Some of Minnesota's lakes stand out above the rest for bass, pike or walleyes. But these 10 waters really shine when it comes to catching a mixed bag of our major game fish.
There are hotspots for bass, walleyes, panfish and other species that anglers target with a great deal of success. There's nothing wrong with a lake that is well known for only one type of fish, but if the bite is slow on that particular outing, you are out of luck. Luckily, there are numerous lakes around Minnesota that feature not one, not two, but three or more game species of fish in ample numbers, with some trophy potential.
Terry Tuma is a multi-species fishing guru from the Twin Cities who loves going after walleyes, bass, panfish and northern pike at different times for different reasons. He has his specialty lakes, of course, but he really loves fishing a body of water for bass or panfish one day and then returning the next to key in on the walleyes or northerns.
"A hydrographic map is a must before fishing, and you should also contact a local bait shop to determine what's biting so you can plan what species to pursue," Tuma said.
Once you've done this, the next step is to use the map and dissect the lake by choosing the specific locations that have the best potential for holding fish. Within those areas, determine where you are going to fish for a specific species of fish. "I used to fish lakes with the idea that I'd hit multiple spots for multiple species but what I found was that I lost a lot of time transitioning from one place to another," Tuma said.
He admits that he's caught walleyes while fishing for largemouths, but unless he can't keep the walleyes off his hook, Tuma sticks with his plan of fishing for largemouths that day. "Not only am I learning more about the lake but now I have a spot to begin fishing when I come back to go after walleyes," he said.
The biggest mistake anglers make when fishing these lakes is going where everybody else seems to be fishing. "Usually those are locations that were hot before the word got out and now they've shut down because of the added pressure," he said. Instead, try fishing nearby secondary locations or find an area with similar features elsewhere on the lake.
Here then are 10 of the best multi-species lakes around Minnesota.
With catchable populations of walleyes, pike, muskies, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappies and bluegills, Lake Minnetonka is a multi-species paradise. Doug Warren has spent his lifetime on Minnetonka, and now serves as the point man for the Lake Minnetonka Guides.
Warren prefers fishing the lower end of the lake near Wayzata but said the entire lake has great potential. His preference is based on the fact that the lower lake has the most varied structure, with milfoil beds, deep water, rocks and gravel bars. Finding the weedline is the key in late summer.
"The fish are right on the edge of the milfoil, and when I'm guiding we do a lot of trolling with deep-diving crankbaits along that edge, catching just about everything," he said. Live bait or small plastics in these areas will also yield crappies and bluegills.
July and August are his favorite times for walleyes, and again, he keys in on the area between the edges of the weedline down to around 25 feet deep. "I'll troll a spinner rig with a bottom-bouncer at a fairly good clip using a Berkley Gulp Worm or Power Bait to prevent the bluegill from picking it off," he said.
The west-metro fisheries office said walleyes and muskies are regularly stocked in Minnetonka and have relatively stable populations of each species. Fishing for muskies has really picked up in recent years, and anglers are catching more and more fish in the 50-inch range every year.
Big pike can be found along the deep weed edges, and there are some out in the deep basin near Brown's Bay and Big Island. Deep-diving crankbaits, spoons and small sucker minnows with a bottom-bouncer are top choices.
Contact: Lake Minnetonka Guides, (612) 860-3052, or
There are seven primary lakes on the Alexandria Chain of Lakes: Carlos, Cowdry, Le Homme Dieu, Darling, Geneva, Victoria and Jessie. The chain is commonly referred to as the Le Homme Dieu Chain, with good reason -- it's the best fishing lake of the bunch. "You can catch northerns, walleyes, bass and panfish on all the lakes, but Le Homme Dieu is by far the best of the chain," said Brett McComas of Christopherson's Bait and Tackle in Alexandria.
Largemouth bass are prevalent throughout the lake and it's a frequent stopping point for tournaments. Walleye numbers are good and the primary spawning area on Le Homme Dieu is now a state Aquatic Management Area.
McComas said Carlos, the largest and deepest lake of the chain, is the best for walleyes. According to the Department of Natural Resources, Carlos has excellent water clarity and healthy numbers of walleyes, with some trophy potential. Carlos features a great deal of traditional walleye structure, and the thermocline is the best bet for a trophy.
Carlos has a lot of largemouth bass but McComas said the lake is just like the rest of the chain when it comes to size. "All of the lakes are really pressured for largemouths, and it's tough to find one larger than 4 or 5 pounds," he said. Largemouths throughout the chain can be caught along the weed edges in 14 feet of water on Texas-rigged worms and a jig-and-pig. Crankbaits worked parallel to the weed edges can be good for largemouths, northerns and walleyes.
Panfish are prevalent in all the lakes, but Geneva and Victoria have the best numbers and size. "Most of them are small but you can catch some nice hand-sized fish in the right locations," McComas said.
Contacts: Christopherson's Bait & Tackle, (320) 763-3255; Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-235-9441 or
My first fishing trips as a child were to Lake Waconia. What I remember most is that we would always catch a wide variety of fish no matter if we were fishing for crappies, bluegills, walleyes, northerns or largemouths. Time has been good to Waconia, which still boasts healthy populations of all those species but now also offers the mighty muskie.
