Want to tangle with a freshwater monster, like a Minnesota muskie? Then try your luck at one of these locations. And make it soon!
Why do we love the muskellunge so much in Minnesota? Let me count the ways.
One, they are a top-rung predator with vicious teeth, a big mean streak, and the ability to make your heart go pitter-pat and your knees shake when you see a “follow,” watch a fish roll, get a hit or, Lord help us, hook one!
Two, they are a Minnesota original — a true native fish with bloodlines from right here that go back to the ice ages and time immemorial.
Three, I would offer up this thought on Minnesota muskie: In many ways, a muskie is more “Minnesotan” than a walleye! Poppycock, you say? Think about all the places walleyes are found across North America. Then consider Minnesota’s position as one of the few places anywhere with plenty of muskies to catch. We can claim defendable status as the country’s — maybe even the continent’s — top muskie state or province.
And that leads us to No. 4. Big, classic muskie lakes such as Lake of the Woods, Mille Lacs, Leech, Cass, Vermilion and Minnetonka lead the way in telling our state’s muskie story. That’s for sure. But there are more than 100 other smaller waters around Minnesota where you can hunt for muskies — and catch them! These managed waters are great for muskie fishing.
That’s all good news. And it gets down to what we’re about here today: exploring some of those “other” places you might drop in a boat this summer or fall and go muskie hunting. Let’s take a look at 10 lakes off the beaten path but with muskies — and sometimes some very large ones — to catch.
Covering 1,094 acres, Big Wolf is located in southeastern Beltrami County about 10 miles east of Bemidji and 38 miles northeast of Park Rapids. There is a DNR-owned public access on the west side of the lake, just off County Road 25.
Big Wolf won’t bite you when it comes to muskie fishing. It is one of several connected lakes joined via the Mississippi and Turtle rivers that comprise the Cass Lake chain of lakes.
Here’s what makes Big Wolf a reputable muskie water: It’s linked to Lake Andrusia as well as the Cass lakes, all of which are proven muskie factories but with more fishing pressure. Big Wolf harbors good submergent and emergent plant growth, which helps muskies hide, hunt and prosper. Start by working the drops off the lake’s main point that comes off the west side, the bar just east of there, and the weedbeds around the north end where the Mississippi River enters and exits.
Lake Oscar is a shallow but productive 1,191-acre muskie fishery located just west of Holmes City in southwestern Douglas County. A small public access is located on the north shoreline, off Highway 27. Parking space is limited so get there early.
Oscar could be your next new best muskie friend. It is one of the three Glenwood area lakes supporting a muskellunge fishery. Fingerlings are stocked regularly, which keeps muskie populations in the “good” to “very good” range, as does an excellent catch-and-release ethic here.
This isn’t a “volume” muskie lake by any means, but it is a quality fishery, to be sure. And that’s what muskie hunters are most interested in. The most recent spring population assessment produced an average muskie size of 42 inches, with an average weight of 19.6 pounds. One like that is worth the trip! Muskies pushing 50 inches have been caught and released here.
MOOSE & LITTLE MOOSE LAKES
Moose Lake is a lovely northwoods lake located in Itaska County five miles northeast of Deer River. There are three public accesses, offering ample opportunity to launch a boat. The outlet of Little Moose (which has a small public access on the lake’s east side) flows into Moose Lake, which then flows into the Deer River and eventually to the Mississippi River.
No bull, these are a couple of hidden muskie gems. At 1,274 acres, Moose Lake is just that perfect muskie spread — certainly not big, yet not too small, for good fishing. Little Moose is harder to get to, and you may have to fish it from a carry-in boat or canoe if your boat has a deep hull. That’s because the access is merely earthen, but this little 288-acre waterbody can harbor some gargantuan muskies, such as a 47-incher that showed up in the latest test net pulls.
The secret? Nice habitat in Moose, and the connection to Little Moose, with confirmed migration of fish between the two lakes — especially for good-sized fish traveling out of the bigger lake and into the smaller one.
On bowl-like Little Moose, work the vegetation and weedline following the shoreline. On Moose, there are four to five nice mid-lake bars topping out at 8 to 10 feet; work these reef tabletops in low light or cloudy and choppy conditions, and probe off the humps’ edges, deeper down, during midday under sunny conditions.
To find 755-acre Crescent Lake, head north of Tofte on the Sawbill Trail, and then go north and east on Forest Road 165. There is a small DNR access on the northwest shore.
