Can an angler ask for a better situation than to be living in this state? But it's not as easy as throwing a dart at a map of Minnesota to pick out your next fishing destination.
Toss a dart at a map of Minnesota and your chances of hitting a productive body of water are about nine out of 10. Can an angler ask for a better situation than to be living in Minnesota, where the fishing is fantastic more often than not? Since no one is ever completely satisfied, the answer is no. Not even providing a list of some of the hottest lakes in our state can make most anglers happy, because they know there’s just not enough time to get to them all in one season.
But that won’t stop us from trying. Here’s a list that is often described as bittersweet. Sweet because it provides options and bitter when the amount of time one can spend chasing fish only allows a visit to a few of these destinations.
Lake Minnetonka, just west of the metro area, has been producing some huge walleyes from under the ice, and there have been a lot caught. The winter angler must key on the inside turns along the edge of the weedline in 17 to 21 feet of water.
The best times to be on the ice are early morning and evening, which is often the case when chasing walleyes.
Two good spots to get a feel for the type of structure to target are the point that runs from the beach out of Excelsior toward Big Island and the huge rock-topped reef in the middle of Browns Bay.
Little Sauk Lake
There are special regulations on Little Sauk Lake that limit the amount of bluegills an angler can keep. This means a high population of fish, and in the case of this lake, bigger bluegills. There’s very little structure in this lake, so key over the deep water and use a sonar to find those big bluegills that are suspended a few feet off the bottom.
By mid-January the ATVs are getting out to the mudflats, and anglers are catching many nice walleyes there. It’s a matter of tying on a 1/4-ounce jigging spoon and tipping it with a minnow head, and working this combination near the bottom. Mille Lacs is the perfect candidate for an underwater viewing camera. With the camera you can tell when you’re on hard bottom, soft bottom or near a transition line, and when the walleye hits the spoon, you can set the hook before you even feel the bite.
Big Stone Lake
The bluegills in Big Stone relate to the rockpiles there because there is so little vegetation. Anglers will also find that the bluegills reach a hefty size and put up a great fight under the ice.
Unlike some of the more popular lakes in Minnesota, anglers won’t be ahead of the game by trying to fish with the crowds, because the lake doesn’t get a lot of fishing pressure, which means some of the best rockpiles won’t have another angler on them.
Check with Bud’s Bait in Ortonville and find out where the best bite is happening and plan on using a map to venture out on your own.
The crappies in Lake Osakis are present in great numbers, and the fish are big. This is why the lake has plenty of friends in January when the north end gets crowded with anglers in search of this popular winter species.
Unlike lakes where the bluegill population is huge with a lot of stunted fish, on Knife Lake you might go a few minutes between bites when you’re on a school of fish. But the fish you catch will be big. In early February, work the edge of the vegetation with a tiny jig and wax worm. As the month progresses, the bluegills will move out to the deepest water, so look for them there.
Winnie is without a doubt the most prolific perch lake in the world. People from all over come to this popular winter destination to get into some of the finest jumbo perch fishing that can be found anywhere.
The best spots in March are where there hasn’t been any fishing pressure, so wherever there was a “city” of stationary shacks, consider that a spot where the odds are not going to be as good as the rubble reefs that have been left alone. The technique of the masters is a 1/4-ounce jigging spoon tipped with a minnow head.
There is very little summer pressure on Lake Ann in Carver County because of the electric-motor-only restriction. In the winter months, there are always a few portable houses sprinkled here and there, but for a metro lake, there are few anglers visiting. This means those big bluegills that hang near the edge of the milfoil near the deeper water are suckers for anything you put in front of them. The beauty of this is there are some nice-sized fish there.
Lake Minnewaska has a surface area of 7,000 acres, yet all the anglers chasing crappies seem to migrate to the 25-foot hole that intersects a rocky point on the northeast corner. There’s plenty of big crappies to go around, so join in with the crowds and have some fun.
Mississippi River At Winona
The Mississippi River upstream from Red Wing just below the dam always gets very crowded in April as the walleyes move upstream. Another option to consider is Winona. There are just as many walleyes stacking up at the apron of the dam, yet there are far fewer anglers.
It doesn’t seem to matter what section of the river you’re on during the late-winter spawning run. The jig-and-minnow is the technique of choice to put walleyes on the hook.
