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Minnesota's Best Family Fishing Getaways

Minnesota's Best Family Fishing Getaways

So the kids are out of school, your wife is stressed out and you really want to go fishing. If that's the case, all of you will have good time at these destinations.

Photo by Chester Moore Jr.

By Tim Lesmeister

Compared to every other state, Minnesota has the best vacation destinations. How do I know this? I have traveled extensively all over the country and nowhere else can you catch big northern pike in as many lakes as you can in this state. I have yet to discover a destination where you can be catching walleyes in a big lake all day and gorge yourself on lutefisk at the local eatery that evening. And nowhere but in Minnesota can you find a Department of Natural Resources that would take a perfectly good carp lake, convince the local fishing club to install an aeration system to prevent winterkill, and then turn that body of water into a productive walleye fishery. In all the other states you're just forced to fish for the carp.

What a deal. All these lakes, and taxpayer money going toward putting fish there. Great summer weather. Lots of excellent boat landings. Tons of great ma-and-pa resorts, as well as the vacation centers with pools, golf courses, lakeshore docks and good fishing, and some places even have horseback riding and kids' events. How can it get any better than what we have here in this great state?

Well, we could have more time to enjoy it. For now you just have to pick a spot and take advantage of the time you have. Here are a few options.

Sitting right on the edge of the Canadian border, Lake Kabetogama provides anglers with some of the finest walleye and smallmouth bass fishing in our state. You also get to taste that upnorth feeling as you survey the islands and bays in your explorations.

It is a huge body of water, but because of its shape the lake doesn't feel like a Mille Lacs or Lake of the Woods. Anglers can maintain close proximity to their accommodations and get by with a resort boat just fine. If you do have a larger watercraft you can take advantage of the vast amount of water, and because Kabetogama is a chain, you can take advantage of neighboring lakes as well.

A popular tourist destination is the Kettle Falls Hotel, which was built around 1910. Stop in and have a bite to eat and visit the gift shop. There are boat shuttles to the Kettle Falls Hotel from the Ash River Visitors Center or you can tie up to one of their docks in your own boat. Get a photo of yourself standing in the United States looking south into Canada.


There are a lot of hiking trails, and the bird watching is outstanding on and around Kabetogama. You'll see a lot of eagles and loons, as well as colorful songbirds. This is an area where you can either enjoy the comforts of a full-service resort or rough it in one of the primitive campgrounds on the lake.

For more information, visit the Kabetogama Lake Web site, at, or call Northern Lights Resort and Outfitting at 1-800-318-7023.

Lake Shetek is no longer one of the best-kept secrets in Minnesota. It is the largest lake in southwestern Minnesota, and it forms the headwaters of the Des Moines River. The word "Shetek" is Ojibwe for "pelican," a bird which you'll see a lot of on the lake during the summer and fall.

The state park on Lake Shetek is a great place to spend a vacation with the family. On Loon Island there is a 45-acre bird sanctuary that is accessible on foot via a causeway and includes an interpretive trail. You can visit the Koch Cabin and monument, a memorial to the early pioneer settlers. The park includes a swimming beach, boat launch, campgrounds, volleyball, horseshoe pits, 14 miles of hiking trails and a 6-mile-long paved bicycle path. Boat and canoe rentals are also available.

The walleye fishing on Lake Shetek is outstanding. It's not your textbook style of walleye fishing, because the water is so shallow. It is just a southern pothole lake. What the DNR discovered was that walleyes do well in these lakes, and they are stocked heavily. Plan on trolling and drifting, and once you find a school of walleyes, mark the spot and hang on that school.

For more information on Lake Shetek State Park, visit the DNR's Web site: For regional info, visit

The Root River in southeastern Minnesota is a great little river to float down in a canoe, enjoying the scenery and casting for smallmouth bass and panfish. The best way to segment your vacation is to spend the morning canoeing pieces of the Root River and use the afternoons for shopping with the family for antiques in the quaint communities of Lanesboro, Preston, Harmony, Rushford and Houston.

