Minnesota consistently ranks as one of the best places for bass fishing in the country. Anglers from all over the United States talk about Minnesota’s lakes and rivers as ideal for catching smallmouth and largemouth bass.
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.
"I've fished all over the country. There's no comparison."
"Quality and quantity," says National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame angler Al Lindner. "I've fished all over the country. There's no comparison to the overall average bass fishing--our lakes are loaded with them, all sizes."
Common Types of Bass in Minnesota
Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but anglers in search of smallmouth bass should focus on our 69,000 miles of natural streams. Many of these waterways harbor hard-fighting smallmouth bass—and some big ones at that.
"We have huge smallies swimming in some of the most scenic settings imaginable," says author and fishing guide Tim Holschlag. Many of Holschlag's repeat clients travel from other states to spend a day or two casting flies to smallmouth bass on a wild Minnesota river or the wilderness lakes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. "So many big fish in such uncrowded, beautiful settings," says Holschlag, "does it get any better?"
Largemouth bass occupy the shallow lakes of southern Minnesota's farm country. Big bass swim Minneapolis lakes within sight of downtown skyscrapers. The state record was caught on the fringes of the Twin Cities metro area. Largemouth also live in almost every large lake in central and northern Minnesota's resort areas, such as Brainerd, Park Rapids and Grand Rapids. For that reason, it's easy to combine bass fishing with a family vacation of golf, sightseeing and other recreation.
Where to Go Bass Fishing in Minnesota
Bass Fishing in Central Minnesota
Minnesota’s central region offers some of the most diverse waters in the state, with a wide variety of lakes and rivers on which to cast your line.
North of Brainerd near Crosslake, the Whitefish Chain of Lakes is 14,620 acres of the most diverse structure found in a Minnesota lake. A favorite place for tournaments, great catches of both largemouth and smallmouth bass can be found in most of the dozen or so lakes that make up the chain.
Lake Minnewaska's 7,110 acres are located just south of Alexandria and are relatively shallow, with a maximum depth of 32 feet and 3 public access points.
Otter Tail Lake, at 13,729 acres, is part of the Otter Tail River chain. Almost 60 percent of the lake is less than 15 feet deep, with populations of both large and smallmouth bass.
The large, 132,516-acre Lake Mille Lacs is also a top smallmouth bass fishing lake in Minnesota. With reports of bass over 7 pounds, there are ample opportunities to catch the big one. In 2019, Mille Lacs was voted the 5th best bass lake in the Central region of the U.S. by Bassmaster.
The Mississippi River from Monticello to Aitkin has become a world-class smallmouth bass fishery with ample habitat, 4 dams and 150 miles that can offer a unique float or boating experience depending on the location.
West Battle Lake south of Otter Tail Lake holds the state smallmouth record of 8 pounds.
Another favorite for bass fishing is Green Lake near Spicer.
Bass Fishing in Northwest Minnesota
Minnesota’s great northwest is home to the state’s largest lakes and the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Because of this, all types of fishing, including bass fishing, are big here.
Leech Lake is the third-largest lake entirely within the boundaries of Minnesota at 112,000 surface acres. The lake has an irregular shape with large and small bays; its deepest area is Walker Bay at 150 feet deep. In the fall, trophy bass gather in the warmer waters of Boy Bay.
Woman Lake, to the south of Leech Lake, is considered one of the best “big” smallmouth bass lakes in the area. Tournaments are regularly won on this lake with a five-fish limit weighing in at over 25 pounds.
Bass Fishing in Northeast Minnesota
The lakes of northeast Minnesota are in the southernmost exposure of the Canadian Shield and mostly composed of igneous rock as a result of its long volcanic history. Rock, wood and more rock are the keys to finding fish in area lakes.
Rainy Lake, at 345 square miles, acts more like an inland sea than a lake. Water levels fluctuate depending on rainfall along the drainage and the dam located in International Falls. The quality of Rainy Lake’s smallmouth bass fishing is only surpassed by the scenery.
Kabetogama Lake's 24,036 acres fish a lot like Rainy but with less expansive waters. Smallmouth bass are abundant throughout the lake, but anglers can find largemouth in the backwaters of the lake’s northern reaches.
Lake Vermilion, at 39,000 acres, is one of Minnesota’s top bass lakes, according to Game & Fish magazine. Its west end has a high population of smallmouth bass, but the east end produces larger fish.
Lake Pokegama near Grand Rapids is a noteworthy lake in the region, as well.
Bass Fishing in Southern Minnesota
The southernmost area of the state is known for its variety of lakes as well as the Mississippi, Minnesota and other rivers that pop up in and around the area’s small towns.
Lake Washington, at 1,487 acres, hosts many bass tournaments throughout the year and has a good population of bass that can exceed the 5 pound range.
Lake Frances by Elysian is a 797 acre spring-fed lake with a maximum depth of 60 feet. It has good shoreline cover as well as pad beds and rock points to fish.
The Mississippi River in southern Minnesota offers some of the best bass fishing opportunities anywhere. For largemouth bass, seek out the river’s backwater areas, where you’ll also see wildlife of all sorts. Smallmouth bass wait in the waters around the numerous islands and below wing dams. The Mississippi River’s 144 miles from Hastings to the Iowa border can be a bass angler’s utopia.
Bass Fishing in the Twin Cities
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is home to some of the best bass fishing in Minnesota. Area lakes, as well as the Mississippi River, are highly developed and used heavily by both anglers and recreational boaters. Still, they continue to produce good numbers of high-quality fish for all anglers, especially bass anglers.
In 2019, Bassmaster named Lake Minnetonka the 8th best bass lake in the Central region of the U.S. Its 14,528 acres host more bass tournaments than any other Minnesota lake. Large 5 and 6 pound bass thrive in its deep gravel reefs, rocky points, shallow stained waters and weedy bays.
The Mississippi River offers a unique fishing experience in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and canoe and boat rentals at dozens of urban lakes make it possible for visitors without a boat to enjoy a day of fishing.
Bass Fishing Basics
Fishing is often hot when the season opens in May, and usually remains good well into the fall. (Season dates vary across the state so check the DNR website for specific dates.) Spring and fall tend to be especially productive for bass fishing because there are large numbers of fish in shallow waters. There are fewer bass in the shallows during the summer months when most fish congregate in schools in deeper water to escape the heat.
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.
Given the wide variety of bass waters in the state, preferred tackle and tactics often vary based on the region being fished. In the fertile waters of southern Minnesota, where weed growth is often heavy, opt for buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and worm rigs with heavy line and stiff rods. But in the clear water of many northern lakes, light lines and more subtle presentations often work better. For smallmouth in streams, light bait casting or spinning tackle with small plugs and jigs work well. Medium-weight fly tackle with popping bugs and streamers is also effective.
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 anglers to catch multiple bass per day, some of which may weigh 3 to 5 pounds—or more.
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