Fish Northern Minnesota

Minnesota may be known as the Walleye capital of the world, but don't forget about the amazing bass fishing, northern pike fishing, pan fishing or trout fishing in Minnesota.

Why Minnesota?

I moved to Minnesota over 20 years ago from rural Utah. I was blown away by the beauty and all that water. I immediately fell in love with my surroundings and have now made it my home. Minnesota is home to amazing wildlife, waterfalls, gorgeous sunsets and of course we get the northern lights. And don’t forget the fishing. Here in Minnesota we fish for Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Bluegill, Crappie, Largemouth Bass, Lake Trout and more. I’ve had the opportunity to live in 4 places in northern Minnesota-Crane Lake (edge of Voyageurs National Park), Ely (BWCA), Gunflint Trail and currently in Orr (Pelican Lake). This has given me the chance to fish for a variety of species and water types. I love fishing lakes and rivers, from a motor boat, shoreline or from canoe. 


First let’s talk about walleye. Walleye is the state fish and the most popular fish to catch for most people. Generally an elusive deep water fish walleye are known for their light bite and large tasty fillets. We usually catch walleye one of two ways-vertically jigging or trolling a crawler harness. While a walleye will occasionally hit a lure, they usually are caught with live bait. Personally I use worms or leeches but many people prefer minnows. When fishing for walleye I prefer to eat fish that are between 15 and 20 inches long. Males don’t usually grow above 24/25 inches long so the large trophy walleyes are all female. For this reason it is recommended that all trophy walleyes are carefully released at the boat. I find walleye one of the most difficult fish to hook. They tend to like cooler water and follow the lakes thermal clime. I find they prefer water temp between 55 and 60 degrees. Their bite is extremely soft with them usually bitting the bottom of the bait and slowly eating up to the hook. You have to wait to set the hook or you’ll pull the hook right out of their mouth. Once hooked they usually just try to swim down. As long as you keep pressure on the line you can usually land a walleye once hooked. My largest walleye caught so far is 29 and 1/4 inches long 10.5 pounder. It was caught on Pelican Lake (where I live).

Smallmouth Bass

Along with Walleye fishing my favorite fish to catch in Minnesota is the smallmouth bass. Usually I rely on soft plastics such as a senko wacky rigged during the daytime and top water lures in the evening. I love throwing a whopper plopper, jitterbug, torpedo or scum frog along a lily pad or sunken tree and waiting for the explosion. I’ve been fortunate enough to catch a 5 pounder every summer I’ve lived in Minnesota. I start fishing for smallmouth around June 1 and fish them until mid October. While smallmouth seem to like cool water during the daytime, they will move into the shallows in the evening. Otherwise I like to fish for them over rock piles. I have 4 favorite ways/places to fish for smallmouth. 

1- Lake fishing in a boat with an electric trolling motor.

2-I really like fishing for smallmouth in rivers. My favorite river to fish for smallmouth is the Vermillion river. I especially like doing this in July and August when the lakes are very warm and the fishing seems to slow down. The rivers always seem to have good action when the lakes warm up. 

3-Another favorite of mine is the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA). The largest smallmouth I’ve caught was 21 inches long and caught in a canoe on Knife Lake in the BWCA (pictured).

4-My last trick for catching trophy smallmouth is to find a lake that can only be accessed by a portage. There are hundreds of small (300 acres or so) lakes in northern Minnesota that you can fish if you’re willing to portage a boat or canoe there. I used to do this all the time and had days where I landed 50 plus smallmouth in a day with a dozen or so of them being over 4 pounds.

Minnesota Trout Fishing

Everyone knows Minnesota has great walleye, crappie, bluegill, smallmouth and northern pike fishing. Most people don’t realize how good the trout fishing can be in Minnesota. We also have great trout fishing. The Los Angeles Lakers NBA basketball team is called the lakers because they originated in Minneapolis and are named for lake trout (known as lakers). Lake trout can be caught deep during the summer using down riggers. But in the fall and spring you can catch them in the shallows along rocky reefs using spoons. My largest is 17 pounds(pictured) and was caught as an 18 year old teenager fishing shallow lures in October. 

Along with giant lake trout we also have rainbow, brook and splake trout in various lakes and streams. Many of the small lakes along the Canadian border have trout. To fish for trout in Minnesota you have to purchase a trout stamp along with your fishing license. Small spinners as well as live bait work well for trout. If you are interested in trout you should talk to a local lodge, bait shop or outfitter for details on a specific lake.

10,000 plus lakes and not enough summer...

No matter what type of fishing you decide to do you won’t be disappointed. I do suggest working with a lodge owner or outfitter if you aren’t familiar with an area. Local businesses that service the fishing industry keep very close tabs on current trends and best techniques. I know that not only do I talk with all our guests about their fishing, I also make sure I spend some time each week “researching” the fishing conditions on my lake.