There are many species of fish inhabiting the river, including smallmouth bass, channel catfish, rock bass, sunfish, crappies, northern pike, carp and suckers. These species can be found in the active stretches of pooled areas of the river. If you're after brown trout, these can be found in the clearer and colder spring-fed streams nearby, as well as in the western end of the South Branch of the Root. All anglers fishing in the designated trout waters are required to have a current trout stamp.

A big draw to the area is The Root River State Trail, which is a 42-mile-long multiple-use trail through the quaint and picturesque rural communities of Fountain, Lanesboro, Whalan, Peterson, Rushford and Houston. This asphalt trail was mainly constructed upon an abandoned railroad grade that is generally level and wheelchair-accessible. Newly paved in 1999, the eastern segment between Money Creek Woods and Houston is relatively more challenging than the western segment, with a rather steep half-mile segment that may not be suitable for all users.

For more information on the Root River, visit the DNR's Web site, at For regional info, visit

Dad wants to fish and golf, mom wants to visit some art galleries, one kid wants to camp, the other wants to shop. How's this for a solution: Baker Park on Lake Independence just west of the Twin Cities metro area is part of the Hennepin Parks system. There's a really nice campground there that boasts 210 sites. There are 27 sites that have electrical hookups; the remain

ing are non-electric. Shower and restroom facilities are available for the convenience and comfort of the campers.

The boat landing is large enough for bigger fishing boats and there are no motor or boat restrictions on the lake. The walleye fishing on Lake Independence has been improving dramatically over the past few years, and the largemouth bass and muskie fishing has always been outstanding.

Baker Park has one of the finest golf courses in the region, and people staying there are only a half-hour's drive to museums and malls in Minneapolis and St. Paul. You haven't shopped until you've been to the Mall of America in Bloomington. Yes, there is a sporting goods store there where you can stock up on lures that were chomped off by those big muskies.

For more information, visit the Hennepin Parks Web site, at, or call (763) 559-9000.

My wife likes bed-and-breakfast inns. I like boats and walleye dinners. My wife likes the quaint shops in Stillwater. I like the fishing on the St. Croix out of Stillwater. It's a great place to compromise.

From Stillwater south to Hastings, this stretch of the St. Croix River has some of the most phenomenal walleye and smallmouth bass fishing in the state. One of the old river guides taught me long ago that you can take a medium-diving crankbait and troll it from buoy to buoy and catch just about every river species imaginable.

The one drawback to the St. Croix is that there is a lot of recreational boat traffic. This can drive a lot of weekend anglers crazy, but it doesn't seem to bother the fish at all. Don't let the big boats bother you, and you will discover that there are a lot of fish to be caught on the breaklines near the channel, in the backwaters and around the piers.

For more information, visit the Web site. You will see that there's plenty to do in this Minnesota river town.

Lake Ida is north of Alexandria. There are about a half-dozen nice resorts surrounding the lake's clear blue water and sand-bottomed shoreline regions. It's a great place in which to catch perch off the docks and walleyes on the reefs. The largemouth bass are an underutilized fishery, and with some big bruisers cruising the bulrush beds all summer long it's a great place to cast a topwater lure.

The Alexandria area is a family-friendly Minnesota community when it comes to vacationing. There are outstanding golf courses, the shops in "Alex" provide more than adequate shopping opportunities, and you can't say you've lived until you visit the Kensington Runestone Museum. The Runestone is a piece of rock with some Viking scribing that was discovered in the late 1800s. Dating to the 14th century, the Runestone has been a constant source of debate as to its authenticity. Check it out yourself and then you decide if it's real or fake.

For more information, visit the Alexandria Web site, located at, or call 1-800-235-9441.

The walleye fishing on Lake of the Woods just keeps getting better each year. According to Minnesota's favorite walleye angler, Gary Roach, it's because the spawning conditions and slot limits just keep more fish in the lake than ever.