Cindy Mase, owner of Mase's In-Towne Marina with her husband Jim, couldn't be happier with the status
of the lake. This is their 25th year of business. One of the biggest changes in that time is the presence of milfoil.
Two great locations for all species are the northeast corner and the beach area near the southeast shore. The beach area is a great feeding area for all species and offers a lot of sandy areas, not just vegetation, Mase said. Another good location is near Peterson Creek, which is the only consistent flow into the lake. The area around the island should not be overlooked, particularly the west side near the point.
Walleyes tend to be found in contrasting locations, with some in the shallows along the milfoil and others in the deep holes. Night-fishing for walleyes is great in the shallow locations while the deep holes are best during the day.
The crappie population is in excellent condition and the west-metro DNR said Waconia is not missing a year-class, which is rare. Mase said crappies in August tend to hang along the weedline in 8 to 14 feet of water. Panfish are particularly vulnerable in the shaded areas around the island.
Contacts: Mase's In-Towne Marina, (952) 442-2096 or
www.fishandgame.com/intowne; Waconia Chamber of Commerce, (952) 442-5812.
It might be his nickname as well as the name of his guide service, but "Walleye Dan" Eigen is a multi-species angler at heart and always has been one. Gull Lake just a few miles north of Brainerd is one of his specialties. The lake is over 9,000 acres in size and is loaded with largemouth bass, walleyes, northerns and panfish. The structure on the lake is incredible and the vegetation is equally varied with healthy amounts of both emergent and submerged weeds.
"Besides being a great lake to fish and having great numbers of multiple species, there is the potential for catching a trophy-class fish, whether it be a walleye, northern or bass," Eigen said.
He typically targets one species of fish rather than going for the shotgun approach when fishing multi-species lakes, especially Gull. "You might be bass fishing but don't be surprised if you catch a bunch of northerns and walleyes," he said.
Gull is especially notorious for this, especially during the late-summer bite when all four species are found in the lush cabbage weeds. "This allows you to be automatically multi-species fishing even though you are still targeting a specific pattern for a specific species of fish," Eigen said. Trophy walleyes and northern pike can also be found this time of the year along Gull's thermocline chasing after schools of tullibees and ciscoes.
If the main lake is too busy with recreational boaters, too windy or just not producing, head north to the other lakes of the chain. Each lake features ample numbers of largemouths, northerns, walleyes and panfish.
Contacts: Walleye Dan's Fishing Guide Service, (218) 839-5598 or
www.walleyedan.com; Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-450-2838 or
FISH HOOK LAKE
The Women Anglers of Minnesota used to pride themselves on not fishing the same lake twice. That was before they held a tournament on Fish Hook Lake in Hubbard County 12 years ago. Once they tried Fish Hook, they couldn't get enough of it. Louie Anania, owner of Loon's Nest Resort and host of the annual tournament, said the event has since been held nine or 10 times on Fish Hook, including a four-year consecutive run. "They go on a point system and tell me they come here to get their averages up because they always catch fish here unlike other lakes," he said
The weedline tends to run from depths of 12 to 22 feet and is great in August for largemouths and northerns. In the early morning the bass tend to hang in the shallows, especially on the north side. Topwater lures and spinnerbaits tend to work the best in these locations.
Walleye are numerous on the lake, and DNR reports show that there are healthy populations in the 16- to 20-inch range, not to mention the real possibility of a trophy. Anania said once August rolls around and the cabbage weeds are well established, the walleyes can be tough to catch because they stay deep in the weeds. Toss a crankbait along those weed edges for the best results. Northern pike are also best caught this way.
Bluegills are numerous, with respectable catches in the 7- to 8-inch range. Crappies are not prevalent, but if you catch one, the odds are it will qualify as a "slab."
Contacts: Loon's Nest Resort, 1-800-531-3477 or
www.loonsnest.com; Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-247-0054 or
WHITEFISH CHAIN OF LAKES
Fourteen lakes make up the Whitefish Chain in Crow Wing County, and each can be excellent an lake for largemouth bass, walleyes, northern pike and panfish. Adding to the multi-species potential of the chain are Arrowhead and Big Trout lakes, each of which features lake trout.
Eigen does a great deal of guiding on Whitefish and said the chain is the only other one in the area besides Gull with the best potential for producing trophy fish. Unlike Gull, Whitefish tends to have one species here and another species elsewhere. "They are usually found pretty close to one another, but you don't catch too many mixed species in one spot."
This means that when fishing Whitefish, an angler really needs to target one species of fish rather than shotgunning for whatever is biting. The chain is 14,000 acres in size, meaning there is too much water to cover without a plan for several specific spots for a specific species.
With lush weedbeds and tons of classic structure, a lake map is a must. Anglers can find a few spots on the map, but the best advice is to contact a guide or local bait shop to find out where they are hitting.
Contacts: Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce, 1-800-450-2838,
Ask anybody who has extensively fished Vermilion and they'll tell you the same thing -- the west end and east end are like two different lakes. Gary Kvitek guides all over the lake for a wide variety of species, including northerns, muskies, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, crappies, perch and bluegills.
