Fishing Legends & Beautiful Lakes in Central Minnesota

Explore Central Minnesota logo

This article is supported by members of the Minnesota Heartland Association.

By C.B. Bylander

Those in search of great fishing,  the perfect resort and plenty of family entertainment options should make tracks to central Minnesota.

Grand ViewThis region is chock-full of popular fishing lakes, and features a wide variety of lodging and entertainment options. From small mom and pop operations to the state’s largest and most luxurious resorts, central Minnesota is the place to go for a great day on the water and a relaxing night on shore.

Some of America’s best anglers know this.   

Al and Ron Lindner, legendary  anglers of television and magazine fame, long  have lived in the Brainerd area so they can enjoy great multi-species fishing close to home. The same is true for national Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame angler Babe Winkelman. Kevin VanDam,  the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society’s all-time money winner, is among those who have fished central  Minnesota. He fished in a national B.A.S.S. tournament at Mille Lacs lake that set a record for the most large smallmouth ever weighed in a tournament. VanDam  told a national television audience he had never fished a lake with so many big smallmouth bass.

Popular fishing destinations include the lakes near Hutchinson, Willmar, Alexandria, Fergus Falls, Brainerd and Aitkin. All of these areas and many more are great places to catch walleye, bass, crappie, northern pike and sunfish,  and in some instances muskellunge. The Mississippi River flows through central Minnesota. It  too is an angler favorite for walleye, bass, panfish and muskellunge.

Central Minnesota also features a most unusual destination. It is called the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. Located near Crosby and Ironton, this 5,000-acre forest-and-lake landscape is the former site of several open pit iron mines. Today, these deep cavities in the earth are full of  water so clear it draws Scuba divers from throughout the Midwest. These lakes  are particulary appealing because no homes, cabins or docks ring the shoreline. So, anglers pursuing  trout, northern pike, largemouth bass, crappie and sunfish fish among truly scenic surroundings.   

Anglers should know central Minnesota has:

  • Outdoorsy Mille Lacs Launch 440x440.jpgMany big lakes: The largest is Mille Lacs, which totals 132,000 acres. This legendary fishing lake is just 90 minutes north of the Twin Cities. It is also one of the nation’s best smallmouth bass lakes and one of the state’s top muskellunge waters. The lake holds good numbers of muskellunge exceeding 50 inches in length. In fact, anglers in recent years have caught and released muskellunge that likely have broken the state record of 54 pounds. Other big lakes include Otter Tail Lake east of Fergus Falls, the Gull chain of lakes near Brainerd, the Whitefish chain of lakes near Cross Lakes, Osakis near Alexandria and Koronis at Paynesville.
  • Many small bass and panfish lakes: This region of the state is dotted with lakes. In fact, more than 1,000 lakes exist in Otter Tail County alone. Virtually all hold bass, panfish and northern pike. They are perfect places for family fishing from dock or boat. Angling advice is readily available from local bait shops. These folks know the seasonal movements of fish, and they can provide helpful tips on depths to fish, bait preferences and other helpful tactics.  
  • Many resort options: Anglers can choose from small fishing-type resorts to those with hundreds of rooms. All can can be easily found on local visitor bureau  and tourism websites. Major resorts feature such top-end amenities as championship golf courses, spas, scheduled activities for kids and more. Among central Minnesota’s large resorts are Madden’s Resort, Cragun’s Resort,  Ruttger’s Resort, Breezy Point Resort and Grand View Lodge in the Brainerd area;  Big Sandy Lodge and Resort in the McGregor area; Arrowwood Resort in the Alexandria area; and Appledorn’s On Mille Lacs near Isle.
  • Many guides services available: Fishing guides are available for those who want to make the most of their fishing time. Costs vary but expect to pay about $300 for a half-day trip and perhaps $500 for a full day of fishing. These prices include rod, reel, gear and bait. For many vacationers, a guide is a good investment as their services eliminate so many stress-inducing hassles.  At Mille Lacs lake, guided launch trips are even available. These can be great family fun. Launches typically take to the lake three times a day - morning, afternoon and evening. For those  those who want to go it alone, boat and motor rentals are widely available at resorts. So too are ice fishing house rentals in winter.
  • Trophy potential yet action for kids: Experienced  anglers who seek seek trophy-sized bass, walleye or muskelunge (also known as Muskies)  will have a chance to catch one in central Minnesota. Kids will have opportunities, too. Many fish are caught by simply casting a  bobber, hook and worm from a dock,shore or fishing pier.
  • St. Cloud 2 CW_Outfitters_TheEuls_5637.jpg
    Credit: Chelsea and Eric Eul, Courtesy of Clear Waters Outfitting
    Mississippi River – The Mississippi River flows through much of central Minnesota, including St. Cloud, where the 2017 Governor’s Fishing Opener will be held. St. Cloud anglers often fish for smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye and panfish above the dam at Sartell and down stream below the dam that is adjacent to St. Cloud State University.
  • Many options in addition to fishing: Central Minnesota is home to plenty of places to play. The Brainerd area, for example, features motels with water parks, mini-golf, go-cart riding, zip-lining, cruise ship dining and more. Other cities offer similar fare. Central Minnesota is also home to some of the state’s best-known bike trails, including the Paul Bunyan, Lake Wobegon, Glacial Lakes and Central Lakes. The Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area is a nationally known mountain bikding destination. Several state parks are located in central Minnesota, including Mille Lacs Kathio south of Garrison where  visitors can climb to the top of a fire tower and get a commanding view of this giant lake.

This page is sponsored by: