Top Kayak Fishing: Upper Midwest Destinations

Most of us have a similar background in fishing. As a youth, a parent or grandparent introduced us to the sport. In effect, they were our “guide,” rigging gear and selecting destinations to fish. As we grew in the sport, our friends became a great source of information on everything fishing and where to fish. The list of variables for fishing success is lengthy. The weather, the right lure or live bait, wind and more. But the biggest discussion in any fishing outing is about the destination. Where to go? You want to be in the right place at the right time.

As a kayak angler, the areas and types of water you can fish is expanded. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting new friends and have learned about great destinations from fellow kayak anglers in our club. Some destinations are kept secret among only a handful of people. Other spots are great for kayak fishing and more generally known. Recently in our Facebook group, members were going to a spot I’d had success on a few days earlier and were looking for advice. The comments section filled with great suggestions. I marked up a Google Earth map and messaged it to the person who’d made the post showing where I’d had success. Others had done this for me, it was my way of paying back to the community. For this article, I worked with some of my kayak fishing friends to share some productive, interesting upper midwest regional destinations.        

When people talk about Lake of the Woods they see images of acres and acres of big water and large walleye caught from power boats. What’s forgotten are the rivers, creeks and bays that feed into the lake on the south shore. In the spring, these are great places to chase trophy northern pike from a kayak. The ice pack melts in the creeks and bays first and the pike move into these areas to spawn. Lake of the Woods is a Minnesota border lake and pike fishing is open year-round. Every spring a group of Minnesota Kayak Fishing Association anglers plan a trip to target monster pike.

This year, Josh Engelmann suggested we hit Lake of the Woods.

Josh had previously stayed at Cyrus Resort on Bostic Creek for ice and open water walleye fishing trips. Josh told us, “It’s only a short kayak paddle down the creek from the resort to the bay which is protected on three sides by Morris Point and is perfect for fishing from kayaks. The bay is lined with weed beds along the shore, with some patches in the middle of the bay. It’s the perfect depth and habitat for spawning pike.”

Early this spring, a group of us headed to Lake of the Woods. The open water in Bostic Bay was in the mid 50º range, but the main lake was still frozen. Josh commented, “It was cool to be fishing an open water weed bed and look out on the main lake and see the ice pack. Each day we could see the lake ice retreat further. It was a unique experience.”

We had fabulous fishing on this trip. Lots of large quality pike that fought hard! We returned the big ones to the water to keep the population thriving and kept some smaller ones for a fish fry. Our group used a handful of tactics. Josh told us, “I mainly used spinners and swimbaits. Most of my success was on a 3/8-oz. swimbait fished along the weed edges.”

The best fishing was yet to come!

We were at a fabulous fishing destination at the right time. The weather was beautiful and our group was focused on fun and helping each other. We all share a passion for pike fishing. But one of us is “the hardest working man in kayak fishing.” Todd Kewatt always catches more and higher quality northern pike than anyone on our outings. He trolls longer, farther and tries more tactics than anyone I know. He always figures out what the pike want. One day he got us all on pike using lipless crank baits. He’s also a big fan of fishing with very large spoons. On the last day, I was 100 yards from him and he yelled, “Get over here, I’ve had five hits on a spoon and it’s a huge pike!”

I got near the spot he was in and we both fan casted the area. Then it happened. “I got it!” Todd yelled. Rod bending action and multiple runs by the fish ensued. Finally, Todd got the fish in the net and then into his kayak. “WOW, that has to be a 40 incher,” I said. Then my jaw dropped, “What’s that?” Todd was removing a very small spoon from the mouth of this very large fish. Todd told me, “This spoon is over 40 years old. It belonged to my Dad, I just had a feeling it would work.”

Lake of the Woods is a huge body of water. The locals at the resort viewed us “kayak guys” as an oddity. We were launching our yaks from the same place the big power boats and 27 ft. guide boats will launch during the walleye opener the following week. We saw very few power boats on Bostic Bay during the five days we fished. We were at the right place, at the right time thanks to Josh who suggested we try this destination. 

The Red River is home to the greatest channel cat fishery in the world. It’s one of the last nearly “wild” rivers in the United States. With slower running currents and huge, hard fighting catfish, it’s a kayak angler’s destination dream! Brad Durick is a Grand Forks local who’s been a hardcore catfish angler for nearly 20 years and has guided professionally for over 10 years on the Red River. He’s well known for his research and writing on how to better pattern and catch catfish. Last year he added kayak catfishing to his list of services.

Brad told us, “The popularity of catfishing with kayaks in the south has absolutely exploded. We’re bringing that to the upper midwest! We fish for cats from the kayak in a similar way we fish in the boat, we anchor and fish on the bottom with 2-5 ounces of weight. When you a hook a cat from a yak, the real excitement begins. Hang on and get ready to go for a ride!”

It’s called adventure catfishing!

Kayak fishing is all the rage around the United States. Bass is the most popular species in kayak fishing, but there is a trend toward using kayaks to target larger fish like channel cats. If you want to crank up your kayak fishing fun, GO BIG!   

