Where to Fish in Minnesota: Millie Lacs, Otter Tail Lake & More

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The Midwestern U.S. state of Minnesota borders Canada and Lake Superior, which is the largest of the Great Lakes. And the state has the famous nickname, “The Land of 10,000 Lakes.” For that reason, Minnesota is nationally renowned as a year-round fishing location. Minnesota offers plenty of fishing opportunities to keep any keen angler occupied for a weekend break or even a longer vacation.  Before we get into our favorite places to cast your line, here’s a little Minnesota history.

The capital of Minnesota, which they also call, “The North Star State,” is the city of St. Paul. But the largest city in the state is Minneapolis. Together, the locals have nicknamed these two busy areas the “Twin Cities.” And there you’ll find large metropolitan hotels, restaurants, and an internationally recognized arts community.

With so many lakes, the avid angler is definitely in luck. The fish species you can expect to land in the lakes of the North Star State include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, both white/black crappie, perch, bluegill, northern pike, muskellunge and the Minnesota famous walleye.

It’s worth noting that the state’s most famous fish is the walleye, and it’s actually the official state fish. Bass fishing is also extremely popular there, too. In fact, it’s so good, they have held the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship in Minnesota in recent years.

As well as a myriad of lakes, the mighty Mississippi River flows through southern Minnesota. And it offers great opportunities for anglers.  Let’s look at your typical fishing license requirements, followed by our favorite spots that you can catch your share of fish on a lazy afternoon.

Fishing Licenses

Those over the age of 15 must have a valid fishing license to cast a line in Minnesota.

And anyone under age 15 does not need a license if their parent or guardian has one. However, you must carry a legible copy of your license with you when you’re fishing.

To obtain a fishing license, just visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website. Also, you can buy a fishing license from an official license agent.

Our 10 Favorite Spots

There are thousands of great fishing spots across the state. So, to save you some legwork, here are the top 10 fishing locations in Minnesota. Note that many of these locations ask that anglers adopt a catch-and-release approach to preserve fish stocks. However, there are still places where you can fill your creel and enjoy eating your hard-won catch at the end of the day.

For the full details on fishing regulations currently in force in Minnesota, check the MDNR website. And visit this webpage for current advice on fish consumption.


1. Leech Lake

Leech Lake

Leech Lake (located here) is a prime spot for smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing. This 102,947-lake stretches across the Counties of Beltrami, Hubbard, and Itasca. Because of its size, Leech Lake is one of the top fishing locations in Minnesota by a mile. The fish species you can expect to find in these waters include:

  • Bluegill
  • Sunfish
  • Bass
  • Crappie
  • Eelpout
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern pike
  • Perch
  • Walleye
  • Common Carp

Also, Leech Lake is especially popular with bass fisherman. So, during the summer months, you can check out the bays and coves where the vegetation is thick for largemouths. In fact, the shallow inlets of the Benedict, Steamboat, Boy and Shingobee Rivers are prime largemouth habitat. And for your share of smallies, head to the rocky reefs in the big water areas and around any of the points of Leech’s many islets and islands.  It’s a great place for anglers that prefer to explore by motorized boats, but also by other methods including shore fishing, dock fishing or fishing from a kayak.

Walleye will happily take live-bait rigs and crawlers on the big water flats in 10 to 14 feet of water. During periods of low light, trolling crankbaits and anchoring with leeches and slip bobbers on the breaks and flats in Walker Bay is profitable. And you’ll find muskies during the summer and fall hiding amid the weedy, rocky areas close to the shore. Lastly, to extend your fishing trip at Leech Lake, there are plenty of well-equipped campgrounds to enjoy.


2. Lake Winnibigoshish

Lake Winnibigoshish

Lake Winnibigoshish is a 56,471-acre lake that stretches between Cass and Itasca counties. And it is one of the state’s premier walleye fishing spots. There are several public boat ramps scattered around “Lake Winnie,” as the locals call it. Also, there’s lots of good shore access.

However, there’s an 18-inch to 23-inch slot limit in force there to preserve this resource. So, remember, you can only include one fish over 23-inches in your daily bag limit. You can expect to catch these species at Lake Winnie:

  • Northern pike
  • Muskellunge
  • Perch
  • Bullhead
  • Bluegill
  • Bass
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Yellow perch
  • Walleye

During the spring and fall, check the shallow, rocky flats for perch, pike, and walleye where they hunt for schools of minnows. You can catch them with a jig and minnow and light tackle. But early July is the time when fish begin to move into deeper water, so you’ll want to have something that can help you find fish in deeper areas and use the right fishing setup, like Lindy rigs, which are your best presentation at this time of the season.

Use a nightcrawler or leech, especially around mid-lake structure, bars and humps where you’ll find Northern pike, perch, and walleye. Also, depth finders and fish locators can be useful at this time of year when the fish can be elusive. In addition, you can stay at the Winnie Campground on the western side of the Lake in the heart of the Chippewa National Forest.

