Most of us already have our own favorite place to go fishing for whatever trips our trigger. But if you want to have some fun while trying out new waters, point your vehicle in these directions. (February 2006)
Seven hours on the water, and all we had to show for our efforts were four small pike and one 3-pound largemouth bass. It was tough fishing. We tried everything, even trolling Spoonplugs. When I called another fishing buddy who had been out on the same lake that day, he told me of catching numerous big fish by casting deep-running crankbaits off the tips of points. Well, I guess we tried everything.
Even the best of lakes on decent fishing days can make you look bad if you miss finding that presentation that the fish seem to want. But it sure is fun testing all the methods! And when you do discover what's working, it always makes you feel like the master.
Hopefully this year you won't be disappointed, and all the lakes and rivers you fish will be producing on just what you thought those fish would want. If not, just remember that the big one is just the next cast away.
Why don't you have some fun by trying out new waters this year? We even did the research to save you some gas money!
Little Rock Lake
There are some lakes that just fish better in the winter months when covered with a heavy coating of ice than in summertime when the water is open. Benton County's Little Rock Lake north of Sartell is one of those waters.
There's a good population of walleyes and black crappies in Little Rock that are hard to find in the summer due to the shallow, turbid, algae-laden water. But come winter, these fish head to the deeper water in the center of the main basin and are easier to find -- and catch.
Big Fish Lake
The weeds grow deep in Big Fish Lake in Stearns County, and there are a lot of pike. This is the perfect combination for catching a lot of fish. A popular weedbed is right in the center of the lake, where 8 feet drops off on both sides to deeper water. Check the rulebook for the special regulations on pike for this lake.
The pike in Isanti County's Blue Lake tend to roam, but a good place to set some tip-ups is south of the narrows that lead into the smaller northern basin. Winter anglers have found that not only are the pike available in decent numbers, but there are some big ones in this lake. Don't let the lack of deep vegetation keep you from dropping a big sucker on any of those small humps. Big pike will be chasing small perch out there.
A lot of anglers search out perch in February in Minnesota, and Lake Bemidji provides just the right environment for quality fishing.
Rubble bars and reefs throughout the lake spread out anglers who find the jumbo perch more than willing to hit a small minnow dangled under a 1/4-ounce jigging spoon.
Crappie anglers on Nokay Lake in Crow Wing County tend to migrate toward the deep water on the northeast side of the lake, but that's going to leave a lot of untouched fish in the southern section. Drill some holes in 20 to 25 feet of water off the southern tip of the island and use your sonar to locate a school of suspended fish that aren't used to seeing a bait, and you will catch some big crappies there.
Grand Lake in Stearns County is a big bowl with little structure, so crappie anglers will have to take along some extra gas for the ice auger and stay on the move until they find some fish. But when the crappies are found -- and there's plenty of them -- they will often be two-to-the-pound and larger. It's worth the time it takes to find them.
Rice Lake could be described as a backwater of the Mississippi River as it migrates through the city of Brainerd. Fortunately, those backwaters get iced-up enough to give anglers in search of big bluegills access to some very productive water.
As in most river systems, the bluegill numbers don't reach high proportions, but in the winter months, expect those fish to congregate in the shallower vegetation. Don't be afraid to incorporate bigger lures and even crappie minnows to entice a bite from the big "bulls" down there.
There are so many places to chase perch on Winnibigoshish that anglers cannot get to all of them during the hardwater season. If an angler wants to find some high-quality fishing, then it's a matter of drilling over spots that haven't had any earlier ice-fishing pressure. Get out a map, a good GPS and work spots where there are no signs of previous fishing activity.
In March, crappie anglers head to Cass County's Birch Lake because they know these fish will be sliding up into 20 feet of water to stage in front of the bays where they will migrate when the ice is gone. There are a half-dozen of these prime locations, and a popular spot is in the deeper main basin just outside of the narrows into the shallower eastern basin. If you get there before this transition period, key on the deepest water around the island.
Finally some open water arrives in April, and anglers are pulling out all the stops to get to some productive crappie fishing. Cross Lake in Pine County provides a great early-season crappie fishery due to high numbers of both black and white crappies.
Just pick an end of the lake on this long, narrow body of water and set up with a slip-bobber and a minnow on a plain hook. Crappies can be anywhere from 2 down to 20 feet of water, so a little searching is in order.
