The Mighty Smallmouth Bass of Mille Lacs

By Grant Erler

Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota’s second biggest lake, is a premier fishery for one of the great sport fish: the smallmouth bass. Most people are familiar with largemouth bass, but not everyone has had the privilege of hooking into their hard-fighting cousin, the “smallie.” In fact, pound for pound, smallmouth bass are one of the hardest fighting fish you’ll find in Minnesota—or in North America, for that matter.

smallmouth bass mille lacsMinnesota is home to some of the best smallmouth fishing in the country, from the 40,000 acres of island-dotted water of Lake Vermilion in the north to the deep weed lines of Green Lake near Willmar in the south, with countless miles of rivers in between. But the crown jewel of the state’s smallmouth fisheries is, without a doubt, Mille Lacs.

While smallies can be found throughout the 207 square miles of the lake, the best fishing tends to be in the southern half, with the rocky shorelines of the southeast corner being especially prime fishing grounds. Four-pound fish are plentiful, and you’ll have a real shot at catching a six-pound trophy.  

Smallmouth can be caught using a variety of methods, from simply fishing a leech under a bobber, casting crayfish imitating crank baits, to the more advanced tactics of fly fishing. A two-hour drive from Minneapolis-St Paul, the towns of Isle and Wahkon on the southeast shore of the lake are good places to start your smallmouth adventure.

Improved water clarity and an increase in the crayfish population over recent years have both been good for the smallie habitat in Mille Lacs. Another interesting tidbit is that during the dog days of summer, when fishing for other species tends to slow down, the smallie bite gets hot. Try fishing a top water plug on a muggy August evening for some of the most exciting fishing you’ll ever have.

Enjoy the hard fight of Mille Lacs smallmouth and snap a picture of your trophy fish, but let these great sport fish live to swim another day so future generations can keep catching them in central Minnesota’s smallmouth paradise.

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