Fishing Minnesota Made Easy

It is easy to get excited about fishing in Minnesota.

The state’s summer music – the sploosh of an anchor, the plop of a bobber, the wail of a distant loon – has lured anglers to this fishing paradise for generations. And it still does. The Land of 10,000 Lakes is a perennial top national fishing destination.   

Minnesota is also a state where planning a piscatorial adventure is a breeze. This is due, in part, to an online tool called LakeFinder. Created by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, LakeFinder can help you select the fishing experience you want, the species you seek and the vacation you deserve.


A fishing trip to Minnesota is largely about defining expectations. Minnesota, you see, is a large and diverse state. It measures some 400 miles north to south and 350 miles east to west. The size of its lakes, their prevalence and character vary greatly across the landscape. So do amenities. Urban-loving anglers can find fantastic fishing within 30 minutes of the Twin Cities’ Mall of America. Conversely, those who seek solitude can disappear into remote waters where city lights are but a distant thought. The choices are many.    

Northeast Minnesota, for example, is known for its vast and deep conifer forests. It is home to the fabled Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area as well as the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior. The northwest is a different landscape. Much of it is flat farmland, and its woodlands are more aspen than pine. Still, the northwest harbors some of Minnesota’s largest and most famous walleye lakes – Lake of the Woods, Upper Red, Winnibigoshish and Leech. Central Minnesota – prime cabin and resort country – is chock-full of small- and medium-sized lakes nestled in woodsy surroundings. This is a premier family vacation destination. The southwest and southern Minnesota are major agriculture areas yet offer surprisingly good fishing. The extreme southeast corner of Minnesota, an area of picturesque bluffs and meandering valleys, is revered for its excellent brook, brown and rainbow trout stream fishing.

Though anglers often plan vacations based on lakes you may want to consider river fishing, too. The Mississippi, St. Croix, Red River of the North, Rainy and Minnesota rivers all offer exceptional fishing opportunities. In fact, this past winter a 78-inch long lake sturgeon was caught and released in the St. Croix River just 30 minutes from downtown St. Paul. The fish was estimated to weigh 120 pounds. So, ponder the possibilities when selecting a geographic area that suits your style. It is the smart first step.


Next, decide what species you most want to catch. Minnesota is one of the nation’s top walleye states. The same holds true for muskellunge. It is also a national hotspot for smallmouth bass thanks, in part, to rave reviews from professional anglers who competed in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year tournaments in 2016 and 2017. The world’s top anglers caught and released so many large smallmouth bass in central Minnesota’s Mille Lacs Lake that Bassmaster Magazine ranked Mille Lacs sixth on its list of the top 100 bass lakes in America.

Though many anglers come to Minnesota for bull-dogging bass, its abundance of 50-inch plus muskellunge and tasty meals of flakey walleye, sunfish is the species that anglers catch the most. Bluegills and their brethren are common in most lakes, except some to the far north.


How best to select a lake and to know what fish are in it?

The best solution is to log onto the DNR’s LakeFinder with your smartphone, mobile device or desktop computer. The most popular destination on the agency’s website, LakeFinder features detailed information on more than 4,500 fishing lakes. This interactive site provides lake-by-lake fish population information, fishing stocking reports, contour lake maps, fish consumption advisories and more. You can even buy a fishing license and download the current fishing regulation booklet from this site.

LakeFinder is easy to use. When you launch Mobile Lakefinder on your smartphone, your first screen allows you to search for lakes by name or location on a state map. Once you have selected a lake you’re interested in, the next screen provides information on fish species present in the lake and whether any special fishing regulations apply. You can also pull-up a contour map of the lake, which appears on an aerial photo. This is a handy function because not only does the aerial photo-and-contour map show lake depths but also shows the locations of public boat-launching sites and the landscape around the lake.

LakeFinder also offers information on what you are likely to catch. This information is based on lake-by-lake biological surveys that include the status of the fishery, specific information on the size and abundance of fish species, water clarity and more.


