Minnesota's 'Other' Walleye Honeyholes
September 30, 2010
Everyone knows about the great fishing on our state's walleye factories, but there are other good lakes that get overlooked. Here are nine such lakes.
By Tim Lesmeister
There are a bunch of great walleye lakes in Minnesota.
Lake of the Woods is always productive, even when the bite stops on our other big lakes. The other top walleye producers are Vermilion, Kabetogama, Mille Lacs, Cass, Winnibigoshish and Gull. All of these - and there are plenty more - are considered walleye factories and they live up to their reputations.
On weekends these big bodies of water are packed with boats filled with anglers backtrolling the edges of productive structure with live-bait rigs and leeches hoping to run into a school of walleyes. On some days they do, and on some days, well, fishing can't be great every day. But on a lake with high potential the ability to get into a school of biting walleyes always exists, and that is why anglers are waiting in lines to launch their boats. That's why anglers will drive a few hours to get there. They know the odds are good that if the walleyes are biting, they can find some.
There are a bunch of other lakes in Minnesota that can measure up to the "big boys," so why don't walleye anglers pay more attention to them? It could be that most anglers don't like moving into another venue when they already know what to expect at their "old faithful" lake. Once you spend a few years dissecting maps and straining structure it's hard to move to a lake where you have to start from scratch. But then again, it might be worth it.
It might be worth chasing some fish that aren't getting heavily pressured. Gary Roach, Minnesota's "Mr. Walleye," often jokes that a gully has been worn in the 19-foot depth range at Gull Lake from dragging live-bait rigs. It was these heavily pressured walleyes that convinced him to develop his own live-bait rig that allows him to fish a lot of distance between the weight and the bait, a presentation that he has proven works wonders when targeting well-conditioned walleyes.
Photo by Ted Peck
It's not hard to imagine with all the lakes in Minnesota that there must be plenty of other bodies of water that have high potential and could provide the same quality fishing that the touted walleye lakes are capable of. It's just a matter of making a decision to take half the time you spend on one of the walleye factories chasing fish and devote it to one of the smaller lakes that is high in potential.
What you will find are parking spaces open right where you launch your boat. Instead of a dozen boats climbing over the top of you when you pull out the net, you will likely have a piece of structure all to yourself. The walleyes you see on your sonar will be less pressured and more willing to take a bait that is less than perfectly presented. And, the size of many of these high-potential lakes means you can master them in a couple of long days on the water.
While you should never rule out a hot bite on one of the walleye factories, consider a few of these good bets this year in your search for walleyes.
BIG SAND LAKE Big Sand Lake is just northeast of Park Rapids. It's not a huge lake, about 1,700 acres, but it is loaded with structure. This is one lake where you do need some time to explore and get to know the bottom.
When first venturing out on Big Sand for walleyes, consider the sand and gravel points early in the season, and as the walleyes move out to the midlake structure during the summer months, spend some time on the sunken islands right in the center of the lake.
On the south side there is a big gravel bar that tapers slowly into deep water. This is an outstanding location for those early-season walleyes that fall easily for a jig-and-minnow cast long and dragged back over the rubble.
On the west side of that same bar is a long, tapering point that extends out to a steep dropoff. It's a popular spot for anglers because it holds walleyes early and late in the season.
The productive sunken islands on Big Sand are those that top out at 12 to 20 feet, which most do, and are gravel-topped surrounded by sand and rock. This is the perfect place to drag around a live-bait rig and leech.
The lake is deep and the dropoffs are sharp. Stick to the structure and you will find some nice schools of walleyes.
For more information, call Delany's Sports at (218) 732-4281.
LAKE CARLOS One of the bigger basins on the Alexandria Chain of Lakes, Lake Carlos provides a lot of options for the anglers chasing walleyes. There are plenty of points covered with sand and grass, some bulrush beds, a few nice sunken islands, and where the cabbage and milfoil are well established, anglers will find a productive weedline.