Cook up some muskie fun in this little Cook County secret. Crescent isn’t for trophy muskies. Rather, it’s all about the experience, and catching some Minnesota natives! Here’s the story. Muskellunge were introduced in Crescent Lake in the late 1970s, and have reproduced on their own ever since. The muskie stocked in Crescent Lake were Minnesota’s unique Shoepack-strain fish, which have limited potential for producing large specimens. Very few large fish have ever been seen or reported from Crescent Lake — or any other lake in Cook County for that matter. But numbers are good there, including a few tiger muskies in the lake. Northern pike numbers have been low since muskellunge became established. If you just want to catch a muskie — let’s say a 30-incher, and a handsome one at that — this is a great place to do it. Plus, it’s a beautiful, wilderness lake with multiple islands to work and to admire.
You can find 951-acre Fox Lake two miles northwest of Welcome. A DNR access is on the southeast shore. There are two concrete ramps and 28 vehicle/trailer parking spaces.
Fox is a great place to outfox a muskie, in southwestern Minnesota no less. A long-term muskie study on Fox identified very good numbers of fish in the lake, and some nice ones too. Population estimates from the 3-year study put the population number of muskies greater than 30 inches somewhere at about 1 per every 4 or so acres in Fox Lake. That’s good in muskie terms.
Many large muskies were present in the lake. The average length of males and females was 40 inches and 44 inches respectively, with an overall average of 41 inches. The minimum length of males and females was 35 and 37 inches respectively. The maximum length of males and females was 43 inches. A 50-incher is going to come from the lake soon, and is probably swimming in those prairie waters right now.
Many Point is in Becker County between Waubun and Ponsford. There is a small boat ramp off Whaley’s Road on the southwest shore of the 1,737-acre lake.
Get to the Point and discover a new muskie haven. Muskellunge were first introduced in Many Point in 2006. Folks wanted a second muskie lake in the Detroit Lakes area. Detroit itself is the only other area lake stocked regularly with muskies. Many Point annually gets 565 muskellunge fingerlings. After 10-plus years, a decent population is establishing itself, along with good fish resulting from the time to grow. Water quality is excellent, and this is a gorgeous lake to be on. Work the points of course; it’s Many Point Lake! And look for the bars that rise in mid-lake and after the drops off most points.
Three Rivers Park District maintains a Class 1 access on this lake. From Medina, go south of Highway 5 on County Road 19. There are two concrete ramps with ample parking if you don’t go on a weekend afternoon.
Get independent and sample the muskie fishing in the metro area. Close to the Cities, practically right in their shadows, and as an alternative to sprawling Lake Minnetonka, 832-acre Lake Independence is a great go-to metro area lake for a quick morning or evening jaunt. And there are some good muskies there.
The most recent lake survey netted muskies up to 47 inches. Good numbers of fish in the 30-inch length swim there too. Fish Independence at “off” times — early morning is best — to avoid the heavy recreational boat traffic. If you get a cloudy, rainy day though, when the pleasure boaters stay inside, you can work the lake just fine all day.
Island Lake is in northern Pine County, so you could make a day-trip there from the metro area. Head 5.5 miles northeast of the town of Sturgeon Lake and you’ll find a good concrete DNR access on the southwest shore.
This is an island of muskie heaven in Pine County! The lake is fairly well developed with homes, but water quality remains quite good. That helps the muskie population. Muskellunge numbers are rated “only” fair to good, but it’s the big-fish potential that is exciting.
Island has been managed for muskies since the 1990s, and quality fish are available. In the most recent sampling, for example, three-fourths of the specimens exceeded 40 inches in length, and plenty of muskies over 50 inches have been caught, and continue to swim there.
Baby Lake’s access is located 8 miles east of Hackensack on Cass County Road 5, then a mile north on Woodrow Township Road 22. There is a good concrete ramp with eight vehicle/trailer parking spaces and a dock serving the lake’s 737 acres.
Oh baby, this lake is packed with muskies! It’s true. In muskellunge terms, the lake is stuffed full of them: 2.9 muskies per acre, to be exact, and that’s of 30-inch-plus fish, to be exact!
In the lake’s latest spring assessment survey, muskellunge were specifically targeted. Lengths of fish caught ranged from 17 to 45 inches, with catch-rates above the long-term goal for Baby Lake. Water quality is excellent, with more than 11 miles of beautiful shoreline.
The lake has good structure. Pay particular attention to the drops around the reefs, and several bars that rise out of the depths. Baby gets down to 69 feet and has good water clarity, so you’ll find decent weed growth down to about 16 feet; those deep weed edges are prime fishing spots.
Are you ready for another summer and fall of Minnesota muskie hunting mania? Give the big, classic waters their due, and their time. But when you’re looking for some new adventures, try one of these insider hotpots. Maybe you’ll hunt up your next muskie — and find your newest favorite muskie hole.