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Metro-Area Largemouths

Metro-Area Largemouths

Despite suburban sprawl in the Twin Cities metro area, there's great fishing for largemouth bass. So trailer up the boat and come along for some awesome action.

By Noel Vick

Land changes hands, trees are cleared, concrete is poured and buildings go up. It goes like that every day in the land of suburban development.

Nonetheless, the Twin Cities metropolitan area is a largemouth bass hotbed. It is widely recognized that metro bass fishing is better today than it was 10 years ago, maybe the best it has ever been.

Why? First of all, our lakes are aging, which is beneficial to bass. These warmwater fishes prosper in fertile and heavily weeded lakes. Speaking of weeds, the introduction of milfoil - although hated by naturalists and pleasure boaters - has undoubtedly been a boon to bass. Within the thickets of vegetation, fish find sanctuary, shade, food and oxygen. And despite the overall damaging environmental impacts, run-off and seepage inject nutrients that augment a lake's fertility. Good for bass and panfish proliferation, but not for walleyes.

The seven-country metro area is loaded with prized bass fisheries. You might even be surprised at a few of the entries on this roll call.

Karl Kleman hoists a hefty Lake Minnetonka largemouth bass. Photo by Noel Vick

Hennepin County
It's hard to mention one of these lakes without the other, mainly because they're connected. Both are fully urbanized, too, cast in the glow of Minneapolis' cultured uptown area. Gas motors aren't allowed on the lakes, and electric motors are allowed by permit only. But most importantly, both Calhoun and Isles have some real lunker largemouths.

"Six-pounders are nothing," says professional bass angler Scott Bonnema. "I've seen them over 7, too."


Despite their connection, Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles are worlds apart in constitution. Calhoun, at 401 acres, is relatively deep, tumbling to 82 feet, and has a lot of deep structure. At only 109 acres, Lake of the Isles is markedly smaller, not to mention shallower, getting down to only 25 feet. And because of their individualities, Bonnema attacks them differently.

"By midsummer, Calhoun's weedlines are on fire," says Bonnema. "A pretty distinct weed edge sets up in 10 to 18 feet of water. It rims most of the lake, and there are bass all over it."

The vegetation varies from milfoil to coontail and is very thick in areas.

"Normally, I jump on the deep weedline around the yacht club (north end) and just work my way around," says Bonnema. "But there does seem to be more fish along the north and east shores, as well as around the channel."

His approach consists of two tactics: worming and cranking. In the search mode and in late summer/early fall, Bonnema opens with a crankbait. When he's operating well outside the weedline, Bonnema hurls a Rapala DT-16, which dives to 16 feet; when he's closer to shore, Bonnema throws a DT-10, which dives to 10 feet. Bonnema's bread-and-butter presentation, though, is a 7 1/2-inch plum-colored Berkley Power Worm, which he rigs Texas style. It's universally wicked on bass and mandatory on Calhoun.

The shallower, sloppier surroundings of Lake of the Isles are a different animal. Here, Bonnema finds pockets in the milfoil, as well as edges, and focuses on 8 to 10 feet. The islands are particularly bountiful, as is the mouth area leading into Calhoun.

On Isles, Bonnema use a black/blue Northland Jungle Jig, which he complements with a 5-inch smoke-colored grub. He launches it at an opening, lifts slightly, flutters it and leads the jig to another clearing. Bonnema says hits are fierce.

As a backup, Bonnema recommends gliding into Cedar Lake, which is also linked via a waterway. Cedar is less traveled but known for its titans.

To obtain more information and maps before visiting the City of Lakes, call the Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association at 1-888-676-6757 or go online to

Chisago County
Catch-and-release practices conserve fisheries. Mandatory release puts a firewall between fish and frying pans. This turns ordinary lakes into superstars. Such is the case with 873-acre Chisago Lake and its twin, 450-acre South Lindstrom Lake.

"The fish instantly got bigger," Bonnema asserts, speaking about the five-year-running regulation that prohibits the harvest of bass 12 inches and longer. "It's both a volume and a size thing. Fifty- to 100-fish days are common, and with a 3-pound average. Five- and 6-pounders aren't rare either."

In the summer on South Lindstrom, Bonnema keys on rock humps and bars in 8 to 15 feet. The beach area is surprisingly good. And according to Bonnema, numerous other "hard" spots exist and most are bass magnets.

