By Trent Jonas
In Minnesota, fishing is a very big deal. Every year, the opening of walleye season (which almost always falls on Mothers Day weekend) has folks lined up, ready to put in their boats at midnight. Anglers will never tell you their favorite honey spots, but here are some of the best places to drop a line in Minnesota!
Mille Lacs Lake in North Central Minnesota is famous for its walleye and muskie fishing. A popular, year-round angling destination—in winter, it’s home to one of the world’s biggest collections of ice fishing shanties—Mille Lacs used to the be the first lake that walleye anglers would rush to when the season opened. Its popularity, however, has stressed the walleye population in the lake. In order to manage the fishery, the DNR occasionally imposes special regulations. For example, in 2017, anglers could only target walleye for catch-and-release. But what about folks who want to bring home a trophy? There are, of course, huge muskies and hard-fighting northern pikes in the lake—and plenty of guides who’ll show you where they are—but smallmouth bass are the recent stars of the show. Bassmaster Magazine ranked the lake as one of the 10 best smallmouth bass fisheries in the country, and USA Today listed it among “America’s  best bass fishing lakes and ponds.”
More than 60 species of fish have been documented in the St. Croix River, from Taylor’s Falls, Minnesota, to its confluence with the Mississippi River. Anglers looking for walleye will want to concentrate their efforts in the lower stretches of the river, below Stillwater, where the species has above-average abundance. The minimum length for keepers on the St. Croix is 15 inches. If you’re targeting hard-fighting smallmouth bass, or hunting river monsters like lake sturgeon or catfish, focus your angling efforts on the stretch of river north of Stillwater. In order to prevent the proliferation of invasive species upstream, the National Park Service does not allow upstream boat traffic above the mile 29.5 (the Arcola sandbar) checkpoint. Boat anglers are better served to launch upriver and work their way downstream.
Lake Pepin is a natural widening of the Mississippi River that stretches for 21 miles where more than 80 species of fish have be recorded. Among these are healthy and abundant populations of walleye, sauger (a tasty relative of the walleye), and northern pike. Sport anglers will enjoy the bass fishing on Lake Pepin, which hosts good populations of largemouth, smallmouth, and white bass. Abundant panfish and crappies will keep your lines as busy as you want them to be if you’re just fishing for fun. The lake stretches south from Red Wing, Minnesota, to a point across from Alma, Wisconsin.
While Minnesota anglers are definitely walleye-centric, there is another fishing opportunity that shouldn’t be ignored: Brown trout. The trout streams of Southeast Minnesota are often underutilized, which means that the populations are solid and larger fish are abundant. One of the best places to target Minnesota’s browns is in the South Branch of the Root River. Because it’s a wider river that’s tracked by the paved Root River Trail, access to the water is excellent and and fly anglers have plenty of room for casting. Trout fishing is best in the western reaches of the river (and requires a current trout stamp). There’s more to the Root River than trout, though, smallmouth and rock bass, as well as channel catfish inhabit the streams pools.
Twin Cities anglers who don’t want to travel too far for awesome walleye fishing head to Bald Eagle Lake in the Northeast Metro. The lake is known for its walleye but also has good populations of northern pike, muskies, and largemouth bass—including some lunkers. Kids and anglers who enjoy targeting panfish will not be disappointed in Bald Eagle Lake’s abundant sunnies. Despite its size, access to the lake is pretty limited, which can make for crowded launches. There’s public access and a fishing pier at the county park and also a boat ramp at a bait shop on the north end of the lake.