Trophy Bass Lakes in Minnesota

Are you tired of catching dinky largemouth and smallmouth bass all the time? You can dance with the big gals on these waters.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Tim Lesmeister

While I stood there watching the weigh-in I thought to myself that the bass these guys think of as average, we up in Minnesota think of as trophies. I was watching a bass fishing tournament in Eufaula, Ala., and some 7- to 9-pound bass had been caught and brought to the scales. When I asked the anglers who caught the fish if they thought these were trophies, they said "no." A trophy to them is over 10 pounds.

That goes to show that trophy status is relative to where you live. My biggest Minnesota largemouth was caught on a metro lake and the fish weighed 6.3 pounds. I released this fish, but in my mind it was a trophy, and the anglers who were with me stated they, too, felt this was a true trophy bass. The biggest smallmouth I have ever caught was a 6.5-pounder on Mille Lacs. That's a good one anywhere.

The state-record largemouth bass is an 8-pound, 12.75-ounce fish that was caught from Lake Tetonka in Le Sueur County. The state-record smallmouth is 8 pounds and was caught in West Battle Lake in Otter Tail County. If global warming ever catches up to Minnesota, then maybe those records will be broken. This would have to happen because the weather is what keeps Minnesota bass from hitting that 10-pound mark.

The problem, of course, is the fact that largemouth and smallmouth bass don't get the benefit of a year-round growing season like they do in the southern United States. With only half as much time to grow, the bass in Minnesota are lucky to hit the 6-pound mark. So when you do land a bass over 6 pounds in Minnesota, you can rest assured that everyone who knows anything about bass fishing in this state will know you landed a true trophy.

Not every lake in Minnesota is known for producing trophy bass. As a matter of fact, few lakes are capable of consistently turning out high numbers of huge fish. The conditions must be right.

Look at the Alexandria Chain of Lakes, for example. This chain produces some 50- to 60-fish outings, but they are all 2- to 3-pounders that look like they came from the same mold. One or two big fish a week get caught, but the majority are average-sized.

Now look at the metro area's Lake Minnetonka. You may not catch 10 fish in one outing, but half of what you do catch will be fish over 4 pounds. It's taking a 5-pound average to win a tournament on that lake these days.

Biologists will tell you it's all part of the ecosystem, and lakes that have a good prey/predator relationship do well. But who cares what causes the lakes to produce monster bass? The bottom line is they're there and you can catch them because of the numbers of big fish present. When you gamble, you like high odds. When you're fishing for a trophy fish, you want to be on a lake where the number of big fish is high. It ups your odds.

Everyone already knows about the phenomenal big-bass fishing on Minnetonka for largemouths, and the monster smallmouths that await a hook on Mille Lacs. Let's look at a few more.

St. Louis County
Bill Slaughter and I park at The Chainsaw Sisters on Mudro Lake and drop in a canoe. We make a few portages and wind down the Horse River to the big waterfall that signals we've reached Crooked Lake. It's a long day's journey over many portages we've sworn we'd never cross again due to their difficulty, but after a few months you forget the agony and pencil the trip onto the calendar once again. Not only can you find nonstop walleye action on Crooked Lake, but the monster smallmouth bass are there as well.

I'm always casting crankbaits to the points and swimming jigs tipped with plastic grubs over the rockpiles. Slaughter likes to vertical jig with a minnow or leech. He often outfishes me 2-to-1 and always catches the biggest fish of the trip. You just can't beat real meat for bites.

Slaughter always puts us into some current when he's targeting smallmouth bass. There are some channels between the big basins of Crooked Lake where the water moves through pretty fast, creating some strong current. Slaughter uses a rock for an anchor and positions the canoe so that it's right on the edge of the current. We fish where there is some slack water and eddies right next to some moving water.

If your jig is getting swung off the bottom by the current, you're too far into the moving water. You want to be in the slow-moving current. Use a jig that's heavy enough to keep the bait near the bottom. We often use jigs up to 1/2 ounce.

