With its abundant waters, one could probably start arguments asking for the seven best Minnesota summertime fishing spots.
However, who better to discuss fishing the state than Mike Frisch, longtime guide, member of the “Fishing the Midwest” Fishing Team and co-host of the highly popular show “Fishing the Midwest” with Bob Jensen.
Here, Frisch has selected seven different areas for great fishing road trips in May, June and July. A good LakeMaster or Navionics chip in your locator will help show what each location offers.
BIG LAKE: MISSISSIPPI RIVER
When thinking of Mississippi River pools, anglers often envision walleyes. However, for Frisch, these summer months are perfect for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. One key variable is where water levels sit this time of year.
“One of my go-to spots on the Mississippi River called Big Lake is actually a series of backwater areas,” Frisch said.
A good launch is the public boat ramp in Wabasha. After leaving the ramp, two choices are at hand.
The first is the riprap areas on Big Lake’s east side. This is smallmouth bass territory. Frisch sets up outside of the riprap and slow-trolls and fan-casts with a 3/16-ounce KVD swim jig ahead of the boat in an effort to find willing biters. When a smallmouth hits, he stops and anchors.
“I will often add a 3-inch baby Rage Menace as a trailer to create a disturbance in the water,” he said. Frisch sets up another rod with a KVD 1.5 squarebill crankbait in shad or crayfish color to cast as a search bait.
The second option is Big Lake’s west side, with a series of shallow-water sloughs, channels, timber, submerged vegetation and lily pads. Work these areas, fan-casting the swim jig. Jig and swim the jig along and just over the structure. After a strike, slow down and work the area. If water levels are low, fish will move more toward the channel.
If You Go
Wabasha’s public boat ramp (301 Maiden Avenue) is a great launch. River Valley Outfitters has tackle, bait and bite info.
BIG STONE LAKE
Big Stone is known for outstanding walleye and excellent bluegill and crappie fishing. Frisch says the action gets hot around Memorial Day weekend. For walleyes, there are two main presentations.
“First is the basin bite at the south end in 12 to 15 feet of water,” Frisch said. “Pull crankbaits like Strike King’s Lucky Shad with planer boards to get the baits away from the boat at 1.8 to 2 mph. Use different colors to start with until a pattern is established [yellow perch, hot tiger, crystal shad, purple tiger]. If the water is stained, possibly move into shallower water.”
The second presentation targets a series of rocky islands on the lake’s south end. The rock extends out around these islands. Look for walleyes to come up to the rocky areas during low-light conditions — early morning and evening. Anchor out away and use a slip-bobber, split shot and a red hook tipped with a leech and throw that out as a dead rod. Then take a 1/16-ounce minnow-tipped jig and fan-cast toward the shallow rocks. Hop and twitch the jig back.
Starting late-May into June, work bays and coves around the rock islands for quality bluegills and crappies. Use a slip-bobber and a 1 1/2-inch tube jig tipped with a wax worm. Pink tiger is a good choice. Cast it out so the jig is just off bottom and slowly twitch it back toward the boat. Think catch and release on trophy bluegills.
If You Go
Two major public accesses include Foster State Water Access Site and #8 State Water Access Site. Artie’s Bait and Tackle is in Ortonville.
Minnewaska is a great multi-species lake. It’s a top walleye fishery, but Frisch likes targeting largemouth bass and bluegills.
He cites good public access in Starbuck and Glenwood. He fishes the lake’s north side for bass. By June, he says a weedline is becoming established, with weeds showing up as deep as 17 feet of water. He works along this depth, casting toward weeds in up to 10 feet of water with a 1/8-ounce jighead with a 4-inch Strike King Ocho soft plastic in green, pumpkin, junebug, black or blue.
“Fan-cast up into the weedline and let it sink to the bottom,” he suggested. “Snap the bait up and let it fall back a couple of times, and then begin reeling back in and recast. Bites regularly happen on the initial fall.”
Minnewaska also has a tremendous bluegill fishery. The lake’s north side has two prominent shoreline points with excellent weedbeds and weedlines out into 10 to 14 feet of water. Bluegills will typically be in the weeds, so work the holes in the weeds or right above the weeds with a slip-bobber and hook and small leech, wax worm or piece of nightcrawler. Or, try taking a small jig like a 1/64-ounce Northland Fire-Fly Jig tipped with a wax worm or piece of nightcrawler and fishing it right over the side of the boat.
If You Go
Starbuck Marina has boat landings on both the south and the north end of the marina. Glenwood, on the other hand, has a good three-ramp access located in town. Minnewaska Bait and Tackle can be found in Starbuck.
UPPER RED LAKE
Lower Red Lake and much of Upper Red Lake fall under the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians jurisdiction. Roughly 48,000 acres are open to non-tribal sportfishing on Upper Red Lake.
“The walleye fishing is phenomenal even though you can only fish the northeast side and portions north of Waskish,” Frisch said.
The lake is basically a bowl with a max depth of 15 feet. Begin fishing right out of the Tamarack access and fish along the first breakline up to 10 feet of water. In May, Frisch likes to “troll a 1/8-ounce jig and a minnow/shiner in 4 to 7 feet of water.”
