Minnesota consistently ranks as one of the best places for bass fishing in the country. Anglers from all over the United States talk about Minnesota’s lakes and rivers as ideal for catching smallmouth and largemouth bass. Here’s a guide to four major bass fishing areas and 16 of their notable lakes, rivers and streams.
Minnesota’s central region offers some of the most diverse waters in the state, with a wide variety of lakes and rivers on which to cast your line.
North of Brainerd near Crosslake, the Whitefish Chain of Lakes is 14,620 acres of the most diverse structure found in a Minnesota lake. A favorite place for tournaments, great catches of both largemouth and smallmouth bass can be found in most of the dozen or so lakes that make up the chain. Lake Minnewaska’s 7,110 acres are located just south of Alexandria and are relatively shallow, with a maximum depth of 32 feet and three public access points.
Otter Tail Lake, at 13,729 acres, is part of the Otter Tail River chain. Almost 60 percent of the lake is less than 15 feet deep, with populations of both large and smallmouth bass. And the large, 132,516-acre Mille Lacs Lake is also a top smallmouth bass fishing lake in Minnesota. With reports of bass over 7 pounds, there are ample opportunities to catch the big one. Mille Lacs was Bassmaster’s top bass lake in the country in 2017.
The Mississippi River from Monticello to Aitkin has become a world-class smallmouth bass fishery with ample habitat, four dams and 150 miles that can offer a unique float or boating experience depending on the location. West Battle Lake south of Otter Tail Lake holds the state smallmouth record of 8 pounds. Another favorite for bass fishing is Green Lake near Spicer.
Minnesota’s great northwest is home to the state’s largest lakes and the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Because of this, all types of fishing, including bass fishing, are big here.
Leech Lake is the third-largest lake entirely within the boundaries of Minnesota at 112,000 surface acres. The lake has an irregular shape with large and small bays; its deepest area is Walker Bay at 150 feet deep. In the fall, trophy bass gather in the warmer waters of Boy Bay.
Woman Lake, to the south of Leech Lake, is considered one of the best “big” smallmouth bass lakes in the area. Tournaments are regularly won on this lake with a five-fish limit weighing in over 25 pounds.
The lakes of northeast Minnesota are in the southernmost exposure of the Canadian Shield and mostly composed of igneous rock as a result of its long volcanic history. Rock, wood and more rock are the keys to finding fish in area lakes.
Rainy Lake, at 345 square miles, acts more like an inland sea than a lake. Water levels fluctuate depending on rainfall along the drainage and the dam located in International Falls. The quality of Rainy Lake’s smallmouth bass fishing is only surpassed by the scenery.
Kabetogama Lake’s 24,036 acres fish a lot like Rainy but with less expansive waters. Smallmouth bass are preeminent, but anglers can find largemouth in the backwaters of the lake’s northern reaches. Lake Vermilion, at 39,000 acres, is one of Minnesota’s top bass lakes, according to Game & Fish magazine. Its west end has a high population of smallmouth bass, but the east end produces larger fish. Pokegama Lake near Grand Rapids is a noteworthy lake in the region, as well.
The southernmost area of the state is known for its variety of lakes as well as the Mississippi, Minnesota and other rivers that pop up in and around the area’s small towns.
Lake Washington, at 1,487 acres, hosts many bass tournaments throughout the year and has a good population of bass that can exceed the 5-pound range. Lake Frances by Elysian is a 797-acre spring-fed lake with a maximum depth of 60 feet. It has good shoreline cover as well as pad beds and rock points to fish.
The Mississippi River in southern Minnesota offers some of the best bass fishing opportunities anywhere. For largemouth bass, seek out the river’s backwater areas, where you’ll also see wildlife of all sorts. Smallmouth bass wait in the waters around the numerous islands and below wing dams. The Mississippi River’s 144 miles from Hastings to the Iowa border can be a bass fisherman’s utopia.
MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL AREA
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is home to some of the best bass fishing in Minnesota. Area lakes, as well as the Mississippi River, are highly developed and used heavily by both anglers and recreational boaters. They continue to produce high-quality creels for all anglers, especially bass fishermen.
Lake Minnetonka has been voted one of Bassmaster’s top bass lakes in the United States for many years. Its 14,528 acres host more bass tournaments than any other Minnesota lake. It has deep gravel reefs, rocky points, shallow stained water and weedy bays that hold 5- and 6-pound bass in 18 inches of water.
The Mississippi River offers a unique fishing experience in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and canoe and boat rentals at dozens of urban lakes make it possible for visitors without a boat to enjoy a day of fishing.
Find fishing guides and more information to plan your trip at exploreminnesota.com