"The good old days are happening right now on Lake of the Woods," Roach said. "You hear the stories about Lake of the Woods and how good the fishing is right now and they're unbelievable. Then you go there and find out they're true. The walleye fishing is just super these days."

Roach recommends a visit to "my old buddy's" resort. Tom Briggs owns the Wigwam Resort, and he and Roach were both guides for the Nisswa Guide Service many years ago. "He knows how to find and catch those walleyes," said Roach.

When you get this far north, your options for extracurricular activity outside of fishing become pretty limited. People hike the trails and logging roads, take scenic drives, birdwatch, and use the big lake for skiing and windsurfing. But by far, the main attraction when it comes to Lake of the Woods is the fishing.

For more information, visit the Lake of the Woods Web site, at, or call the Wigwam Resort at 1-800-448-9260.

The Gull Lake Chain of lakes near Nisswa has had its ups and downs. In the past few years this lake has been up. I asked pro fisherman and angling celebrity Danny Suggs why he thought Gull was making such a big comeback.

"It's because all the resorts on the lake are now catering to golfers," he said. "None of those guys that can drive a little white ball 260 yards and then hit the green with their 9-iron are capable of twitching a plastic lizard on the weedline in a wind."

Suggs admits he's kidding about a golfer's angling prowess, but he holds to his assertion that more non-anglers than anglers are visiting the resorts on Gull.

"The largemouth bass fishing on this lake has really gotten strong," he said. "The walleye fishing has always been good, but now it's outstanding, and the big pike seem to be showing up more often. It's got great panfish, too. You can't really go wrong on this lake."

The entire family will appreciate a trip to the Gull Lake region. There's a children's museum, an Indian museum and a military museum. There are some of the best golf courses in the state in Brainerd. You can't run out of things to do even on rainy days.

For more information, visit the Brainerd area Web site, at

Everyone always heads to the north of Grand Rapids to chase walleyes, smallmouth bass and northern pike when in fact they could stay right in Grand Rapids and fish Pokegama. Part of the Mississippi River system, Pokegama is a 6,600-acre lake on the southern edge of Grand Rapids that allows anglers much more than its size due to the attached bodies of water and the river system that flows in and out.

Pokegama itself has a wealth of structure, and fish populations for all the major game-fish species are at good levels. Move up the river system into the smaller lakes that are attached and you will find excellent populations of largemouth bass and northern pike. It could take an entire week to explore this often-overlooked lake.

Being close to Grand Rapids is a huge benefit. Visit the house that Frances Ethel Gumm was born in. Don't have a clue who that is? Why, it was Judy Garland.

Great golf courses and many hiking and biking trails nearby make Grand Rapids a great option for fun other than fishing, but you would have a tough time beating those great angling opportunities you can find on Pokegama and the attached waterways.

For more information, visit the Grand Rapids Web site, at

Park Rapids is near some of the finest fishing lakes in our state. It's also the last rest stop for vacationers on their way to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. While any of the lakes around this northern Minnesota community could provide all of an angler's needs, Fish Hook Lake is a great one to consider.

There are bulrush beds around the perimeter of the lake just full of rock bass and perch that create nonstop action for the kids. The walleye fishing is your textbook variety, with many of the fish coming off of the points, sunken islands and reefs on live-bait rigs and jigs. If it's bass and sunfish you're after, you can squeeze your boat into the channel of the mouth of the Fish Hook River and find plenty of vegetation.

There are also plenty of hiking and paved biking trails in the area. Everyone takes a trip up to Itasca State Park to walk across the Mississippi River where it begins. You might also find that knick-knack or antique you have been seeking all these years in one of the local shops.

For more information, visit the Park Rapids Web site, at

* * *
There. The kids will have fun, Mom will be relaxed and you'll be catching fish. Does it get any better than that?

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