The big bass stack up in these locations and you can have a field day pulling in one after another.

For more information, contact Northwoods Guiding Service at (218) 365-2650.

Cass County
Back in 1989, a major bass tournament was held on Leech Lake and this event showcased just how awesome the lake is for trophy largemouth bass. Even today the big lake receives hardly any pressure for this species.

The big bass in Leech hang in the vegetation in the big bays. Much of this is in the form of rice beds, which you must be careful around. You want to keep your boat on the outside edge of the rice and not motor through this harvestable crop. There's plenty of coontail and cabbage beds, and if you're careful the rice can be navigated and fished properly.

The best way to nail these big bass in Leech Lake is with topwater spoons, floating frogs and shallow-running spinnerbaits.

On a lake like Leech the reason the bass population has advanced to the state it's in is that fishing pressure is light and harvest is almost non-existent. Practice catch-and-release with the bass in this lake to maintain the healthy trophy fishery that exists.

For more information, contact Reeds Sporting Goods at (218) 547-1505.

St. Louis County
There's a smallmouth hiding behind every big rock on Lake Vermilion, and chances are good it's a 5-pounder. Another great place to target the huge smallmouth bass on this lake is on the docks. Shoreline development has picked up in the past few years and more docks are being constructed. The smallmouths are migrating to these docks to pick off the forage that is attracted to structure.

Many anglers are using a jig-worm method to target the smallmouths on the docks. The rockpiles are getting hammered with crankbaits, as

well as the jig-crawfish combination.

For more information, visit the Vermilion Web site, located at

Scott County
The largemouth bass in Prior Lake, much like those in Minnetonka, are getting bigger. Blame it on the milfoil. On lakes that have milfoil, it seems the bass are gaining on the average size. That sure is the case on Prior, where an eight-fish tournament there recently took slightly over 40 pounds to win. That's a 5-pound average, and many of the competitors were pushing that mark.

The big fish are coming from the deep transition lines: a point that tapers into 25 feet of water and ends on a cobblestone bed, a sand line in 22 feet of water that butts up against a rockpile, sparse strands of grass protruding from between the boulders. Spots like these are getting bombed with barrel-headed jigs tipped with plastic crawfish bodies and slowly dragged along to look like the real thing. The big bass are falling for the pseudo-crayfish and getting caught in good numbers.

For more information, call MK Fishing at (952) 447-6096.

Cass County
The special regulations on Portage Lake, just north of Ten Mile near Hackensack, have been in effect for eight years. The restrictions require anglers to release all largemouth and smallmouth bass immediately after they are caught. It just goes to show how much the size of the fish can be attributed to angler harvest.

Each year the bass caught on Portage keep getting bigger. I was on an excursion to Ten Mile Lake five years ago when someone informed me of the great bass fishing on Portage Lake. I've stopped off every year since.

It's a deep lake with bulrush, cabbage and coontail. The center of the lake is deep and the water is very clear.

Get on the water as the sun begins to rise. Make long casts to the emerging vegetation with floating shallow-diving crankbaits. Twitch the baits to the boat and make another long cast. It's quite a bit of fun to watch those big largemouths and the occasional smallmouth crush those baits.

For more information, contact Swanson's Bait and Tackle at (218) 675-6176.

Douglas County
While the Alexandria Chain may be the place to go for a lot of bass, check out Lake Mary for the big gals. Lake Mary has a lot of shoreline development in the form of resorts and summer cabins, but the docks don't harbor many big largemouths. The big bass tend to hang in the cabbage beds in deeper water.

It's a great lake to work a spinnerbait. Use a 1/2-ounce lure with a big Colorado blade that you can cast to the edge of the vegetation and let flutter to the bottom. You will be surprised how many fish hit the lure as it drops. The technique is called the slow roll and what you do is let the lure sink to the bottom and then begin a slow retrieve to the boat. You're trying to keep the lure near the bottom.

