Walleye may be Minnesota’s state fish, but it’s hard to find a fisherman who would complain about having a largemouth or smallmouth bass hit their bait or lure. Both species tend to be willing biters and put up a valiant, tackle-testing fight. And thanks to the fact that bass are found in lakes throughout the state, more and more anglers are able to experience the fantastic fishing opportunities Minnesota provides. In fact, Minnesota has a strong and growing reputation as a bass-fishing destination, in no small part because so many bodies of water boast excellent bass populations.
Largemouth bass are more widespread than smallmouth bass. More than 2,000 lakes have resident largemouth bass populations, while more than 500 lakes have smallmouth bass. Some lakes are home to both species, and the state’s river systems also provide excellent fishing, especially for smallmouth bass. One aspect about bass that many anglers appreciate is they can be caught in shallow and deep water, near vegetation or around rocks and other cover—all day long.
Bass fishing can be as simple or as complicated as anglers want to make it. Some prefer to fish from boats and cast nothing but artificial lures such as crankbaits, jigs and spinnerbaits. Others hook a lively leech below a bobber and head for the nearest shoreline. While bass in Minnesota don’t grow as large as they do in some southern states (where the growing season is longer), it’s not uncommon for fishermen to catch multiple bass per day, some of which may weigh 3 to 5 pounds—or more. Spring and fall tend to be especially productive for bass fishing because there are large numbers of fish in the cool shallows. There are fewer bass in shallow water during the summer months, when most fish congregate in schools in deeper water to escape the heat.
Below are some of the state’s most notable bass-fishing destinations:
Rainy Lake, a 210,000-acre body of water on the Canadian border, contains an excellent smallmouth bass fishery and affords fishermen the opportunity to catch trophy fish. Lake Vermilion, which covers just more than 39,000 acres, is home to both smallmouth and largemouth bass. In recent years, fisheries’ sampling efforts have turned up notably high numbers of smallmouth bass.
Also in this region, Pelican Lake near Orr is exceptional in its production of both large and smallmouth bass, thanks in part to the protected slot limit that's been in place since 1998.
Leech Lake, which clocks in at about 110,000 acres, is best known for walleye fishing, but it’s home to largemouth and smallmouth bass, too. Anglers who target vegetation in the lake’s bays regularly tie into some big largemouth bass.
The Alexandria Chain of Lakes, which includes five lakes between which anglers can easily navigate, is known for abundant populations of largemouth bass. Smallmouth bass are present, too, but in smaller numbers.
In recent years, Lake Mille Lacs arguably has been the state’s best smallmouth bass fishery, routinely turning out fish that top the scales at 4 or more pounds. Some fishermen say the 128,000-acre body of water—the second-largest lake entirely within Minnesota’s borders—is the nation’s best for smallmouth bass. It’s also hosted the Bassmaster Championship two years running in 2016 and 2017.
Minneapolis-St. Paul Area
Lake Minnetonka is 14,000 acres of bass-fishing paradise. Primarily a largemouth lake, Minnetonka harbors fish near the lake’s boat docks and among its abundant vegetation. The Mississippi River in this part of the state also contains both species of bass. Whereas smallmouth bass tend to be found in the main river channel, largemouth bass can be found in backwater areas and around shoreline cover. The St. Croix River also offers dynamite fishing for smallmouth bass.
At about 1,500 acres, Lake Washington isn’t super big, but it’s got good-sized largemouth bass and overall excellent opportunities. Farther south is the Root River, where fishermen can catch smallmouth bass from shore among towering bluffs and rolling pastures.
Other fishing opportunities
One of the best parts about fishing in Minnesota is the opportunity to catch a wide variety of fish from the same lake. Fishermen may start the day targeting bass, but if the fish aren’t biting or anglers are simply looking for a new challenge, it’s easy to switch gears and fish for another species.
Walleyes are always a popular option, of course, though anglers who fish with children may choose to pursue panfish such as crappies and sunfish. Northern pike are readily available, too, and will smack a lure or bait with abandon even when nothing else is biting. Trout are less widespread than the aforementioned species, but they can be found in many lakes, rivers and streams all across Minnesota.
Find resources to plan your next fishing trip at exploreminnesota.com/fishing.