Where the creek comes into Waconia on the northwest corner of the lake is where the big black crappies stack up right after the ice goes out. You can’t miss the spot because
there will be a bunch of boats there. Don’t let the crowd scare you off; everyone is catching fish.
Prior Lake is the early-season crappie angler’s dream come true because those fish migrate early up into the back bays where the water has warmed and the baitfish are stacked up. While everyone else is waiting for the shallows to turn on in other lakes, Prior Lake is cooking.
For the walleye anglers that are used to fishing deep, clear structure-rich walleye lakes, Shetek will make you feel like you’ve landed on a different planet. Barely 12 feet deep at the maximum depth, Shetek has little structure to speak of, and yet the lake is full of walleyes.
Some anglers drift with bobbers, some drag live-bait rigs with long leaders and some cast or troll crankbaits. When you do find a school of fish, mark that spot and hang in there. On Shetek, where there’s one, there’s many.
Alexandria Chain of Lakes
Pick a lake on the Alex Chain in May and you will likely find some great walleye fishing there. There are weed-topped sunken islands on Darling, bulrush beds on Carlos, and long points and inside turns on Geneva. The chain may not be notorious for big fish, but there are a lot of walleyes there, and they love a leech around opening day.
Take a medium-light spinning rod, tie a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait to the line, find some freshly emerging vegetation in one of the back bays on Scott County’s Bay Lake and catch pike all day long. You won’t find a lot of huge fish in this lake, but there are tons of pike in the 2- to 4-pound range that can be fun to catch on light tackle.
Lower Cullen Lake
Some anglers feel they have at least two weeks to wait after the walleye opener before fishing really begins. These are the bass fishermen. And they love to fish shallow water with a lot of cover.
A favorite in the Nisswa area is Lower Cullen Lake because there is some bulrush rimming the shore, some cabbage sprouting on the edge of the reeds and some big bass ready to explode on a topwater or spinnerbait slithering over the surface of the water. It’s a clear lake, so make long casts.
Muskie anglers are always looking for “stupid” fish. For a while it was Mille Lacs, then it was Minnetonka. Soon it will be Rice County’s French Lake. Dumb muskies are those that are not yet conditioned by fishing pressure. These are the muskies that hit lures instead of following them to the boat. You can find these fish on French Lake, but you want to get there during the early part of the season before the water gets too dingy.
Emergent vegetation, submerged weedbeds, sunken islands, long points and inside turns as well as back bays, narrows and saddles can all be found by anglers on Lobster Lake. There are also a lot of big bass there that can be fooled in June by a spinnerbait slowly rolled over the fresh vegetation.
The beginning of July is when the big northern pike go on a feeding frenzy in the shallows before they head to the cooler water in the deep, dark depths. It’s a great time to take a medium-weight casting setup, tie on a spinnerbait, and work the cabbage and coontail in 5 to 15 feet of water. A great lake to do this on is Gull Lake near Bemidji.
Gull has a lot of pike in the 22- to 26-inch range, but occasionally you find one that falls into the 32- to 36-inch size. Your objective on Gull is to just go there and have fun catching a bunch of fish and hammer a few bigger pike before they disappear for the summer.
Everyone looks for walleyes on the hump on the west side of Wright County’s Lake Pulaski, but don’t rule out the deep weedline. The vegetation by mid-July is up and the walleyes like to lay about three feet from the base of that grass and pondweed. Use a live-bait rig and a fathead minnow, and follow the 14- to 16-foot contour.
South Twin Lake
It’s hard to believe you would go north for largemouth bass fishing, but many anglers are doing just that. It’s because the bass are becoming so plentiful in the north country and few anglers chase them. Such is definitely the case on Beltrami County’s South Twin Lake. There is some bulrush, cabbage, coontail and some well-defined sunken islands. All will have largemouths on it or near it. The water is clear, but the bass are not conditioned. On calm days a topwater really gets some explosive bites.
The smallmouth bass in Green Lake near Spicer are abundant. They are also big. This might be due to the special regulations that were implemented about eight years ago that didn’t allow any bass harvest.
That regulation has been modified, but at this time, anglers will find a lot of fish around the shoreline boulders and hovering over the rubble of the midlake structure. There’s not a lot of vegetation in the lake, but smallmouths like rock and there’s plenty of that.