Another great presentation for big Lake Mary bass is to visit the bulrush beds between the basins during low light. Cast topwaters to the emergent vegetation and have some real fun.

For more information, contact the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-235-9441 or visit their Web site, at

Chisago County
I ran into Jim Severson on Chisago Lake, where he was fishing for largemouth bass. Severson is the current champion of the Minnesota Pro-Am Bass Tour. I asked him where the big fish were that day and he said they were deep. That's kind of interesting when you consider that the deepest part of this lake is not quite 30 feet. How deep?

"Oh, about 15 feet," said Severson. "That's pretty deep to me."

Severson claims to have picked up a jig 15 years ago and never put it down. He loves to pitch into the woodpiles and heavy vegetation around the shoreline. When the big fish go deep in Chisago, he casts his jig parallel to the breakline and hops and drags it along the bottom.

"There's some big fish in Chisago," Severson said. "Lots of them, too. It's one of my favorites when it comes to catching lots of big bass."

For more information, contact Frankies Bait at (651) 257-6334.

Le Sueur County
It's been awhile since I've had the pleasure of chasing largemouth bass on Lake Washington. It was a great bass lake when I was there a few years ago. My fishing buddy Danny Suggs was fortunate to fish a club tournament there last year and told me the big fish are there in abundance.

He started out working the edge of the bulrush on the northeast side with a topwater chugger and moved deeper tossing a spinnerbait. He hooked into a couple of 4-pounders with the big-bladed spinnerbait.

From the spinnerbait he moved out to the weed edge near the narrows between the eastern and western basins and cast a rattling lipless crankbait. This is one of Danny's favorite big-bass baits. He nailed a couple between 3 and 4 pounds. When I talked to him the day after the tournament he raved about the huge largemouths in the lake and claimed to have lost one, through no fault of his own, that was over 5 pounds.

For more information, contact The Bobber Shop at (507) 625-8228.

St. Louis County
You have to work for the smallmouths you catch on Lake Kabetogama, but the ones you do get will be big.

The best time to target the bass on this big lake is after the spawn. From late June until mid-October the bass will be stationed on their favorite haunts and you can get them with a short-bodied deep-diving crankbait or a jig with a plastic crawfish body. If you tip the jig with a leech, your odds go up even more.

There are a lot of clustered islands on Kabetogama. Between the islands you will find stands of bulrush surrounded by cabbage separated by ribbons of sand and boulder-strewn bottom regions. Sounds like a smallmouth paradise, and it is.

Start shallow in the vegetation and work into the deeper water. The big smallies on Kabetogama move from differing depths depending on the weather. If the weather has been stable, the bass will be shallower. A cold front pushes them deep and makes it tough to get them to open their mouth. That's when the leech on the jig will give you a little edge.

For more information, visit the Kabetogama Web site, located at

Kandiyohi County
I discovered Green Lake a number of years ago when the Minnesota Bass Federation was hosting a Governor's Bass Opener. I got to fish the lake with Dave Sheffield and we had a ball with the smallmouth bass there. I liked the lake so much I make a couple of trips there each year. It amazes me to have this big structure-laden lake in a part of our state that has mainly smaller, shallower bodies of water. The lake really stands out in that respect.

Parts of the shoreline are sandy with big rocks strewn about. With a good pair of polarized glasses you can spot those dark spots next to the rocks. Cast a plastic-tipped jig past the rock and drag it past. Those big smallmouths will swim up and follow the jig for a while and either suck it up or turn and swim away. If the bass doesn't pick up the lure, burn a rattling crankbait past their nose, which should trigger a bite.

The midlake reefs and sunken islands will hold smallmouth bass, but this is the realm of the walleye anglers and many of those smallies have been plucked from the deeper water with live-bait rigs. There are plenty of bass in the shallows, so target them there.

For more information, call Mel's Sport Shop at (320) 796-2421.

* * *
So if you're tired of catching just dinky largemouths and smallmouths, go where the big gals swim!

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