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It's hard to imagine a place with more fishing options than Minnesota, but in a state renowned as the land of 10,000 lakes, how do you choose the right spot to cast your line? The best fishing lakes in Minnesota offer a little bit of everything: world-class walleye, hard-fighting smallmouth bass, wily northern pike and abundant panfish, along with easy access and plenty of open water.
World-Class Walleye at Mille Lacs Lake
A strong case could be made for east-central Minnesota's Mille Lacs Lake as the best walleye fishery in the state. A 2013 survey by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found abundant fish in the 20- to 24-inch range, along with a healthy class of 6- to 8-inch walleye, indicating a strong future for this 128,000-acre fishery. May and June are prime months, with excellent fishing around shallow reefs, sandy shorelines and points. Mille Lacs also harbors big northern pike and muskellunge around the submerged weed beds in the lake's many bays and coves. Access is available at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park and dozens of private resorts and marinas.
An Abundance of Pike at Lake Winnibigoshish
Often referred to as Lake Winnie, Winnibigoshish spans 56,000 acres within Chippewa National Forest. Northern pike are a dominant fish species here, and while trophy fish aren't as common as they once were, a 2013 DNR survey found the highest numbers of pike in sampling history. The months of July through October provide prime pike fishing conditions. Try tossing crankbaits, spinners, spoons and soft plastics around weed beds and drop-offs. Lake Winnibigoshish is also a productive walleye lake, and home to the state record muskellunge. The U.S. Forest Service operates several launch ramps on the national forest land around the lake.
Multi-Species Action at Leech Lake
Just a few miles south of Lake Winnie, 110,000-acre Leech Lake is one of those locations where you never quite know what you're going to catch. Huge walleye lurk around the deep structure of Walker Bay, and near-shore weed beds are prowled by hungry pike. Leech Lake has an abundant population of largemouth bass in the 3- to 5-pound range. Ice fishermen can find a lot to love as well, including schools of perch and crappie that attack wax worms and teardrop jigs around gravel flats. The Minnesota DNR operates six public launch ramps around the shore of Leech Lake.
Big Bass at Lake Vermilion
Smallmouth bass in Minnesota tend to take a backseat to walleye and pike, but the North Star State is home to plenty of trophy bass waters. The best of the bunch may be Lake Vermilion, a 39,000-acre jewel in the northeast corner of the state. A rugged shoreline, many bays and an abundance of both weedy and rocky cover provide excellent fishing throughout the summer months. Try casting jigs and soft plastics around rocks, or tempting feeding bass with spinners and jerk baits near the surface. The bays freeze in winter to provide excellent ice fishing for perch, crappie and bluegill.
Monster Muskellunge at Lake Minnetonka
Despite its location in the Twin Cities Metro area, Lake Minnetonka seems to suffer no ill effects from overfishing. This 14,000-acre lake is one of the most likely places in the state to hook up with trophy muskellunge, thanks in part to many years of stocking by the DNR. Muskies can exceed 50 pounds, and in Lake Minnetonka they often hunt around weed lines and rock piles, where they can be tempted to strike oversize spinners, crankbaits and buck tail jigs. Lake Minnetonka also has healthy populations of walleye and smallmouth bass, which often share habitat in rocky areas of the lake.
- Minnesota DNR: Fisheries Lake Survey: Mille Lacs
- Minnesota DNR: Fisheries Lake Survey: Winnibigoshish
- Minnesota DNR: Fisheries Lake Survey: Leech
- Minnesota DNR: Fisheries Lake Survey: Vermilion
- Minnesota DNR: Fisheries Lake Survey: Minnetonka
- MinnesotaLakes.net: Welcome to Minnesota Lakes
- MN Fishing Pros: Area Lakes
- Willard/iStock/Getty Images