Since the bluegills are not relating to the shallow cover in April, it requires an almost ice-fishing-like approach to target this species when the water opens up. Lakes like Stuart in Otter Tail County are perfect options because the bluegills are high in numbers there and they are nice-sized. Stick to water from 12 to 20 feet deep in front of what will soon become the big weedy flats on the south/southeast part of the lake.
Small and deep bodies of clear water, full of crappies -- that's what anglers need to feed their crappie cravings in April, and Mule Lake is a good one for that. You don't have to travel far from where you launch your boat to find some of the best crappie fishing on this Cass County lake.
Walleyes and pike are now fair game, but anglers heading to those textbook walleye lakes with all the structure might be disappointed. Instead, try out a shallow lake with
little structure and a lot of walleyes, and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
On Meeker County's Star Lake, tie on a 3/4-ounce bottom-bouncer with a night-crawler harness, and slow-troll the rig everywhere. There's no structure to speak of, so the walleyes can be found anywhere on this lake.
Lake Irving might be the redheaded stepchild of lakes due to its close proximity to some of the finest walleye lakes in the north, but from the opener into mid-June, this Beltrami County lake gets plenty of attention from the walleye anglers who know of its penchant for turning out bajillions of nice walleyes during this early-season open-water period.
There are two basins to Rabbit Lake, and each is completely different from the other. The eastern basin is extremely deep, with diverse structure and cover. The western basin is "classic walleye" in nature. There are many walleyes in both basins of this Crow Wing County lake, so if you want to be working reefs, sunken islands and early bulrush, this is a good choice.
A big, round, shallow bowl-shaped lake in Nobles County, Lake Okabena is a remarkable walleye lake in June.
Pick a milfoil-topped sunken island around Big Island on Lake Minnetonka and toss out a big floating piece of wood with some hooks attached to it, and you'll have a good chance of having a 40- to 50-inch muskie attack it. It's up to you to get the hooks set and get the fish landed.
The walleyes just follow the forage wherever it goes, thus making them the nomads of this southern hotspot.
Think crankbaits and bottom-bouncers as you slow-troll the open water, and when you do see your rod bend, toss out a marker or punch in the spot on the GPS. There'll be plenty more walleyes where that first one was found.
Grab a rod with a spinnerbait and head to Garfield Lake in Hubbard County. A deep weedline and some nice pike will greet you there. The water clarity is good, so white, chartreuse and lime green will all tempt those hungry pike.
There are so many pike in Carlton County's Big Lake that you can catch them on topwater lures, but it's just as much fun working the edge of the vegetation with spoons and in-line spinners. When was the last time you tied into a big pike with a Mepps or Vibrax? You can do that on Big Lake.
North Lida Lake
Buzzbaits in the bulrushes for smallmouth bass. It can't get any better than that, and July is the perfect time to be on North Lida Lake watching those bronze-backed battlers barreling after a buzzer on the edge of the reeds.
The entire west shore provides prime habitat for smallmouth bass. And whether you're twitching a topwater or flipping a jig, nothing quite compares to the fun you'll have on Otter Tail County's North Lida Lake chasing smallies.
Little Pine Lake
While you are in Otter Tail County, head over to Little Pine Lake and key on the points and inside turns, and you will catch a mess of walleyes. This is a backtroller's dream as you snake along in 18 to 25 feet of water with a live-bait rig and a leech. Night-fishing is a good option on Little Pine, with best results coming on a crankbait trolled in 12 to 15 feet.
Little Cormorant Lake
Take a 1/16-ounce jig, tip it with a small leech and drop it straight over the side of the boat into 12 to 14 feet of this Becker County water. Big bluegills hang along the edge of the vegetation and won't hesitate to inhale that bait. Expect the bigger fish to be in tight pockets, so keep moving until you find those respectable-sized fish.
Turtle River Lake
Special regulations on Turtle River Lake have meant you can't keep many of the pike you catch there, but that shouldn't stop you from taking advantage of the high numbers of this species.
This Beltrami County lake is a dandy spot to use a spinnerbait in the vegetation, and trollers will find the bottom contours easy to navigate.
Deep, clear lakes are not often associated with good largemouth bass fishing, but if you want to get into some real "hawgs," then give Otter Tail's Rose a try. The deeper basin rules out a lot of water, so bass anglers will find themselves in the southern arm where the vegetation provides some cover. Take along some topwater lures, since these bass are not well educated and will go stupid for a chugger on the surface.
