February 10, 2011
There are an amazing number of fish and fishing locations around our state. Here are some of the ones that deserve your attention this year.
By Tim Lesmeister
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Last year, the fishing was as good as it gets for anglers all across the state of Minnesota. Here's hoping we have another 12 months of phenomenal fishing!
Sylvan Lake, Cass County
There is a five-fish limit in place on crappies and bluegills on Sylvan Lake, so there are plenty of fish for anglers to pursue -- and some quite nice-sized ones as well. Anglers will find the bulk of the fishing pressure in the deep water on the edge of the sunken island on the east basin and in the deep holes on the west basin. Both of those areas are generally productive throughout the entire winter.
White Iron Lake, St. Louis County
It would seem that all the best walleye lakes have slot limits and White Iron is no exception. Walleyes from 17 to 26 inches must be released, and only one over 26 inches can be kept. But there are plenty of walleyes 16 inches and smaller that can be found cruising the sand and rubble bottom. Plan on drilling lots of holes and keep moving until you connect with a school of 16-inchers.
Lake Sybil, Otter Tail County
The big bluegills like to hang on the well-defined weedline on Sybil. There are a few inside turns on the edge of the vegetation, but most of the weedline is straight and easy to find with a sonar.
Lake Minnewashta, Carver County
Fish the edge of the milfoil at the tip of the big flat to the south of the west boat ramp. Big bluegills bunch up there and don't hesitate to inhale a wax worm on a small jigging spoon. The north bay is a good spot to drill some holes for sunnies on this lake.
Lake Sallie, Becker County
On Lake Sallie all pike greater than 24 inches must be released. This has created a fishery where big pike exist and they do bite well in the winter. Consider it a fun day of fishing instead of the start of a fish fry and you'll enjoy a pike outing on Sallie.
Lake George, Anoka County
Start drilling holes in 16 feet of water on the inside turn on the west side and follow that contour in either direction. Big bluegills love this deep weedline and when you find them you'll be impressed with their size.
Ruth Lake, Crow Wing County
As the sun peeks over the horizon in the morning you want to be on the north side of the rockpile in about 12 feet of water to find some of the 10- to 12-inch perch. As the sun rises, keep moving into deeper water toward the inside turn to stay on them. Jigging spoons with minnow heads catch the big perch in this lake.
Sugar Lake, Cass County
The crappies head for the deep holes in March and there are a few good options on Sugar Lake. It's worth heading into the southwest bay and drilling over that 30-foot hole, but also plan on hitting that saddle between the islands.
Elephant Lake, St. Louis County
The crappies are roamers on Elephant Lake so drill plenty of holes and use flashy spoons to get their attention. There is plenty of water more than 20 feet deep on the east side of the lake to concentrate your search.
Stuart Lake, Otter Tail County
Right after the ice goes out the crappies will move quickly into the shallow water and hug that bulrush. Get in there with a bobber and minnow and have some fun. If you're looking for big crappies this early, fish the steeper breaklines in 15 to 20 feet of water and you'll find some suspended 1-pounders.
Blanche Lake, Otter Tail County
The bluegills in Blanche Lake tend to hang in the deeper water for a while after ice-out. That's typical of bigger fish, and the bluegills in Blanche are nice sized. Stick to the structure in the mid-depths, which consists of slightly sharper breaklines in 15 to 20 feet of water, and you'll catch some respectable-sized fish.
Gun Lake, Aitkin County
There's a big shallow bay on the northeast corner of Gun Lake that the crappies begin migrating to right after ice-out. By the end of April these fish are stacked up pretty thick in the shallow water, but there always are some nice ones hanging just outside the narrows that lead into this bay.
Lake Bemidji, Beltrami County
Lake Bemidji has been opening well the past few years, probably because there are plenty of walleyes to go around in this lake. There are big sand flats where the smaller males roam, and some steep dropoffs where the females can slip off to the deep edge and sit happily. Decide if you want to play the numbers game or set your sights on some big ones before you dictate your game plan.
Lake Kabetogama, St. Louis and Koochiching Counties
The governor opened on this lake in 2010 and the fishing was outstanding. Once anglers realized the walleyes were on the deepwater rockpiles they were bending poles and wishing they had more leeches.
Lake Pimushe, Beltrami County
The limit for sunfish on Pimushe has been set at five fish, but the limit on crappies is 10. For the crappies in May, drift a jig tipped with a minnow in 12 to 20 feet of water. Look for those fish that have migrated out of the shallow bays and are now suspended on the breaklines.
Lake Mille Lacs, Aitkin/Mille Lacs Counties
It is the walleye peak and Mille Lacs provides the vehicle to take advantage of the great fishing. Lots of varying structural elements allow anglers to pursue their favorite walleye techniques and everything works. On windy days work the shallow rocks and rubble; on calm days head out to the mud flats and gravel bars.
Lake Koronis, Stearns County
The smallmouth bass must like their home because of the sand, rock and boulder-bottomed areas that are prevalent on Koronis. On calm days, topwater lures work fine, but when there is a little chop on the water, switch to a lipless, rattlin' crankbait. A lot of walleye anglers pick up smallies on leeches on their live-bait rigs, and so that's an option too.
Lake Le Homme Dieu, Douglas County
Part of the Alexandria Chain of Lakes, Le Homme Dieu has an outstanding reputation as being the premier bass lake in the chain. Largemouth bass can slide out of deep water to chase forage around the shallow bulrush and then slip back to their sanctuary in deeper water. Start shallow and work deeper, targeting the aggressive fish first.
Lake Minnetonka, Hennepin County
Lake Minnetonka has a great reputation for largemouth bass, so anglers new to the lake think every inch of that deep weedline must be holding fish. But in July those bass tuck under that milfoil and you have to drag them out with heavy jigs tipped with scented plastic trailers. Get good at flipping jigs and you can capitalize on some huge largemouths on this lake.