Carlos is not a prime candidate for the live-bait rig. There are loads of 12- to 14-inch largemouth bass that are everywhere, not to mention sunfish that will hop on any leech or night crawler that you set in front of them.
For the shallower water consider casting or trolling a perch or fire-tiger crankbait. Perch are a prime forage in these lakes, and walleyes will fall for a lure that matches the hatch.
In the deeper water, where it's tough to get a crankbait down that far, you can't beat a 1/2-ounce jig with a small sucker minnow or a large fathead. With the jig you are using a vertical presentation over walleyes you have found on the sonar. These fish can be tight to bottom or suspended up a few feet. You will likely have to work for the walleyes that are holding close to the structure. Those suspended a few feet off the bottom will be more than willing to bite. In some cases those fish that are suspending deep will be largemouth bass. If that's the case, keep searching.
For more information, call Christopherson's Bait at (320) 763-3255.
FARM ISLAND LAKE Farm Island is a pretty little lake. Not many anglers make it past Mille Lacs to launch their boats in Farm Island. That's their loss.
If you set up a trolling run, you are going to catch a lot of fish. They'll be northern pike. The lake has a bunch of hammerhandles in the cabbage and along the weedline.
If you set up a live-bait rig and drag a leech over the rubble and sand, prepare for a bunch of bites, mostly rock bass. There are a bunch of "rockys" in Farm Island, and I must admi
t, they are fun to catch.
If you want to catch some walleyes, get out on the sunken islands in the middle of the lake and use a bottom-bouncer with a spinnered snell with a big fathead minnow. Use a No. 4 or No. 5 blade, and stack about a half-dozen beads between the clevis and a No. 2 hook.
You want to keep this rig in about 15 to 22 feet of water. Move the boat just fast enough to get the blade spinning and keep the 3/4- to 1-ounce bottom-bouncer about a foot off the bottom. With this rig you still might catch a few pike and rock bass, but you will also catch plenty of walleyes, too.
For more information, call Aitkin Bait and Tackle at (218) 927-1933.
WOMAN LAKE Woman Lake used to be one of the finer muskie lakes in Minnesota. It's not up to that designation anymore, but this is one body of water that steps up to the plate when it comes to fine walleye fishing.
The bottom of Woman Lake can be described as erratic. Scraggly-edged points, sharp inside turns - there's hardly a straight edge on any contour in this lake. And the walleyes seem to like this a lot.
A productive technique on Woman Lake is the live-bait rig. In the summer months you can't beat a rig with a leech or night crawler worked on an inside turn or the tip of a point in 15 to 25 feet of water.
In the spring and fall if you cast jigs and minnows up to the shallows of the long, shallow point that extends from the north-central shoreline almost to the south shoreline you will find a lot of walleyes willing to bite. In the spring, you want to drag a jig off the west side where it tapers slowly. In the fall, drag a jig off the east side where it drops off fast.
For more information, call the Mule Lake Store at (218) 682-2549.
LAKE OSAKIS The popularity of Lake Osakis with walleye anglers is high, and this might be why the walleyes are getting a little tougher to come by. But the lake still cranks out a lot of fish and it's fun to tackle the structure there.
Those walleyes that used to hang around the bulrush in the spring are getting hounded by anglers that discovered a slip-bobber and leech could fool them easily. Now it seems like the best spring spots are the shallow sand, and rubble points and bars that extend off the shoreline. Anglers are working these early-season walleyes with a jig-and-minnow.
As the fish transition to the deeper structure, most anglers tie on a live-bait rig and backtroll the 15- to 18-foot contour lines. This works well, but it's the anglers who put a lot of distance between the hook and sinker that are getting the best results. Last season, a late June trip had us putting 12 to 14 feet between the weight and bait to get those walleyes to bite. The bait still rides near bottom, it's just that the sinker doesn't spook the fish.
There are a lot of community spots on Osakis, but they always seem to be productive. Just remember that the walleyes on this lake do get some pressure, so keep your presentation perfect and use lively bait.