By mid-June, walleyes begin scattering toward the basin. Troll a bottom bouncer with a Northland Butterfly harness and nightcrawler. With few weeds and little structure, covering ground is key.
“I will troll in that 7- to 10-foot depth, and when I get a hit, I will work that area,” Frisch said. “The walleyes are usually pretty aggressive, and there will be 50-fish days.”
Anglers should watch the weather. A strong west wind can make fishing not only tough but dangerous.
If You Go
The main public access is just off Highway 72 at the Tamarack River. Westwind Resort has a marina and a bait and tackle shop and Beacon Harbor Resort in Waskish offers boat lake access and a bait and tackle shop.
OTTER TAIL LAKE
Otter Tail is an often-overlooked top walleye lake. It offers great fishing from the mid-May opener through summer.
Frisch suggests trolling the edges of the two holes that are southeast of Balmoral Flats, with particular emphasis on the saddle area between the two holes. Troll a bottom bouncer and 42-inch snell with plain hook tipped with a spottail shiner at .8 to 1.2 mph.
Walleyes are often hanging out in 8 to 22 feet of water. They tend to move shallower when the wind blows and deeper on calmer days or when boat traffic pushes them down the slope. Slow-troll a Roach Rig and spottail shiner or troll/snap a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce Fire-Ball and spottail. On windier days, a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce UV firetiger Whistler Jig tipped with a spottail works well. Or, try trolling the breakline along the north shore from Amor Point to the Otter Tail River.
This is a lot of water, but Frisch believes its potential to hold early-season walleyes makes it worth covering. In May and early June, he trolls the aforementioned live-bait rig and jig-and-shiner combos.
From mid-June through early fall, target the many main-lake rock piles that top out at 25 to 30 feet. Lots of smaller, eater-sized walleyes can be found. Find fish on or near a rock pile and troll a 2-ounce bottom bouncer and double-hook spinner rig tipped with a nightcrawler.
If You Go
Ramps include the Southwest Shore Boat Ramp, Pelican Bay Boat Ramp and Riviera Boat Ramp. Ben’s Bait Shop is located in Battle Lake.
LAKE LE HOMME DIEU
This lake is part of a chain of lakes including Victoria, Geneva, Carlos and Darling — all largemouth bass waters. Each offers different types of fishing. Depending on water levels, all five are easily accessible to most boats. However, the channels between Geneva and Le Homme Dieu, and Geneva and Victoria are culvert-type structures, so larger vessels such as pontoons aren’t able to make it through.
Lake Le Homme Dieu has two boat ramps. One launch is located on the northwest side, and the other one can be found on the northeast side. Frisch targets largemouth bass on the large, shallow flats that lie between these two accesses.
“Locals call this large, shallow-water structure ‘the maze’ or ‘the octypus’ with all of its arms and fingers,” Frisch said. “You can spend all day fishing the weeds on the maze.”
This area will drop into 18 to 20 feet of water that will also hold bands of weeds. Fish relate to coontail most of the time, especially when adjacent to a steeper dropoff.
Two top presentations include casting a 1/8-ounce jighead threaded with a 4-inch Strike King Ocho soft plastic and the Strike King Series 5 crankbait in bluegill or perch pattern.
Frisch fishes the jig shallow and the crankbait to cover water in deeper areas. Upon locating fish, he’ll fish a jig in deep water, too.
This lake can get busy with recreational boaters, so Frisch often slides into one of the other lakes.
If You Go
Public accesses include Krueger Creek on the northeast and Rotary Beach on the northwest. Christopherson Bait Shop is located in Alexandria.
With 24,000 acres and lots of islands, where do you start? Some great walleye action occurs within a few miles of the Lake Kabetogama Visitor Center. As you get familiar with these areas, it gets easier to move farther away for similar structure.
Starting with the season opener and going into early June, Frisch recommends working shorelines in one of the many shallow bays. Specifically, he looks to windblown shorelines with a gradual taper of rubble, pea gravel or sand. Look for the warmest water and focus on emergent cabbage in 4 to 5 feet and out to 5 to 8 feet, casting a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce Stand-Up Fire-Ball Jig-and-minnow combination, crawling it through the weeds.
By mid-June, start focusing efforts on offshore structure like submerged islands and reefs (in 17 to 25 feet of water), especially those neighboring deep water. To save time and eliminate unproductive water, use electronics to locate fish. North of the Lake Kabetogama Visitor Center, a series of humps offer up a good starting point. Troll Northland’s Rock Runner Slip Bouncer with a 40- to 50-inch snell and plain hook tipped with either a nightcrawler ora leech.
If you experience a mayfly hatch, walleyes love to eat the larvae, so fish soft bottom structure. If you locate this type of bottom, you’ll likely see fish on your electronics.
If You Go
Kabetogama Visitor’s Center is just off Hwy 53 and County Road 122. It’s open from mid-May through mid-September and offers good public access and boat ramps. Two nearby bait shops include Kab Outdoors and Gateway Store.