Fish always seem to be biting somewhere in the land of 10,000 lakes. Here are three dozen trips -- three a month -- sure to put fish on your stringer and a smile on your face.(February 2008).
It's nearly impossible to keep a fishing hotspot secret these days.
There are just too many avenues for anglers to get the word out, and with the introduction of Internet chat rooms, information passes at the speed of lightning.
Catch a mess of nice fish, tell a buddy or two about your success and the next day there are 10 boats on your spot. It's impossible not to brag about your good fortune, so the only option is staying one step ahead of the crowd. Here are some lakes, rivers and reservoirs to get you started on your quest.
Red Lake easily falls into one of the top three lakes in the state for winter walleyes. After commercial fishing devastated the walleye population a few years back, stocking by the Department of Natural Resources created a phenomenal fishery. However, stationary and portable shelters litter the landscape on the section of the lake that is open to anglers, so it may be best to take a snowmobile or ATV to get away from the crowds. Always be careful of thin ice, though. A fish is not worth dying over.
There is no structure to speak of on Maple Lake, so walleyes wander over the bottom picking off any forage they happen upon. If your minnow-head tipped jigging spoon happens to attract one's attention, that bait will likely be eaten. Maple Lake's clear water makes it a good place to use an underwater camera to see fish outside the angle of your sonar.
Otter Tail County
Leaving the east shore access, head straight to the west-center part of the main basin. In the middle of the basin, an underwater point extends from a sunken island and that's where crappies like to suspend. Drill plenty of holes and let your sonar guide you to the fish.
It's hard to pinpoint crappies on a lake with a featureless bottom. Such is the case with Eagle Lake. Schools of meandering panfish may appear in one place one day, then somewhere else the next. However, there are plenty of big crappies in the lake, so anglers who drill holes and search with sonar will find fish. There are some nice walleyes in Eagle, too.
Crow Wing County
You can fish the big flat on the north end of the lake or work the tops and edges of the mid-lake reefs. You'll find pike in all these spots because there are numerous pike in this lake. While an occasional lunker is caught, prepare to catch plenty of 2- to 4-pounders. It's a great lake to try a heavier jigging rod and some flashy jigging spoons.
Eagles Nest Lake No.2
St. Louis County
Four Eagles Nest lakes are clustered east of Tower, but Eagles Nest No. 2 is easy to access and full of walleyes. The lake is far enough north that it only gets a limited amount of fishing pressure, so anglers towing portables with snowmobiles can have spots all to themselves.
Every March, a few hearty souls mush their dog sleds onto frozen Basswood Lake and hand drill holes and use dead smelt to tempt 15- to 20-pound pike. Sadly, this may be the final time if the DNR incorporates Basswood in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It's an experience that will be sorely missed, but you still have one more shot. Call Bill Slaughter at (218) 365-2650 to book a trip.
Smart anglers have discovered that spawning walleyes don't all arrive at the dam at one time. That's why you see boats spread up and down the river in March instead of piling up at Lock and Dam No. 4. Watch for current breaks along shorelines and eddies and inside the mouths of feeder creeks and backwater channels. Yes, the trusty jig-and-minnow is still the lure and bait of choice for early-season walleye fishing.
Catch late ice in early March and you will find crappies stacked up in front of the narrows leading from one basin to another or into a bay. Birch Lake has plenty of these spots and some big crappies hanging around late in the ice-fishing season.
Even with heavy fishing pressure, Lake Minnetonka keeps kicking out plenty of big crappies. Instead of joining the crowds in the bays, try the docks just outside of those popular backwater areas. They can be extremely productive just after ice-out.
Lone Lake bluegills will still be deep in April, but you can find them with your sonar. Fish them like you're still presenting your bait through an ice hole for the best results. Wax worms on tiny jigs are still the ticket.
Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods County
There's still ice in the Northwest Angle in April, and if it's thick enough to walk on, you can find outstanding big perch fishing. Actually, these perch aren't just big -- they're huge because they're left alone most of the year, so April is the perfect time to chase them.
Winnibigoshish is developing a reputation as the best opening-day lake in the state. You can slip into the Cutfoot Sioux and find some transitioning walleyes willing to bite. Or, you can hit sunken islands and reefs at midlake and find willing post-spawn walleyes. Pitching a jig to points is also a great presentation. There's not much that won't work on Winni on the opener.
It's deep, it's clear and it should be a poor choice for an opener, but there are plenty of walleyes in Pleasant Lake. Work minnows deep for an hour or two after the sun goes down. There are many 2-pounders swimming around to make this a pleasant experience.
Mille Lacs Lake
Mille Lacs/Aitkin Counties
If you want to find fish that fit the keeper slot you must get to Mille Lacs early because soon they will all be gone. Of course, the fishing will be outstanding at least until August when things slow down. May is a good time to visit this big lake if you want to take a few fish home.
Anglers have discovered there are some humongous bass in Lake Calhoun. Shadowed by the Minneapolis skyline, these anglers work spinnerbaits and plastic worms through the deep milfoil in search of largemouth bass that push the 22-inch mark and 5-pound range.
St. Croix River
Stillwater To Hastings
Wherever you find a current break or cover, you're likely to find smallmouth bass on this popular stretch of the St. Croix River. Boat docks in marinas as well as riprap walls along the banks attract these crayfish-eating black bass that hit like trucks, jump high and fight hard.