Minnesota has a bunch of lakes named "Bass," but this bluegill beauty is in Itasca County. Forget the shallow water in the narrows and key on the deep weedline for big bluegills on this Bass Lake just north of Cohasset. You can keep only five 'gills due to special regulations, but why keep any when they're so fun to catch? Most bluegill anglers prefer the southern basin, but the deeper northern basin is just as good, maybe even better.
If you try to use a live-bait rig in Meeker County's Lake Stella for walleyes, you'll probably find that the panfish and bass won't leave you alone.
It seems they prefer that 18- to 23-foot depth range, too. Instead, you should tie on a deep-diving crankbait and troll at 2 to 2 1/2 mph. This may seem fast to some people, but it is well within the preferred range for the walleyes in this lake. There's a good population of nice walleyes that lends itself well to trollers.
There's nothing like a well-defined weedline to test your skills with a Carolina-rigged plastic worm on largemouth bass. You will find a lot of bass along the edge of the vegetation on Smith Lake in Douglas County, so set up a nice north-to-south drift along the eastern shoreline and have some fun with that plastic worm.
Bad Medicine Lake
Bad Medicine Lake is deep, clear and full of rainbow trout. They're great fighters and really put a strain on a medium/light spinning rig. In September, those trout will still be deep, so plan on using a 1/8-ounce jig tipped with a half a night crawler or a trio of wax worms. Vertical jigging over a group of fish on the sonar works well while performing a slow drift down a deep breakline.
In October, Wright County's Pleasant Lake is the place to be.
Walleyes will be spread out everywhere in the water column on Pleasant, but a great way to find some hungry fish is to troll the 20-foot breakline with a bottom-bouncer and a spinner rig tipped with a leech.
October signals the last month that bass anglers can count on an active bite. On Waverly Lake, the largemouth bass will be up shallow and tucked und
er the settled mats of milfoil. They can be encouraged to bite on a jig-and-trailer pitched into the pockets. This Wright County lake isn't far from Pleasant Lake, so you could enjoy an October doubleheader on the same day
North of Lake Winnibigoshish, you will find a big, round lake that is full of northern pike. Round Lake is a great place to be in October with a spinnerbait on a medium-weight rod. Cast to any of the cabbage beds that rim the lake and keep that lure right above the tops of the weeds. The pike will quickly show you how fond they are of your offering.
East Solomon Lake
While anglers tend to ignore the walleyes in this shallow, featureless Kandiyohi County lake all summer long, come November they once again become a target.
The tough summer bite turns into a real walleye feeding frenzy once the water cools and the vegetation settles. Troll the middle of the lake with a spinner rig or a crankbait and you will find 'eyes spread out in the open water.
Spinnerbaits may have been designed for bass anglers to get through hydrilla, but they work exceptionally well to catch pike in the cabbage on Mill Lake in Douglas County. There are plenty of northerns in the vegetation on Mill, and a white spinnerbait dodging through the stalks of cabbage will catch a boatload of them.
Pick a milfoil-topped sunken island around Big Island on Lake Minnetonka and toss out a big floating piece of wood with some hooks attached to it, and you'll have a good chance of having a 40- to 50-inch muskie attack it. It's up to you to get the hooks set and get the fish landed. Minnetonka has become a late-season muskie angler's paradise. Find out for yourself this fall.
A live-bait rig and a shiner minnow are all that's necessary to catch a bunch of walleyes on Rice Lake in Stearns County.
Of course, those walleyes can be anywhere from 10 to 35 feet deep, so you may have to work to find them, but once you do, count on some consistent action and nice-sized fish. At first-ice, the same spots will be your starting points.
There's a good crappie bite in December on the Fairmont Chain of Lakes in Martin County. Anglers who know this will slowly drift a slip-bobber and minnow over the deeper water right before ice-up. Keep in mind that "deep water" is a relative term on these lakes because they are shallow in nature without a lot of structure. But stick to the deepest areas of any of the three lakes and you'll likely find some nice slabs there.
Red Rock Lake
There are a lot of anglers who can't wait until the ice is thick enough to start chasing the big perch on Red Rock in Douglas County. During first-ice, stick to the structure around the island for your best results.