He assaults hard spots with a jig, but not a commonplace one. Bonnema casts a football-shaped jig called a Roll'r Jig with a Storm Rattle Skirt'n Twin Tail Grub attached. Rocking and surging along the bottom, the jellyfish-looking bait won't be lonesome for long.

To supplement the jig, Bonnema tosses crankbaits into 17 to 20 feet of water. Oftentimes, such casts and subsequent catches get the ball rolling.

Throttling south and west through the narrows into Chisago Lake, Bonnema continues his quest for firm floors.

"There are a fair number of deep rockpiles on Chisago, too, and they definitely hold fish, especially ones in that 12- to 14-foot range," he says. "Chisago also has a pretty good weedline bite. I really like weeded points and inside turns in about 10 feet of water."

To catch bass from those weed edges he flings a jig-worm, a 6-inch smoke or motor oil Storm Rattle Ribbon Tail Worm to be exact. But in the early morning as well as at dusk, he finds it more profitable to throw buzzbaits across weeded flats and amongst shoreline timber.

Learn more about the Chisago Chain by contacting the Greater Chisago Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce at (651) 257-1177 or

Hennepin County
All right, so we're bouncing around. West, then east, now back to the west. Directio

ns, and rules for that matter, don't matter much when Minnetonka is in the room. This is the crème de la crème of largemouth lairs, bar none, and auspiciously, it's located in the gullet of the western suburbs.

Bonnema is intimately familiar with Minnetonka's 14,000-some acres. Each season, he competes in several tournaments on its greenish- to brownish-hued surface.

During the summer months, when fertility is high, Bonnema plumbs 'Tonka with a jig-and-pig, which is, in his estimation, the ultimate utensil for tunneling through milfoil. He goes heavy, too, fastening up a 3/4- or 7/8-ounce crawfish- or pumpkin-colored Northland Jungle Jig. To complete the presentation, a 5-inch green or pumpkin soft-plastic craw is affixed.

Once outfitted, Bonnema flips the milfoil, converging on mats that hover over hard bottoms in 8 to 10 feet. Bass can be thick in those groves, too.

"In a hotbed, I might catch five fish in five flips," he says. "And those bass combined can easily weigh up to 20 pounds."

The clumpiest clumps are best, says Bonnema. They simply hold more and bigger fish. Oftentimes, he locates the densest milfoil, which might not rise to the surface, by finding trails of "rip weed" strewn about. Whether the fragments of floating milfoil are created by fish or anglers, rip weeds mark fish.

Despite their effectiveness, jigs aren't the only legitimate milfoil armament. Bonnema will tear a crankbait through it, creating his own field of debris. The lure, in spite of efforts to function weed-free, will get hung up, but that's OK because bass frequently attack a lure that's struggling in the stems.

Honestly, Minnetonka is so fortified with fish that you won't need pinpointed spots. But having said that, Bonnema does favor areas, or rather bays. He's keen on Spring Park Bay, Wayzata Bay and Crystal Bay. In essence, Bonnema has a penchant for the "clean-water areas" of the main lake.

In closing the door on Minnetonka, Bonnema does want to mention the shallow bite. In the morning and evening, he'll churgle buzzbaits across weedflats. Moreover, during the same time frame, 'Tonka's docks - which are often massive - can give up a few fish, too. Bonnema seeks docks that provide the most shade, are the least active, are surrounded with weeds and have decent depth, like 4 feet and more.

Tournament angler Karl Kleman, a Minnetonka veteran as well, gives us his two cents' worth, too. In no particular order, he identifies Spring Park Bay, Hardscrabble Point, Emerald Lake, Black Lake and the flats surrounding the Arcola Bridge as places for catching numerous largemouth bass.

Contact the Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce for lodging information: (952) 471-0768 or

Scott County
Kleman's knowledge of metro bass doesn't stop with Minnetonka either. The tournament circuit has led him to Prior Lake, and after having sampled its goods, Kleman is smitten.

In his last outing on Prior, Kleman and a cohort caught 75 bass that weighed in at minimum 3 pounds apiece. Their eight-fish bag, in fact, scaled in at just over 30 pounds. Amazingly, too, that hefty total only put them in a mere fifth place.