Also, you can hike or bike along the trails around the lake’s 141-mile shoreline. And they have a boat ramp and harbor next to the campground, as well as a picnic area. But for restaurants, stores, a bank, a movie theater and a museum, go to the small town of Cass Lake. It is about 25 miles west of the campground. With so much to offer, Lake Winnie is one of the top 10 fishing locations in Minnesota.


3. Mille Lacs

Mille Lacs Lake

Mille Lacs is a 132,516-acre lake that spans Aitkin, Mille Lacs, and Crow Wing Counties. The fish species that make the lake their home include:

  • Walleye
  • Northern pike
  • Muskellunge
  • Jumbo perch
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Tullibee
  • Walleye

Smallmouth bass season opens on the Saturday before Memorial Day. At this time, you’ll find fish in shallow water up to 10 feet deep. Effective lures include lipless crankbaits, stickbaits, tube jigs, finesse worms, and spinnerbaits. And during the summer months from June through August, the famous Mille Lacs bug hatches take place, influencing the bite.

With such an abundance of food, the fish can be reluctant to bother taking lures. However, super-slow fishing can still yield results. However, once the bug hatch is over, smallmouth action heats up. So look for the marker buoys and fish the shallow rock reefs around the lake using top-water baits. Also, early and late in the day are the best times to fish the top of the water when the light is low.

And if you’re after walleye, try fishing in deeper water around 10 to 25 feet. Here you’ll need to use deep cranking and finesse jigs. But a fish locator is the key to locating your prey. In the cooler months of the fall, you’ll find yellow perch migrating into the shallows and weedy areas. You’ll also catch the smallmouth, musky and northern pike that come to the shallower waters in search of an easy meal.

Spinnerbaits, small swimbaits, and jig ‘n’ worms are the bait of choice for successful local anglers. Wintertime sees the lake come alive with ice-fishing where fat perch are the prime catch. And lastly, Mille Lacs is one of the top 10 fishing locations in Minnesota because of its spectacular all-season fishing.


4. Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake is a 227,604-acre body of water in Koochiching County. However, Rainy Lake is more like an inland sea than a lake. And this is because the water levels fluctuate with the local rainfall and the dam at International Falls. But with its islands, boulder-clad shorelines and rocky reefs, Rainy Lake makes the perfect smallmouth fishery.

So, fish the shallow waters throughout June and September. And move into deeper areas in the summer. In addition to smallies, you’ll find:

  • Walleye
  • Northern pike
  • Sauger
  • Black crappie
  • Bluegill
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Rock bass
  • Yellow perch
  • Whitefish
  • Tullibee
  • Black bullhead

Interestingly, Rainy Lake is one of the last lakes to thaw, making it one of the top 10 fishing locations in Minnesota. Also, in the springtime, you can fish for most species, especially walleye. And after a long winter, the walleye are ready for a meal. But the spring walleye fishing is most productive if you fish in six to 18 feet of water. So try fishing off the dock or from the shoreline at night. Also, try areas where there is a current or a rocky shore with weed lines.

Also, stick to the windward shores rather than the leeward. In addition, use Lindy rigs with live bait, especially minnows. Remember, walleyes are schooling fish, so where there’s one, there’s more. Importantly, they encourage catch-and-release to ensure the future of fishing.

And always use release methods that don’t cause internal damage to the fish. Where possible, avoid using hooks or stressing fish by pulling them from deep water. Around the lake, you’ll find seasonal RV parks with modern amenities. But if you prefer, remote water access campgrounds are deep within the Voyageurs National Park.

Around the lake, you’ll find seasonal RV parks with modern amenities. And finally, you can choose a remote water access campground deep within the Voyageurs National Park.


5. Red Lake

Red Lake Minnesota

Red Lake (located here) is on this list of the top 10 fishing locations in Minnesota because it is one of the state’s largest at 107,800 acres. And this location is infamous for its crappie and ice-fishing. Also, local anglers report they often find 40-inch northern pike there. Best of all, there are lots of resorts around the lake shore.

So, you can easily find open launch trips, fishing guides, ice houses, campsites and RV rentals year-round. The fish species that populate this fishery include:

However, walleye are the most popular catch at Red Lake. So try trolling gold and green spinners in five to eight feet of water on the east shore. But leeches, minnows, and nightcrawlers work well, too. And the local anglers report the biggest northern pike migrate into the Tamarac River area. Remember, medium size sucker minnows are effective when targeting monster pike.


6. Sand Lake

Sand Lake Minnesota

Sand Lake is a 4,328-acre lake that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regularly stocks. The lake has protected bays, shallow waters and glorious forest scenery. And this scenic diversity makes this spot perfect no matter what fishing technique you use. Also, the water temperature is varied.

And the underwater structures create the ideal habitat for fish. The fishing diversity is what puts it on this list of the top 10 fishing locations in Minnesota. At Sand Lake, you’ll find several different fish species, including:

  • Jumbo perch
  • Crappie
  • Panfish
  • Bass
  • Northern pike
  • Walleye
  • Bluegill

So fish from the shoreline if you want to take to the water to access eight other lakes and rivers. Early in the season, check out the shallow drop-off areas where walleye hunt minnows. Jig and minnow combos work well. And they can also attract those aggressive, abundant northern pike.

