorites.

"The shallow-running Shad Raps are the best, but where it's deeper near structure, they'll put on deep-running lures that get down to 11 feet," he said.

Casting slip-bobbers or jigs with live bait on the rocks is also a tried-and-true tactic. The area north of Hantho is a great place for casting into the rockpiles, Mitlyng noted.

Jim Miller said the 2004 MWT qualifier tournament was held on LQP, and anglers did quite well.

"There were more 5-pound walleyes caught in that one tournament than in the six years we've run the tournament," Miller said. "Those fish all came in the middle of some miserable cold and rainy weather."

Since 2000, the lake has seen an aggressive stocking campaign to boost the walleye population. Over 16 million fry, 160,000 fingerlings, 16,000 yearlings and almost 2,400 adult walleyes were stocked in that period, and the DNR reports that it's working.

There are 10 landings on this 5,600-acre lake. Information on the area can be found on the city of Madison's Web site at www.ci.madison.mn.us.

* * *

Why not try a few new walleye lakes by heading south or west this summer instead of north? Avoid the crowds, catch some nice eating-sized fish and explore a different part of Minnesota. You'll have fun!

Find more about Minnesota fishing and hunting at: MinnesotaSportsmanMag.com

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