For more information, call Osakis Bait at (320) 859-4647.
LITTLE MCDONALD LAKE Most anglers find Little McDonald Lake tough to fish. It's deep and clear with little midlake structure and sparse shoreline vegetation, so the walleyes will often take to suspending when they settle into their summer pattern. Suspended walleyes can be tough to catch for most anglers who don't know how to target them.
Otter Tail County
Fortunately, Little McDonald does have a few spots on the west side where anglers who must chase walleyes that relate to structure can set up a live-bait rig and follow some inside turns and points.
For those who want to become adept at fishing suspended walleyes or have already mastered the art, then the sharp-dropping bottom that leaves those fish out in the open will provide a perfect underwater landscape for them.
Take it for granted that the schools of fish that show up on your sonar are walleyes hovering right above the thermocline. A perch-colored crankbait, while seemingly an odd choice for suspended fish, seems to work extremely well on the suspended walleyes in Little McDonald. Just make sure the lure runs deep enough.
For more information, call Gene's Sport Shop at (218) 346-3355.
LOTUS LAKE There are three basins to Lotus Lake, yet it's not quite 250 acres in size. There is a lot of milfoil in the lake, a few lily pads and no midlake structure. If you live in the metro area and like catching walleyes on small lakes with no structure, then Lotus is perfect for you.
The best technique on Lotus is a bottom-bouncer and spinner rig with a night crawler harness. You don't even have to start your big motor. What I do is drop the boat in, park the trailer, push off from the dock and drop the bow-mount electric motor. Using my bow-mount electric on a medium-high speed I troll along the 18- to 20-foot depth contour. When you hit the saddles between the basins you get a little too shallow for this rig, so I switch to a crankbait for a short run. There are a lot of walleyes in Lotus considering its small size.
For more information, call Cabin Fever at (952) 443-2022.
LAKE JULIA Lake Julia is a little walleye jewel surrounded by some bigger walleye diamonds, so it's a lake that can tend to get ignored. Only 450 acres there's not a lot of midlake structure options, but there are enough sunken islands, inside turns and points to keep an angler busy for the better part of a day.
There is also a well-developed weedline on Julia, and even though anglers will find plenty of pike and rock bass there, it can also be a haven for walleyes, especially at night.
We all know that at night the walleyes that have been suspended or buried themselves under the heavy vegetation head toward the forage to feed. On Julia, the weedline is a good place to find those walleyes after the sun goes down. You can catch them dragging a live-bait rig with a jumbo leech that's swimming hard or a hardy fathead minnow.
When the sun is shining, a live-bait rig in the 17- to 22-foot range on the sand slopes of a sunken island or point can generate some bites.
For more information, call Bluewater Bait at (218) 444-2248.
BIG STONE LAKE Big Stone Lake is a troller's paradise. It's a big body of water, over 12,000 acres, but it doesn't get much deeper than 20 feet when water levels are stable. This lake is one we share with South Dakota where it
Big Stone County
splits the border, but there are a lot of walleyes in the lake so we don't mind being neighborly.
You can troll two lines per angler on Big Stone, so if there are a couple of people in the boat, you are going to need some trolling boards to spread the lures out.
On some days a spinner rig will be the most productive technique, while on other days it's a crankbait. I only know a few anglers who are capable of running both spinners and crankbaits effectively at the same time, so you may need to do some experimenting if you're not catching fish as fast as you think you should.
If there's one thing to remember when setting up for Big Stone it's that the walleyes tend to favor the bottom, so keep any lure you're using close to it. The water clarity is not that great either, so use blades or lures that create some flash and you'll have better luck.
For more information, call Bud's Bait at (320) 839-2480.
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When it comes down to picking a lake to fish that will provide consistent walleye action, there are a lot of anglers who think their best bet is one of the big lakes where the crowds can be found. In my book, your best bet is where you can find a lot of biting walleyes and have them all to yourself!
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