Lake Harriet, Hennepin County
Walleyes love the weedline on Lake Harriet, which extends into about 15 feet of water. Drag a live-bait rig with a short snell weighted with a bottom-bouncer in 16 to 20 feet of water. Any weeds you connect with will get knocked over by the bottom-bouncer. Small sucker minnows are the best bait because panfish will pester the night crawlers and leeches. Harriet regulations do not allow gas motors, but there is a great boat landing if you're equipped with electric propulsion.
Clearwater Lake, Wright/Stearns Counties
With so much structure and great vegetation, Clearwater is a fun lake to explore with a technique that lets you cover some water. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits are great for that, but when the bite gets tough, pick a point and dig out the plastic worms.
Zumbro River, Olmsted County
When the rest of the state is in the middle of Dog Days the Zumbro River is cranking out smallmouth bass on every other cast. If you're not equipped for the trip on this canoe stretch, get hold of Bill Plantan at www.riverridgecustomcanoes and book a day trip with him. He knows the river like he owns it.
Echo Lake, St. Louis County
We think all lakes "up north" are structure-laden bodies of water full of walleyes. Echo Lake only has one of those features. At only 10 feet deep, the lake's walleye anglers are best off slow-trolling crankbaits and spinner rigs and picking off one here and one there. There are a lot of walleyes in this lake so that's a pretty simple task.
Big Marine Lake, Washington County
The weed-topped sunken islands hold a lot of bass in August on Big Marine. Sometimes you'll find them right in the middle of the shallow stuff and sometimes those big bass drop off the edge, but stick to the mid-lake structure and you'll land some big largemouths.
Lake of the Woods, Roseau/Lake of the Woods Counties
Plenty of anglers appreciate the bite kicking back into gear after the Dog Days, but it never slowed down on Lake of the Woods. The difference is that now you get to chase the walleyes with a lot less competition because the kids are back in school. Resorts are offering deals and the fishing is at its finest. What a great combination!
Lake Hubert, Cass County
If you like to eat largemouth bass don't go to Hubert. The regulations call for releasing all bass over 12 inches, and nearly all you catch there will beat that. Big flats on both the east and west sides of the 1,300-acre basin provide plenty of opportunity for anglers who like to fine-tune their presentation on fish that really bite.
Cutfoot Sioux, Itasca County
Walleyes start funneling into the Cutfoot Sioux from Winnibigoshish as the water gets cooler. Anglers can catch them by pitching jigs and minnows right to the edge of the cabbage and coontail, a technique taught to me by Fishing Hall of Fame Legendary Guide, Tom Neustrom.
Basswood Lake is in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and every year Bill Slaughter from Northwoods Guiding Service (www.elymnguide.com) and I take a trip in for Gators and Grouse. The gators are how we refer to the huge pike that are roaming the gravel near the cabbage where tullibees have set up to spawn. My favorite technique is throwing big, jointed crankbaits. Slaughter prefers the Johnson Silver Minnow.
Little Birch Lake, Todd County
Rock, rubble and sand are the spots to toss topwater lures for smallmouth bass. The season ended for harvesting smallmouths in mid-September, but you can fish catch-and-release for this species, and in October they are biting. Probably why the Minnesota DNR instituted catch-and-release only during that time.
Lake Washington, Meeker County
It doesn't grow deep but Eurasian milfoil does attract the walleyes in October. They like to hang about 10 to 30 feet out from this gooey vegetation. Target them with a spinner rig and minnow. There are lots of walleyes in Washington and they will be spread out all over in October, so don't spend too much time in one spot.
Leech Lake, Cass County
Open-water muskie anglers who know how good the November muskie fishing is on Leech Lake always pray for late ice-up. The huge muskies on Leech move up onto the cabbage beds and are sucking up tullibees and perch. A jerkbait or topwater that is twitched below the surface can generate a bone-crushing bite where just a few weeks earlier it may have been ignored. Practice your figure-eight for November's great muskie fishing on Leech.
Big Cormorant Lake, Becker County
The water will be so clear it looks like it came out of your tap, which means using an electric motor to navigate the shallows or fishing deeper. There are walleyes in both spots on Big Cormorant and a long-lined live bait rig with a redtail chub minnow will result in some healthy fish on the end of the line.
Big Lake, Carlton County
Keep the little ones. On lakes like Big Lake there are lots of 16- to 23-inch pike. Use a medium-light action rod and tie a small jig onto some fine-wire leader and tip it with a fathead minnow. Hop and pop the rig over the tops of the remnant vegetation and you'll catch a bunch of pike, nice eaters, and have a lot of fun.
Lake Winnibigoshish, Itasca/Cass Counties
Lake Winnibigoshish is still the king when it comes to catching jumbo perch on the ice. The past couple of years have seen some bigger perch caught, and the numbers of fish mean anglers can keep the action going all day long. Winnie is a great lake to incorporate the underwater camera into your program.
Cedar Lake, Rice County
Two basins, four islands and three deep spots. Where can I find some December crappies on Cedar? Work the edges of those deep holes. The sonar is your most important tool on the ice when searching that lake for crappies. They'll be suspended and easy to see on the flasher, so drill a bunch of holes and search for a while before dropping that first bait.
Big Sand Lake, Hubbard County
There is way too much structure on Big Sand Lake, but there are way too many walleyes to ignore it. The lake can be tough to fish in the summer months because the water is clear and the lake is deep. In the winter those walleyes suspend off the edge of the sunken islands and can be picked up on the sonar and targeted with the vertical jigging approach that all ice-anglers have mastered. Winter is the time to be on Big Sand.