The best day to fish is any day you can go — simple as that! We are fortunate that good fishing opportunities abound here in Minnesota and can be enjoyed 12 months of the year. You just have to figure out the best direction to point the truck.
With that in mind, we’ve selected three of the finest options for each month of the year, with spots that are scattered throughout the state and provide chances to target a variety of fish species. Now you just need to block out some days to get out there!
Lake Winnibigoshish Yellow Perch
When the new year delivers a full dose of winter, and the walleye bite gets tough in many places, the perch bite at Lake Winnibigoshish typically is just hitting full stride. Fast action is the main attraction at Winnie, but that doesn’t mean the fish are small.
Perch of all sizes come from this big lake, and that includes some genuine jumbos. The perch tend to group up by size, so if you’re catching all little ones, consider moving to another spot. If you don’t find more, you can always return.
Winnie is very well served by resorts, so while you certainly can opt for a do-it-yourself approach, rental houses allow you to go straight to a spot where the perch have been biting, along with providing a good option if you don’t own a portable shelter, augers, heaters and such. If you do go on your own, ask a few questions about general areas and depths the perch have been using when you buy bait. Winnibigoshish is a big lake, and the perch move a lot.
Southeast Minnesota Brown Trout
A regulations change that went into effect in 2015 opened all trout waters in eight southeastern Minnesota counties to winter catch-and-release fishing, creating a winter alternative to ice-fishing. Previously, only select streams in the region had been open for this kind of opportunity, and those streams were very popular, with anglers enjoying good success.
Multiple state parks and other public lands offer outstanding public access to several streams in this part of the state. Depending on the specific stream you choose, species might include brown, rainbow and brook trout. Winter trout fishing calls for slow presentations, usually with nymphs or micro jigs fished close to the bottom, and the best bite occurs in the middle of the day.
Of course, that’s also the most bearable time to be standing knee-deep in a Minnesota stream in the middle of the winter!
The streams remain open for catch-and-release fishing until the beginning of the harvest season in late April.
Lake Melissa Crappies
With the general season closed for walleyes, bass and pike, March is panfishing time for most Minnesota ice-anglers, and the final month or so of good ice typically offers some of the best fishing of the year. At Lake Melissa, a 1,850-acre lake in the Detroit Lakes region that traditionally has been popular for catching bluegills, black crappies have become the main attraction.
The most recent sampling work done by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources produced a higher than normal number of crappies, with an impressive average size of 9 inches, but ice-fishermen fairly routinely catch extra-large crappies from this fine fishng lake.
Crappies make heavy use of numerous holes in Lake Melissa’s main basin. Generally speaking, at the beginning of March they’ll be deep in the holes, and as the month progresses, they’ll work their way up the slopes. Pick one of those holes and drill several ice-holes around it at a range of depths, and you should be able to find the crappies. When you do start catching fish, drill more holes in the same general area at the same depth. A GPS with lake mapping isn’t critical, but it helps a great deal for pattering and finding fish and repeating the pattern.
Rainy River Walleyes
For starters it’s important to note that the special early walleye season on the Rainy River stays open only through April 14. The opportunity is too good to not highlight, though, especially given the number of other fisheries that are closed all of April or that may fall into that troublesome zone between safe ice and open-water fishing.
Early fishing on the Rainy River ranks among the finest opportunities anywhere, anytime, to catch genuine trophy walleyes. Big fish congregate in the river at that time and are there for anglers who are willing to brave the elements and dodge ice chunks drifting down the river. The best strategy is to drift through deep areas with moderate current and work a jig-minnow combination along the bottom.
The limit during the early season is two fish, with a 19.5-inch maximum size. Be aware that a Canada fishing license and remote border crossing clearance are required for crossing to the Canadian side of the river.
Cass Lake Walleyes
May brings the walleye opener — the most celebrated event in Minnesota fishing — so it doesn’t make sense to highlight any other species as a top pick. In truth, there are dozens of places where you can go and find good fishing when walleye season opens, and your own best choice might depend on where you live in the state.
We’ve chosen Cass Lake, a traditionally fine lake for early walleyes, because the fishery is currently in excellent shape, with a really nice mix of size classes. A high number of “eater-sized” walleyes provide a fine opportunity for fast action and fish to take home, but the lake holds enough large walleyes that any given fish that bites could turn out to be a really big one. Cass Lake also has a sufficiently complex lakebed that fishing is apt to be good somewhere on the lake whether opening day is like spring or if it feels like pure winter.
Expect plenty of company on opening weekend. If you can stand to wait a couple of days and can shake away from work on a weekday, you can cut crowds substantially by fishing the first weekdays following opening day.
Mille Lacs Smallmouths
Although Mille Lacs is best known for its walleyes, anyone who has ever fished this big lake knows that it harbors a tremendous population of chunky smallmouth bass. Unlike the walleyes, which experience major population swings, heavyweight smallmouths remain plentiful year after year at Mille Lacs.
