My short list of favorite Minnesota fishing Spots
I grew up in the Twin Cities.
Back in the day, when you’d ask someone what they are up to that weekend, a common answer was, “going up north to do some fishing.” The Twin Cities are in the lower third geographic area of the state, so “up north” is a pretty vague answer. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, so your options for fishing waters are bountiful. I mostly fish from my kayak these days and have fished all the waters in this article from kayak and powerboat as well as ice fishing. I’ve targeted multiple species on all these waters and have had some great results.
Northeast Minnesota – The Gunflint Trail
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is in northeast Minnesota on the Canadian, U.S. border. As you travel north out of Duluth, Minnesota, there are trails (roads) that head north from Lake Superior that take you to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The Gunflint Trail is the furthest road north. From the town of Grand Marais, you drive north up a steep incline that levels off and features lake after lake on both sides of the road. The views on the drive up and down the trail is worth the windshield time alone, even if you don’t fish.
These aren’t cookie cutter lakes and streams; the variety of depths, structure and fish species present is amazing for the size of the area. You can easily fish for smallmouth bass, pike, trout, walleye and more in one trip. The variety of access is also amazing. Some waters have concrete power boat launches, some have very rustic access only suitable for carrying in canoes and kayaks. Some lakes within the BWCA have special regulations and access permits required and only allow specific types of watercraft. If a true wilderness experience is what you’re after, remote lakes, portages and extremely low-pressure fishing waters can be accessed from the Gunflint Trail.
At the very top of the Gunflint Trail is the Seagull River at Saganaga Lake. The state record Walleye was caught there in 1979. Saganaga has access restrictions which keeps fishing pressure low. If Walleyes are your thing, this is a great lake to fish.
Northcentral Minnesota, Lake of The Woods
Early in the spring, Lake of The Woods is a spectacular place to catch MONSTER fish from your kayak (or boat). Northern Pike is open year-round on this U.S. / Canada boundary water. The pike move into the bays and tributaries to spawn after ice out. Our kayak fishing club has an annual trip to Bostic Bay to catch and release the large pike that are packed in the bay. It’s an incredible flurry of action and personal best pike caught and released. This year, five out of 18 anglers scored a new personal best pike. Four pike over 40” were caught. Dozens of pike over 35” were landed. A variety of lures work; our group mainly uses spoons, spinner baits, swim baits and lipless crank baits. Some huge pike were also caught bobber fishing with large chunks of cut bait and quick strike rigs..
Rainy River Sturgeon
The Rainy River flows into Lake of The Woods north of Baudette, Minnesota. Ice out brings giant sturgeon into the river to spawn.
Jake Didier is an avid kayak angler who targets a broad range of species. Each spring he heads to the Rainy River to fish for Sturgeon. If the conditions are right, you can use a kayak to fish. Hooking into a large fish and being pulled around is called a “sleigh ride” by kayak anglers and it’s the ultimate thrill!
According to Jake, “The idea of taking my kayak on the Rainy River to hunt for dinosaurs was too tempting to resist. The tactics and tackle are simple, nothing more than the catfishing gear I already have. I launched my kayak on the river and made my way downstream. I noticed lots of weird glances from anchored power boat guys. I’m sure they’d never seen a kayak take on a sturgeon before.
“I found a spot downstream of the fleet of boats in the tail end of a hole and waited. Then it happened, my rod “taco’d” in the holder, the bent rod tip almost touching the ice-cold river water. Then the battle began, seconds turned into minutes as the adrenaline kicked in. All of a sudden, this five-foot fish jumps out of the water ten feet from my kayak. The river went from silence to the whooping and hollering from the other boats getting in on the excitement. Soon after, my buddy and guide, Erik Ramsay, came motoring up in his boat to assist in the landing and tailing of this beautiful fish. My Sturgeon catch is forever seared into my memory as a thrilling experience. The product of a lot of planning and patience that came together to create an event I’ll never forget”.
Central Minnesota, Mille Lacs Lake
It’s probably the most popular and talked about fishery in Minnesota. For years, it was referred to as “The Walleye Factory.” Times changed, the lake changed, and the lake’s population of walleye diminished. I grew up fishing Mille Lacs with a Lindy Rig and leeches to boat walleyes. Getting on a school of active fish was great fun. Walleye, Mille Lacs and Minnesota belong in the same sentence together – they share a long, rich angling tradition together. The walleye have rebounded recently, but other species have gained visibility as Walleye populations declined.
The lake has a variety of structure – mud flats, rocks, sand, and weedy areas. What anglers learned with the decline of the Walleye is the lake also holds a bounty of other species that are great fighters and are above average in size. These fish were somewhat ignored in the Walleye heyday. The lake has gained visibility as a world-class smallmouth bass fishery. In 2017, Bassmaster Magazine ranked the lake as the #1 Bass Lake in the United States. It’s become a popular destination for bass tournaments, including the Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. Our kayak fishing club held our top tournament of the year on Mille Lacs a few years ago. If you love the fight of smallies, add Mille Lacs to your list of must get to destinations.
The MONSTERS of Mille Lacs!
For anglers who love to fish toothy critters, the pike and musky in Mille Lacs can be the thrill of a lifetime. These predators enjoy a steady diet of Tullibees, Perch, and Suckers. It’s a diet that helps them grow fat and large. With the proper gear and know-how, catching huge toothy fish from a kayak is lots of fun. A Musky from Mille Lacs is on my bucket list – it’s gonna happen, and this is the year!
My short list of BIG FISH destinations
Up north, that’s where I want to be. It’s beautiful and the fishing is bountiful. I try to make multiple trips to these destinations each season. These fisheries have provided thrills and memories that keep me going back for more.
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