Smallmouths. Largemouths. Both bass species call Minnesota home, and they often share the same waterways. And that means Gopher State bass anglers get to experience twice the fun.
Bass fishing in Minnesota is like a coin toss you just can’t lose. On one side is the plentiful and aggressive largemouth (above); on the other, the iconic, bronze-backed smallmouth bass (see next image) that has become so synonymous with the state’s pine-rimmed and pristine north country waterways.
So which bass species is king here? It depends on where you are, and maybe your perspective, too. But yet another benefit of Minnesota bass fishing is that many state waters hold both of these popular species—so you don’t have to choose.
“One of the nice things about bass fishing in Minnesota is the extreme diversity of all the many fisheries,” said Glenn Walker, a tournament bass angler who hails from Savage, just south of the Twin Cities. “You can go from the southeast Minnesota—Lake Pepin and the Mississippi River backwaters where you have lots of opportunities to catch both big smallmouths and largemouths—to some fabulous shore fishing opportunities for smallmouths along the Mississippi River, stretching from Anoka and Elk River just north of the Twin Cities, on up further north to Grand Rapids. Mille Lacs: A World-Class Smallmouth Fishery
“And then you have sprawling Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota,” Walker continues. “With help from smart management and the Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance, this incredible fishery is now one of the premier smallmouth destinations in America.” Proof of that is the September 2016 Bassmaster Championship that saw the winner boat more than 75 pounds of fish over three days; top anglers boated a total of 15 fish over the three-day tournament that averaged more than 5 pounds.
Maybe just as impressive, the “big fish” for that same tournament weighed an eye-popping 6 pounds, 10 ounces. That’s a world-class smallmouth anywhere they swim. The tournament is returning to Mille Lacs in 2017.
“Mille Lacs is quickly turning into a bass fishing ‘destination’ lake, much like Kentucky Lake, Lake Okeechobee in Florida, and Guntersville in Alabama,” Walker says. “You show up at the boat launches and there are license plates from all over the country. Over the last couple years, Mille Lacs has been added to the nation’s ‘bucket list’ destinations, right up there with Lake Erie and the Niagara River flowing into Lake Ontario. It’s that body of water where anglers know they can catch that smallmouth of a lifetime.”
Minnesota Largemouths Are Eager, Available
The state’s smallmouths might be grabbing many of the current headlines, but Minnesota largemouth bass are both plentiful and widespread, and a great target for consistent angling action.
“Without question Minnesota’s ‘hidden gem’ fish is the largemouth bass,” Walker says. “And it’s because, wherever you are in the state, you can find a lot of smaller lakes that are literally filled with largemouths. You’re not going to catch a 10-pound largemouth here because the growing season just isn’t as long, but there are a lot of lakes where you can catch many fish in the 3- to 5-pound range. And depending on the lake, the fishing can be very consistent throughout the entire season.”
One larger lake that regularly produces strong catches of quality largemouths weighing 5 and 6 pounds is sprawling Lake Minnetonka, just one of many Minneapolis-area lakes that see a good amount of fishing pressure, yet continue to turn out good numbers of quality fish year after year. Rigging for Minnesota Bass Success
So how does one go about catching Minnesota’s bass? Most “standard” lures and techniques work here, from proven live baits such as nightcrawlers and golden shiners to streamers and poppers cast with 6- to 8-weight flyrods, to ever-popular spinning and baitcasting gear. A typical morning on a “dual species” waterway such as Lake Pepin might find good action from schooling, mid-lake smallmouths using smaller- to medium-sized crankbaits, while the afternoon bite can feature pot-bellied largemouths ambushing topwater frog lures run through heavy-cover backwater bays. Talk about explosive action!
And then there are bass lures that are uniquely Minnesotan. “One of the rigs that Minnesota bass fishermen have coined is the ‘jig-worm,’” Walker explains. “It’s a simple lead-head jig onto which you thread a 7-inch plastic worm, or maybe a 5-inch soft-plastic stickbait. It allows you to throw this lure on the edge of vegetation, and instead of a Texas-rig worm that would burrow down into the weeds, when a jig-worm gets hung up in coontail, milfoil or cabbage weeds, you can rip it out, which triggers some nice ‘reaction’ strikes.
“Another great Minnesota bass lure is the flipping jig,” Walker continues. “When you tip a flipping jig with a soft-plastic trailer such as a Zoom Super Chunk, it’s absolutely deadly when fished in and around heavy cover and vegetation, stumps and logs, and boat docks. In darker or stained water I like black and blue jigs and trailers, and in clear water a good color is green pumpkin. It’s a great ‘big fish’ bait that I like to throw with a medium-heavy baitcasting combo spooled with one of the newer ‘super-braid’ lines. When using lighter jig-worms, most anglers will benefit from a medium spinning combo using 8- to 10-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon line.”
Depending on where you’re wetting a line, Minnesota offers dedicated bass anglers the opportunity to fish for their favorite quarry year-round. The seasons are grouped by areas (northeast, rest of state, and border waters) and harvest vs. catch-and-release opportunities.
- Largemouth and smallmouth season in the northeast zone runs until February 26, 2017, and reopens again May 13, 2017.
- There are two seasons for catch-and-release only, smallmouth has a catch-and-release season other than the northeast zone September 12, 2016, through February 26, 2017, and largemouth and smallmouth from May 13 through May 26th, 2018.
- Harvest seasons for the rest of the state open May 27, 2017, and run until Sept. 10, 2017, for smallmouth and through Feb. 25, 2018, for largemouth.
- Anglers looking for year-round bass angling should head to the state’s border waters; the bass season is continuous along the Mississippi River where it borders Wisconsin, as well as on select Canadian, Iowa, and North Dakota border waters.
Check www.mndnr.gov/fishing/seasons for fishing seasons.
For More Info:
- Fishing regulations and license information from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
- Plan your fishing trip at exploreminnesota.com/fishing
- Weekly Minnesota fishing updates
- ScoutLook Fishing app, with fishing-related weather and maps for both iPhone and Android, from scoutlookweather.com