But if you’re after walleye, avoid the pikes’ attentions by fishing the inner edges of the weedy flats. Use a slip bobber rigged with a lively leech and a small jig. And you can find crappie in the weed beds near the deeper waters. So look for drop-off edges throughout the summer and fall.

Also, you’ll also find monster bluegill, which you can catch with small jigs tipped with plastic tails, small worms or pieces of nightcrawler. Look for large perch on the hard-bottomed areas around the large weed beds. Lastly, you can find some excellent accommodations around Sand Lake if you want to stay for more than a day.


7. Snelling Lake

Snelling Lake

Snelling Lake (located here) is in Fort Snelling State Park in Hennepin County. The park is one of the state’s top tourist draws, offering leisure boating as well as fishing. Snelling Lake covers a 101-acre area, making it one of the smaller top 10 fishing locations in Minnesota. The fish species you can find there include:

  • Northern pike
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Bluegill
  • Black, brown, and yellow bullhead
  • Channel catfish
  • Green sunfish
  • Largemouth bass
  • White bass
  • White crappie
  • Yellow perch

Importantly, they don’t allow gas-powered boats on the lake. But you can use paddle boats and canoes. And if you prefer to wade-fish or fish from dry land, there are several easily accessible shoreline fishing areas. And the water access and parking are excellent.

Also, there are restrooms, picnic areas, walking trails and a swimming beach. Camping is not available within the park, but there are lots of accommodations nearby.


8. Cut Foot Sioux Lake

Cut Foot Sioux Lake

Cut Foot Sioux Lake is an extremely popular fishing lake in Itasca County.  It’s located here, and the action heats up from May through the first week in July. This is when anglers come in search of trophy fishing. Throughout the winter, fishermen come to catch fish in numbers through the ice. The fish species that reside in the lake include:

  • Walleye
  • Northern pike
  • Bass
  • Jumbo perch
  • Yellow perch
  • Bluegill
  • Sunfish

The shoreline fishing is good, and you can rent a boat if you want to fish from the water. There’s a marina, cabins and camping. Also, you can visit a resort with a bait shop and fish cleaning facilities. You’ll find shopping, restaurants, golf courses and historical sites within an hour’s drive. And if you fancy a break from fishing, hike or bike through the woods or stroll to the U.S. Forest Service Visitor’s Center.


9. Otter Tail Lake

Otter Tail Lake

Otter Tail Lake (located here) is a 13,789-acre body of water in Otter Tail County. The lake is part of the Otter Tail River chain. It’s a shallow lake. In fact, nearly 60 percent of the lake is under 15 feet deep. The fish species that abound here include:

  • Largemouth bass
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Walleye
  • Northern pike
  • Rock bass
  • Bluegill
  • Crappie
  • Perch

This beautifully scenic Lake offers good shoreline fishing. Also, there are several easily accessible boat ramps for those who prefer to take to the water. Otter Tail Lake offers good fishing opportunities all year round. During the spring, walleye is the angler’s prime target. You’ll catch these predators from the shoreline, river bridges and docks.

And you can toss a line out to the weed edges and first drops where the fish feed on shiners. Try live bait rigs tipped with shiners for the best success. There’s also excellent walleye action during the summer months. So, fish around the many sunken islands on the lake or troll the miles of shallow flats with crankbaits.

After Labor Day, perch and walleye are the prey of preference for fishermen. And don’t miss out on the winter ice-fishing season when the perch just keep on going right through to spring. The yearly fishing makes this spot one of the top 10 fishing locations in Minnesota. Lastly, there’s plenty of comfortable accommodations near to Otter Tail Lake to suit most budgets.


10. Hay Creek

Hay Creek

Hay Creek (located here) near Red Wing is one of Minnesota’s best-kept fishing secrets. One of the most popular pursuits in the North Star State is fly-fishing for trout. And you can try it on one of the many sparkling, crystal clear streams that flow along the eastern border of the state. Hay Creek is one such stream, and the action kicks off during the winter trout season.

The season starts in early January, running through to the end of March. Hay Creek is perfect for trout. The water is spring-fed through limestone bluff country, so the creek stays cool in the summer and warm during the winter months. However, trout fishing at this stocked creek is on a catch-and-release basis only.

So, fish for wild brown and brook trout with a 14 nymph or scud for the best results. Access to Hay Creek is good, but some of the best fishing spots are accessible by crossing private land on foot. You can check the accessibility information here. The fly fishing at Hay Creek is what makes it one of the top 10 fishing locations in Minnesota.


Fishing For The Big One

These are our 10 favorite fishing locations in Minnesota, but the state truly is the land of 10,000 lakes and there’s just too many amazing places to fish. With that being said, if you don’t live in Minnesota and are wondering where to go on your next fishing vacation, add Minnesota to your bucket list.

As well as fabulous wilderness scenery, there are thousands of well-stocked lakes just waiting to be plundered. Don’t forget to get involved with the ice-fishing community when the lakes freeze over, and make sure you have the right gear. And take in some trout fishing in a pristine stream on a sparkling winter’s day.

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