Whitefish Chain of Lakes
When it comes to largemouth bass, anglers have a lot of options on the Whitefish Chain. Dock-fishing with jigs and twistertails is very popular. There are some satellite lakes, like Arrowhead, Bertha and Clamshell, that provide some nice slop. Some anglers like using deep-diving crankbaits on the dropoffs in the main basins.
South Ten Mile Lake
It seems that wherever there are smallmouth bass and a special regulation is implemented regarding harvest size, this species tends to flourish. That seems the case on South Ten Mile Lake. In August expect the smallies to be on the deeper edges of the rockpiles, but take advantage of the low light levels for some topwater action when the water is calm.
Bald Eagle Lake
Not only does Ramsey County’s Bald Eagle Lake have a good population of muskies, the structure in the l
ake is so diverse that it’s just great fun to fish there.
You can fish these huge muskies on rockpiles, sunken islands, narrow points and heavy vegetation. There’s hardly a straight contour on the bottom of this metro lake. The muskies only occasionally follow the lures. Much of the time they just hit them.
Lake Amelia in Pope County been getting some substantial fishing pressure the past few years because of its reputation as a productive little walleye lake. This may cause the fishing to taper into a more realistic mode in a few years, but there’s still some time to take advantage of the good fishing there. The walleyes congregate on the midlake structure. It’s easy to find.
Howard Lake is one of those great little pike lakes, 700 acres, where you just drop in the boat at the city park, lower the bow-mount electric motor and start fishing. The entire rim of the lake consists of vegetation that holds plenty of pike. Get there right before turnover and it will be fast and furious pike action. Expect a few nice fish to jump on the lure or bait.
It’s the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness waters on the Canadian border where the last bastion of huge pike hide.
It’s October when the tullibees head for the bays full of cabbage, where they spawn, and this brings in huge pike to feed. A large jointed crankbait retrieved just a few inches below the surface will generate some explosive action. If that’s not working, the Johnson Silver Minnow is the “never-fail” lure.
Oh, and take a shotgun along. Grouse season is open and there are always a lot of birds sunning themselves on the limestone peaks.
October is prime time to be chasing walleyes on a lake in southern Minnesota. The water has cooled and is clearer now that the algae has diminished. The walleyes seem to be in a feeding mood as well. A great technique for October walleyes on Madison is a light bottom-bouncer and spinner rig tipped with a minnow. Run the rig in 14 to 17 feet of water.
You can still catch some real nice bass in October on Chisago. Start shallow, tossing spinnerbaits in the center basin around the islands, and work deeper with jigs and then crankbaits. While some lakes get real stingy with bass in October, Chisago bass will still seem eager to bite.
November is a huge month for hunters, and that makes some people very happy.
The happy anglers are those who realize that the fishing can be tremendous right before and right after first ice forms. That’s when bodies of water like Isanti County’s Green Lake start cranking out walleyes. In open water, work the edge of the vegetation. If there is an early ice-up, you still stick to the weedline on this lake.
You need to have some fast action to stay warm when fishing a lake in November, and that’s why Spider Lake in Hubbard County fits the bill nicely. There are a lot of pike in the flats next to the deep-water basins, and now that the vegetation has backed off away from the surface, a slowly retrieved crankbait right over the tops of that laydown will generate quite a few commitments.
Cedar Lake just east of Annandale is deep and clear. The walleyes in November like to slide up on top of the saddle between the two basins before ice-up and hang there for about a week after first ice. A 20-foot breakline on the northeast corner should also get some attention from walleye anglers.
Drill some holes right in the middle of Hubbard County’s Grace Lake near the sunken island and drill some more toward the northeast closer to the deeper water. The water clarity in Grace is perfect for an underwater camera. Focus on the bottom, and if you spot some small perch, figure there might be some big walleyes cruising around in the vicinity.
The best spot to target bluegills on Grand Lake in Stearns County is on the weedflat on the southwest corner in about 10 to 12 feet of water. Just a waxie on a tiny jigging spoon will do it. The trick is to keep quiet on the ice. Too much stomping around spooks the fish.
Deep water near structural elements is what you need to find to score on crappies on Ely Lake. You won’t have to look far. This scenario is everywhere on this lake. So where to start? There are plenty of crappies in Ely, and many are nice-sized, so pick a spot, drill some holes and start fishing. It’s easy to be lucky on this lake when it comes to crappies on the ice. l
Find more about Minnesota fishing and hunting at: MinnesotaSportsmanMag.com/.