June clearly ranks as one of the best times to target Mille Lacs smallmouths as the fish tend to stack up around shallow reefs and rockpiles, many of which are near the lake’s perimeter. Various soft-plastic offerings will produce Mille Lacs smallmouths, but it’s tough to beat the effectiveness of swimming a grub close to the rocks or dragging a tube along the bottom.
If the fish are home and willing to bite, they’ll typically reveal themselves pretty quickly, so keep moving until you find them.
Boundary Waters Northern Pike
With summer fully in place, July is a fabulous month to leave the big water behind and pay a visit to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to enjoy a bit of quiet, spectacular scenery and outstanding fishing action. Trip possibilities range from simple day outings on the most accessible waters to multi-day excursions way back in the bush — even into Canada’s Quetico Wilderness. Several outfitters in Ely can provide as much planning help and gear as you need.
Whatever route you choose, keep the fishing simple. Carry only a rod or two and modest selection of lures and cast to shoreline cover or visible reefs. We’re officially highlighting pike, because they are super plentiful in most lakes and serve up predictably fast action. Depending on the day and route, though, you’re also quite likely to find fast action on fish from walleyes to smallmouth bass.
Red River Channel Catfish
It’s not that often that your best option for fishing happens to be the best place in the world for a particular species, but when you’re talking about channel catfish and the Red River of the North, this legitimately is the case. Nowhere else produces more “fish of a lifetime” channel cats year after year. August is prime time to tap into some most outstanding catfishing action.
Carry a few different types of bait and let the cats reveal their daily preference. Do likewise with spots. Deep areas that have some flow but are out of the strongest current tend to produce well, but at times the fish stack up near a certain type of cover, in the heads of holes or in other specific types of locations. Move fairly frequently if you don’t get bit, and pay attention to details when you do.
The Red River is a large, complex fishery. If you’re visiting for the first time, consider hiring a guide. For more information, visit redrivercatfish.com.
Lake Bemidji Muskellunge
Cooling fall weather tends to activate muskies, improving your odds of catching that elusive “fish of 10,000 casts.” The other way to increase chances of hooking up is to pick the right waters. Of course, Lake Bemidji is not necessarily a numbers lake. Instead it attracts muskie enthusiasts because it produces several 50-inch-plus muskellunge every year.
Traditional sampling techniques don’t effectively produce many muskies, so Minnesota DNR biologists rely on angler reports for muskie assessments, but those reports consistently point to Lake Bemidji as an excellent lake for large fish.
Trolling and casting each have their advantages. Trolling allows you to cover a lot of water and keep your baits in the water and working all of the time. More fish move shallower and tighter to cover during the fall, though, and casting allows you to work baits in places where you simply cannot put them by trolling.
Lake Bemidji also supports an impressive northern pike fishery, with lower numbers than the statewide average for similar lakes but larger average size. What that means is that big pike are apt to keep things interesting between muskie bites.
Woman Lake Walleyes
Woman Lake, which covers 5,500 acres in Cass County, supports a walleye population that the DNR describes as “robust.” Fairly recent good spawns produced high numbers of fish that now are a nice size for fun catching and for bringing home, but the population also includes a nice mix of larger walleyes. Woman Lake tends to produce a very good fall bite, making it an excellent October walleye destination.
During the fall, the walleyes move onto shallow points to feed, allowing for good jig-pitching action. Tip a jig with a minnow or a crawler, cast it up onto shallow ends of points and work it down the slopes. When fish bite, pay attention to the depth, the bottom makeup and other details, and seek to repeat that as you work your way around the shore.
Northern Minnesota Northern Pike
We know. Even in the far northern reaches of the state, fishable ice won’t form until near the end of the month. It will come, though, and as much as so many anglers anticipate “first ice,” a good argument can be made that the beginning of the ice season is the most important fishing occurrence of November.
While many anglers wait for the reports of good ice-fishing conditions on big Northcountry lakes like Upper Red and Winnie, the fact is that dozens (maybe hundreds) of little lakes that are scattered through state forest and national forest land in the northern part of the state freeze before most bigger waters and serve up outstanding fishing.
Specific lakes depend on where the least snow falls during the coldest snaps, so you have to do some online research or visit a couple of bait shops to discover good early-season lakes.
Northern pike provide some of the best early prospects because fish are in shallow weedbeds when the ice first forms and they’ll feed aggressively on large offerings.
FiN Lakes Panfish
FiN stands for Fishing in Neighborhoods, and if you live anywhere near the Twin Cities, this program represents a wealth of fishing opportunities close to home. A DNR program, FiN enhances fishery quality and access and provides useful information about waterways in a seven-county Metro area, including many small lakes in parks. The FiN page on the DNR Web site includes practical information about dozens of waterways, including annual ice-fishing selections.
The lakes generally are small, and so most lend themselves to short walk-in type outings with simple gear. Because bluegills provide such fine fishing for families throughout the year, many of the lakes are managed to provide enhanced bluegill opportunities.
Beyond bluegills, many of the same lakes hold plentiful northern pike, black crappies, walleyes and largemouth bass, allowing for fun days catching multiple species.