Tournament or no tournament, Kleman suggests bombarding Prior with crankbaits, jig-and-pig combos and Carolina rigs. Cranking is for searching and making quick work of rambling weedflats. Focusing on depths of 6 to 12 feet, Kleman fires 200 Series Bandit crankbaits at the hardiest cabbage available. If fish are present but not annihilating the lure, he slows down and drags a Carolina rig.

Jigs are reserved for deep milfoil patches, the 12- to 14-foot band. From sunrise until around 10 a.m., Kleman yo-yos a black-and-blue jig and twin-tailed grub amidst the nastiest greenery at hand.

The dreaded midday lull is siesta time for many anglers, but not cool-handed Kleman. No, instead of napping, he plows deeper, probing for deep weedlines and rockpiles in 15 to 30 feet of water. This is mongo bass territory, but not always the easiest to dissect. Recently, though, Kleman has worked miracles with a drop-shot rig. His kit is founded on a bell-sinker and he serves 3- and 4-inch plastics on Mustad hooks.

Mike Kurvers, proprietor of MK Fishing in Prior Lake, (952) 447-6096), also appreciates Prior. "In my mind, Prior is the best bass lake in the state," Kurvers claims unabashedly. It's tough to dispute him, too, considering the bulkiness of the bags hooked in tournament play. Just last summer, one team registered an eight-fish bag that weighed 40 pounds, and another around 38 pounds.

Kurvers says finding fish is simply a matter of getting on a weedline and going. On Lower Prior - the northern section - the outside weedline appears in 11 to 13 feet. Due to greater staining, Upper Prior's foliage stops at only 4 to 8 feet of water.

Rocks also get high marks from Kurvers. He likes picking apart rock structure in 12 to 25 feet, particularly when vegetation is involved. Basically, he puts the wood to bass in what would be considered textbook walleye country.

Kurvers' tools of choice are dark-colored crankbaits and All-Terrain Jigs, in addition to Texas-rigged worms when peppering a weedline. Crankbaits get the nod in the presence of rocks, and also do an admirable job of shredding milfoil.

You can explore lodging alternatives by contacting the Prior Lake Chamber of Commerce at (952) 440-1000 or

Ramsey County
"It's a mini-Minnetonka," says bass fanatic Pat Smith. Smith, a right-hand man at Thorne Brothers Fishing Specialties in Fridley (763-572-3782), describes 2,416-acre White Bear as a "clean lake with a great outside weedline, good hard spots, plenty of milfoil, and it has docks and emerging vegetation worth investigating."

By day, he hits the weedline, which occurs in approximately 17 feet of water. Smith does so with a multifaceted approach, too, employing jig-worms, deep-diving Storm Wiggle Warts, the Rapala DT series, the Salmo No. 8 deep diver, and a jig-and-pig. In the mornings and evenings, he might also twitch a stick bait like a Rapala Husky Jerk. Smith says that suspended bass are frequently overlooked.

White Bear's northern section features several firm-floored "bald spots" amongst the milfoil. Smith is keen on these. Fear not depth either, because he encounters both largemouths and smallmouths all the way down to 25 feet. And those fish can be dandies, too, sometimes carrying 5 to 6 pounds of padding.

To investigate the possibilities of lodging near the lake, contact the White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce at (651) 429-8593 or

Hennepin County
This sweetie also lies inside the walls of Hennepin County, but in a far more provincial setting. And you'll need a boat, too, because shoreline access is limited.

Smith portrays 574-acre Sarah as a "long and skinny lake where you can fish everything from shallow stumps to deep weedlines."

Given a choice, though, he hedges shallow and gets busy on the surface. Right away, Smith motors across from the access to Stony Point and its contiguous lily pad pasture. Here, Scum Frogs and buzzbaits can take a real beating.

He favors weedflats on the east side of the midlake "bowtie" and jigs the humps to the northwest, too. But if that's slow, happy-go-lucky Smith operates deep on the contours of opposing Woodlawn and Woodhill points.

Smith says that Sarah is blessed with big fish, yet it doesn't see the pounding like nearby Independence and not-too-far-away Minnetonka. Lake Rebecca, another non-motorized Hennepin County pond, also teems with bass, as does Carver County's Zumbra Lake and Lake Minnewashta, which Smith keeps in his back pocket.

To fish and lodge on the western edge of town, contact the Northwest Suburban Chamber of Commerce at (763) 420-3242 or on the Web at

* * *
So don't let all the traffic and concrete keep you from the metro's great fishing for largemouth bass!

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