Learn more about Brad Durick and adventure kayak catfishing: www.braddurick.com

The Waubay, SD, area landscape features beautiful rolling prairies. Waubay Lake has been rising for decades and has reclaimed farms as shorelines expand. Over time, fields, trees, buildings and rock piles have been submerged. These are a hazard for power boaters, but easy for kayak anglers to work around. Local kayak angler Tyler Solsma says, “I find the flooded farms to be beautiful, I’ll see barns and houses right in the middle of the water. There are even tractors under water where you’re fishing! This certainly makes this area a unique kayak fishing destination!”

The upside of the rising waters is they’ve created an ideal habitat for spawning game fish. The local economy has benefited from the phenomenal fishing opportunities available and anglers from the upper midwest are making it a must-fish destination.

Tyler told us, “Walleyes are the top game fish in the Waubay Lakes area. My favorite fishing method is a jig tipped with a minnow. I also use bottom bouncers and spinners. About 7 years ago I decided I wanted more of a challenge and the ability to go where others couldn’t. I got into kayak fishing and can get into waters that power boats can’t. Even better, there are tons of roads that are flooded that lead right to prime fishing water. It’s easy for me to put my kayak in and launch from these spots.”

Tyler rents Hobie kayaks for visitors to fish or tour the local lakes. You can learn more about his services at: facebook.com/YakNShack/

Kayak anglers from across the upper midwest rave about the fishing on the Mississippi River near Clearwater, MN. It’s a world class fishery. Shane Olson, tournament kayak angler, describes the area. “The opportunity to catch trophy fish from multiple species is possible. Power boats cannot access most spots in the area and there is very little shore development. Your time on the water is spent surrounded by raw nature. Best of all, the sheer number of quality small mouth bass is outstanding!”

Shane prefers to fish rivers since they tend to have less developed shore lines. He says the Mississippi near Clearwater is unique. “In some parts, there are fields and on other parts of the float the terrain transitions to bluffs. These changes in elevations on land correlate to deep edges in river water. You get to fish many different types of areas and structures. You constantly need to be aware of the water and conditions and take advantage of it. This is part of what makes this water so fun to fish,” Shane says.

Shane’s secrets for catching big, hard fighting smallmouth bass in the Clearwater, MN, area

“Square bills, top water and tubes; with these three lures it’s tough not to catch smallies. Look for current breaks, structure points, the back of islands and places where smallmouth bass can rest and eat, then show them these lures which look like food. You’ll catch fish!”

Celebrate the mighty Mississippi, smallmouth bass and have fun at the BronzeBack Classic Fishing Tournament

Clearwater Outfitting is a local river shuttle service and kayak fishing dealer. Twice each summer they host the BronzeBack Classic Tournament. The area has plenty of options for lodging and restaurants. The tournaments are well run and a ton of fun. Kayak anglers from all over the upper midwest meet to compete and outsmart and catch the abundant smallmouth bass in this stretch of the river. Shane has taken second place in the BronzeBack Classic twice. He’s so hooked on fishing these waters, he’s never missed a tournament.

Learn more about this area or the Clearwater Outfitting Bronzeback Classic Tournament at: cwoutfitting.com/kayak-fishing-tournament    

Shane, a local kayak fishing guide, has taken me to destinations I never would have thought about trying. One year, it was the best bass fishing I’ve ever had. Last year, we hit up one of his favorite spots which resulted in a 37” pike. If Shane says the Clearwater area is tops for catching smallmouth bass…it’s gonna happen for you!

You can learn more about Shane and his guide service at: facebook.com/kayakfishingadventuresmn/

Are there secret spots that even kayak anglers keep to themselves? ABSOLUTELY! Are kayak anglers more likely to share their hot spots? I think so. The culture among kayak anglers is different than other fishing segments. Since we can get to exclusive waters that shore anglers or power boaters can’t, the threat of a secret spot getting out and being choked with too many anglers is greatly reduced. For a kayak angler, sharing these secret spots with a small group only adds minimal pressure to these prime fishing areas.

My “LAKE X” STORY!

What I’ve learned since founding the Minnesota Kayak Fishing Association is kayak anglers like to roam on the water and fish how they want and where they want. That’s how we fish when we’re out as a group. We also enjoy having other yak anglers close by to celebrate catches with us and take pictures to share via messages and social media. Last year, one of our members discovered an awesome pike lake that is very difficult to access. He shared it with a few members and asked we keep it quiet. I fished “Lake X” a few times last season and had good luck and watched others land some monsters. This year, we went back to “Lake X” shortly after the Minnesota opener. The pike bite was on fire. I scored a 36.25” pike in the morning and a 38” beauty that afternoon with lots of other fish in between.

Community sharing is the power of being part of online groups and being a member of a kayak fishing club. Your skills and success rate will improve. You’ll learn about new fishing destinations that are public and some that are secret. Get out and fish new waters and meet new friends. I want to thank everyone who helped contribute to this article. I also want to thank all the friends I’ve met through kayak fishing. You’ve made my fishing better and continually make me laugh. Special thanks to the “Lake X” angler for finding and sharing their special spot. I’d like to tell you who the person is…but it’s a SECRET!

Tight lines to you all!