Still not sure where to fish? Then consider the following:

Southern Minnesota for bass

Central and northern Minnesota are traditional go-to angling destinations yet savvy anglers know there’s no need not travel that far. The Mississippi River offers excellent bass fishing along the state’s eastern border. Slightly inland, the Root River is a great choice for those who want to pursue smallmouth bass while enjoying the scenic bluff country. Good bass fishing also exists in lakes just east and west of the I-35 Interstate corridor, including Clear Lake in Waseca and Mazaska, Cedar, Shields and French lake near Faribault.

Northwest Minnesota for big waters

Those seeking adventure on a big lake should consider northwest Minnesota, home of huge walleye, northern pike and muskellunge waters. With 65,000 miles of shoreline and more than 14,000 islands, Lake of the Woods is Minnesota’s ultimate big water fishing destination. It offers world-class walleye, sauger, muskellunge, smallmouth bass and sturgeon fishing. Another option is Upper Red Lake. Located partially within the Red Lake Indian Reservation, Upper Red Lake covers 120,000 acres, and public fishing is available on 48,000 of them. Upper Red has produced some of the state’s hottest walleye fishing in recent years. Leech Lake, the state’s third-largest inland lake, is another outstanding fishing destination. So is Lake Bemidji, a 6,420 acre lake nestled against the city of Bemidji.

The far north for wilderness and remoteness

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness area is a million-acre network of lakes, rivers and connecting overland portages along the Minnesota and Canada border. Canoe trip outfitters operate out of Ely, Minn., and elsewhere can map a custom trip and obtain permits that meet your schedule. Voyageurs National Park is another “far north” experience. Its interior of 200,000 acres is accessible only by water. Voyageurs is the state’s premier destination for houseboat-and-fishing vacations.

River trips for paddlers

Those who want to go with the flow will want to check out the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, the latter a National Wild and Scenic River on the state’s eastern edge. Similarly, anglers visiting the Duluth area will want to check out the Lower St. Louis River, which holds solid numbers of smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, channel catfish and muskellunge. The Cannon River in southeast Minnesota and the Minnesota River downstream from Granite Falls are also worth checking out. The DNR maintains a list of canoe outfitters on its website.

The Twin Cities for an urban experience

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area features many great lakes plus three major rivers – the Minnesota, Mississippi and St. Croix. Several of Minnesota’s state record fish have been caught in the Metro Area. The Mississippi River is as a great bass fishery, and Pool 2 – that portion of the river between the dams at St. Paul and Hastings – is a world-class year-round catch-and-release fishery for walleye. The Vermillion River is a designated trout stream that holds good numbers brown trout that exceed five pounds. The Twin Cities also features a number of large lakes that produce quality-sized fish. Popular lakes in the West Metro include Waconia, Minnetonka, Prior, Independence, Nakomis and Medicine. Top fishing lakes in the East Metro include White Bear, Bald Eagle, Forest, Marine and Coon. Muskellunge lakes in the Metro Area include White bear, Forest and Owasso. Tiger muskellunge, a hybrid of a northern pike and muskellunge, are stocked in several other lakes such as Lake Elmo, Johanna and Crystal.

Many places for muskellunge

The great thing about muskellunge fishing in Minnesota is these fish are found throughout the state. In fact, several excellent muskellunge lakes are located in the highly urbanized Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Chief among them is sprawling Lake Minnetonka, which covers some 14,000 acres on the metro area’s western edge. White Bear and Bald Eagle lakes are other popular urban muskellunge destinations. Statewide, Minnesota is home to about 100 muskellunge waters. Among the most popular are Mille Lacs (130,000 acres), Vermilion (39,277 acres), Bemidji (6,596 acres), Detroit (3,067 acres), Alexander (2,709 acres), Leech (102,948 acres), Winnibigoshish (56,470 acres) and Cass (15,958 acres). The Mississippi, St. Croix and St. Louis rivers also hold muskies.

Author, C.B. Bylander is a long-time Minnesota angler and freelance writer who has extensive fishing experience throughout the state.