Drag a minnow on a live-bait rig over sand flats in 10 to 12 feet of water and you will be amazed by the size of yellow perch in this tremendous fishery. Cormorants are in check, walleyes have been stocked, and the perch are still big. Leech Lake is a great place to be in June.
White Bear Lake
Big northern pike in White Bear Lake move to the edge of the milfoil and feed voraciously around July 4. Troll medium-diving crankbaits along the edge of the vegetation to catch these huge pike before they move to deep water and disappear for the summer.
The smallmouth bass bite is hot on Vermilion in June. While you may be compelled to key on the numerous rockpiles in the lake, don't overlook the docks. Every dock on this huge lake has smallmouth bass hanging around them this time of year.
Toad Lake is a troller's lake with a nice smoothly contoured weedline that attracts fish, including walleyes. Set up a run in 10 feet of water with a crankbait that strains the 8-foot range. Move deeper until you find the depth the walleyes prefer and you have solved the Toad Lake trolling pattern.
August spells dog days for plenty of lakes in Minnesota, unless you're chasing carp or catfish. Channel cats were stocked in Peltier Lake and have become a popular species to chase in August when none of the other metro lakes are producing. There's a boat landing in the park, but if you don't mind sharing space on one of the fishing piers, the shore-fishing is good as well.
St. Louis County
Bulrush, cabbage, coontail, curly-leaf pondweed -- you can't find this stuff anymore in metro lakes, so you must travel north to chase largemouth bass in "classic" vegetation. You may bounce spinnerbaits off stalks of growth in Caribou Lake or rip a lipless crankbait past the fish that are hiding in it. You'll find some big bass that like these presentations on this beautiful lake near Duluth.
Lake George has an abundant population of northern pike, but the big ones are rare. So, take a medium-light rod, tie on a small white spinnerbait and have fun catching plenty of fish on light tackle.
Lac qui Parle
Lac qui Parle County
Watch as Canada geese fly overhead, and then hear shots ring in the distance. To bag a batch of big Lac qui Parle walleyes, it's a matter of tying on a long, narrow crankbait that dives to about 8 feet, then slowly trolling in an "S" pattern until you connect with a fish. Keep a marker buoy at hand and when you feel a bite, toss out the marker so you can run through that spot until the aggressive fish are caught.
You can't talk about one without mentioning the other because Coon-Sandwick lakes are two interconnected basins in Scenic State Park.
You're fishing for pike with every intention of releasing your catch because the lake has special regulations and it would be a waste not to release these big fish.
Otter Tail County
Huge flats of bulrush and cabbage make Blanche a largemouth bass paradise, especially when the water is calm. It's times like that when anglers can bust the surface with a topwater lure and catch some big bass.
All smart muskie anglers are on the water in October. They know the fish of a thousand casts is now the pike that's willing to bite. Cedar Lake in Aitkin County produces numerous huge muskies but hasn't received much attention yet. Topwater lures and slow retrieved plastics work well in October.
Winnibigoshish is developing a reputation as the best opening-day lake in the state. You can slip into the Cutfoot Sioux and find some transitioning walleyes
willing to bite. Or, you can hit
the midlake sunken islands and reefs and find some willing
The muskellunge is native to Lake Bemidji, but recent stocking provides the reason for outstanding muskie fishing on this lake. Don't be surprised if you see a lure tester from Northland Tackle tossing a big bionic bucktail in the cabbage. Those guys use any excuse to chase huge muskies on this lake.
If you look at the state record for largemouth bass, you'll notice it was caught in October, as was the previous record holder. With this kind of pattern, it might not be too hard to predict when the next record largemouth will be caught. The tough factor to predict is where. My prediction is Turtle Lake where there are some bass that could push that record.
Does anyone fish in November? Too many hunting seasons open all at once? Well, if you want to catch big walleyes, check out the rice beds in Leech Lake. Tullibees are nearing the end of the spawn, pike are fat and happy and walleyes are slurping up the remnants. Cast crankbaits into this cover during low light to catch some huge fish.
North Center Lake
Northern pike are attracted to shallow vegetation, so this may be the best time to take a shot at a big one in open water. North Center Lake has the necessary ingredients to produce great November pike fishing. Slow retrieves with big crankbaits works well.
Two Inlets Lake
Two Inlets is a great trolling lake and this is a good time to slow-troll shad-shaped crankbaits for walleyes along the shallow breaklin
es. The walleyes are bunching up again now, so work a spot thoroughly when you get a bite.
First ice on Moose Lake means working the humps near shore with a shiny jigging spoon tipped with maggots. Maggots? You bet. It's a Dave Genz trick where he threads three to five maggots on each hook and jigs hot and heavy until he sees a walleye swim up to the bait. Then just quiver the jig until the fish hits.
Big Portage Lake
Avid ice-angler Brian Brosdahl said you can't let shallow lakes fool you. They can be loaded with big crappies. Work the edge of remnant vegetation on Big Portage Lake with a Rattlin' Flyer spoon tipped with a plastic tail. Yes, companies are designing plastic tails for ice-fishing and "Bro" said Big Portage crappies love them.
During the early-ice period, perch favor shallow structure. Anywhere there is dense vegetation there will be perch nearby. On Bowstring Lake, big perch are found at early ice near Muskrat Bay on the eastern shore and the edge of vegetation on the south shore.
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