Go Fishing on Lake of the Woods, the Walleye Capital of the World

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Lake of the Woods anglers show off their walleye and sauger catch / Lake of the Woods Tourism

Go Fishing on Lake of the Woods, the Walleye Capital of the World

By Jess Myers

As a small-town Warroad kid who loved fishing, the shore of Lake of the Woods felt like the bustling center of the universe on a sunny June day.

Four decades later, this primary entry point to Lake of the Woods remains just as incredible as the version in my memories.

Harbor and dock on Lake of the Woods

The view from Sunset Lodge on Lake of the Woods / Lake of the Woods Tourism

First-Class Fishing in the Far North

Straddling the border between Minnesota and Canada, Lake of the Woods is as far north as you can go without leaving the country. Nicknamed the “Walleye Capital of the World,” this massive body of water is one of the world’s best fishing destinations, luring anglers from around the globe to seek out its legendary walleye, along with sauger, northern, muskie and sturgeon among others.

On any given fall, spring or summer day, boats by the hundreds—from large-scale launches, to serious fishing experts on low-slung boats with more electronics than the lunar module, to teens in 14-foot aluminum kickers—can be seen all across the Big Traverse and around the islands of the Northwest Angle, with occupants usually scrambling to grab the landing net and haul in another trophy.

Man holds 30-inch walleye caught on the Rainy River 

A 30-inch walleye caught on the Rainy River /

In the spring, when the rivers are flowing and the water is cold, fishing with jigs in the area by Warroad’s famous water tower (the one with crossed hockey sticks on the front) is generally great. As the air and water warms in June and July, I venture further out to places like 12-Mile Reef and 16-Mile Reef, where I look for fish lurking near the rocks, often by using downriggers.

And then there are Lake of the Woods anomalies, like the red-hot fishing spots a few miles north of Zippel Bay State Park, where there’s little underwater structure but anglers still routinely pull massive walleyes using a spinner and a minnow. 

Warroad has changed a bit since my childhood. There’s now a lakeside casino and hotel, a microbrewery with a view of the water, and a buzzing restaurant and food truck scene. But the main draw, fishing, remains the same as ever: perfect.

More Incredible Minnesota Fishing Experiences

With more than 10,000 lakes and dozens of rivers to choose from, finding a place to catch fish in Minnesota is like finding a slot machine in Nevada.

  1. Big Water & Big Fish on Lake Superior
    A charter fishing boat on Lake Superior in the Grand Marais harbor

    A charter fishing boat in the Grand Marais harbor on Lake Superior / Kevin Linden

    Big Water & Big Fish on Lake Superior

    Practically a miniature ocean, the world’s largest freshwater lake—Lake Superior, in Northeast Minnesota—boasts massive fish to match its incredible size. Take a fishing charter out of Duluth, Two Harbors, Silver Bay or Grand Marais to catch lake trout, Coho salmon and king salmon in addition to Minnesota staples like muskies and walleyes.

  2. Chase Cats on the Big Muddy
    Man in kayak pulls a smallmouth bass

    Reeling in a smallmouth bass while kayak fishing on the Mississippi River in St. Cloud / Chelsea and Eric Eul, courtesy Clear Waters Outfitting

    Chase Cats on the Big Muddy

    While the Mississippi River starts out as tiny creek barely big enough for a kayak to navigate, America’s most renowned river is home to great fishing for smallmouth bass, walleyes and even the hard-fighting channel catfish everywhere from Lake Bemidji to Lake Pepin and further south. River fish like flowing water, and good results can be found where streams enter the channel, and downstream from locks and dams.

  3. Landing Nets in the City of Lakes
    Fly fishing in Bde Maka Ska

    Fly fishing in Bde Maka Ska, part of the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis

    Landing Nets in the City of Lakes

    Pulling in a flopping panfish with a view of the Minneapolis skyscrapers is truly one of those “only in Minnesota” experiences. Places like Lake Harriet, Bde Maka Ska and Lake of the Isles are hot spots for bluegills, crappies and even the occasional tiger musky thanks to stocking by the Minnesota DNR and a prohibition on non-electric motors.

Plan Your Minnesota Fishing Trip

Minnesota offers some of the best freshwater fishing in the country, from big lakes to scenic trout streams and the mighty Mississippi. Learn more about Minnesota fishing and start planning your trip today. 

Jess Myers

Jess Myers was raised on fresh walleye for breakfast, spending summers at his family's cabin on Lake of the Woods. He covers college hockey for The Rink Live and provides travel and outdoors coverage for the Forum Communications Company family of publications. When not at a hockey rink, he tries to spend as much time as possible piloting his pontoon.