"I do about 120 trips a year and I think that August is one of the better times to come up here for all species," Kvitek said.
For walleyes, Kvitek said the west end is best fished along the weedlines with Lindy Rigs tipped with nightcrawlers, while the east end tends to be better with spinners in deeper water along the structure and mud humps. Anglers have also stumbl
ed upon tasty jumbo perch up to 13 inches in the same areas.
Northern pike really turn on in July once the cabbage beds come up, and they stay hot throughout August. The weeds adjacent to rockpiles are another good location for northerns, and the muskies.
Crappies can be tough to find in late summer, but the rockpiles on the west end are the best bet. Bluegills are everywhere throughout the lake, especially along the weeds on the west end.
Smallmouth bass are found throughout the lake on the rockpiles, especially those areas that also feature rubble. Largemouth bass are often overlooked but are very eager to bite throughout the west end.
Contacts: Gary's Fishing Guide Service, (218) 744-3158 or
www.garytheguide.com; Lake Vermilion Area Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-TOWER-MN or
OTTER TAIL LAKE
Otter Tail is the largest lake in the county, covering more than 13,000 acres, most of which are less than 15 feet deep. It is part of a larger chain of lakes that offer excellent fishing for a variety of species as well.
Tom Johnson has fished the lake throughout his life and always knew it was a great fishery, but it took fishing numerous other bodies of water for him to realize how much he loves Otter Tail. The DNR loves Otter Tail, as well, and uses walleyes from the lake as part of the statewide stocking program. "There are a ton of walleyes of all sizes, 10 to 20 inches and up, though the lake is not known for having many really big fish," he said.
As a result, he estimates that at least 90 percent of the anglers on the lake are targeting walleyes. The walleyes like to sit inside the cabbage weeds in 10 feet of water all the way out to the weedline in 18 to 22 feet. Johnson said to start shallow and work down to the deeper spots. "Crankbaits on the flats work well but a Lindy Rig and nightcrawler is hard to beat," he said. The lake is full of perch, including some jumbos that tend to be caught by walleye anglers.
With all those anglers chasing walleyes, Johnson said almost nobody knows there are huge northerns in the lake. The cabbage breaklines are best for pike in 12 to 16 feet of water. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are mostly found near the mouths of the Otter Tail and Dead rivers. Crappies are also found on the lake, and Johnson said they are tough to catch in August. But if you do catch one, expect it to be big.
Contacts: Walleye Hunter Guide Service, (218) 367-3494; Meister Guide Service, 1-877-540-6087 or
www.meisterguideservice.com; Perham Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-634-6112 or
Washington is busy in summertime with personal watercraft, water-skiers and anglers all jockeying for their share of the lake. This would deter many anglers, but Geoff Mead of the Bobber Shop in Mankato said that's a big mistake. "We've fished Washington when it seemed like every jet-ski in the world was out there and we've always done well."
Call it a lucky coincidence, but it speaks to the bountiful multi-species possibilities that can be found on Washington. The lake is sprayed for weeds in the summer, and Mead said finding the areas where the weeds remain is the key.
"The area around the grassy island is great for a number of different fish, including crappies, walleyes, northerns and largemouths," Mead said. Trolling is a popular technique for walleyes in this location. There is also a sunken island in the main bay that is good out to the deep water near the adjacent point. Lindy Rigs tipped with nightcrawlers or small chubs are the best choices for attracting these fish, especially walleyes.
Just because there aren't any weeds doesn't mean that there aren't any fish. Mead said a lot of large walleyes come out of Baker's Bay when trolling the flat in 8 feet of water during the evening hours. Jointed Shad Raps are excellent for all species, with the best colors being fire-tiger and black.
Contacts: The Bobber Shop, (507) 625-8228 or
www.bobbershopfishing.com; Greater Mankato Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-657-4733 or
Dan Krone spends a lot of time on Cass County's Woman Lake, both as a guide and as a commercial crayfish harvester. He's guided on the lake for seven years but has fished the lake for 27 years. All of this makes for a lot of time spent on the water, and Krone is excellent at reading the lake.
Woman Lake has a very healthy population of walleyes and northerns, an ample supply of largemouth bass, crappies and sunfish, and a catchable amount of smallmouth bass. "I take people out fishing for all of those species and we usually catch quite a variety no matter what we're going after," Krone said.
An exotic species of crayfish have pretty much decimated the lush weeds that used to line the lake, but when you find weeds, chances are there will be fish in the area. In the summer, walleyes, northerns, largemouths and crappies tend to relate to clumps of sandgrass and coontail on the main lake. The walleyes also relate to the deep breaklines found along the numerous points, bars and rock humps of the main lake.
Krone said big pike are a good bet along the thermocline thanks to a healthy forage base of tullibees. "There are a ton of northerns in the perfect eating range of 2 to 3 pounds in the walleye areas, and I'll usually catch 20 to 25 pike in a half-day."
Contacts: Lake State Taxidermy & Guide Service, (218) 363-2767 or
www.fishingminnesota.com/lakestate; Longville Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-756-7583 or
Enjoy your fishing smorgasbord!