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5 Secret Minnesota Fishing Spots to Keep Just Between Us

Unknown to outsiders and under-appreciated by locals, these Minnesota fishing hotspots could help you limit out in no time.

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes. In typical Minnesota fashion, this is actually a understatement. The state has over 11,842 lakes and 6,564 natural rivers and streams flowing for a total of 69,000 miles. All this water makes for some great fishing opportunities; anglers head out year around in boats, huddle in ice shanties and cast flys and bobbers from more miles of shoreline than is fishable in a lifetime.

The sheer amount of waterbodies, and the variety of fish available in the state provide opportunities to get away from the crowds and get some great fishing in at locations that many anglers fail to consider. Check out these five overlooked and underappreciated fishing spots next time you are fishing in the “land of sky-blue waters.

1. Northern pike on Rainy Lake

Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune

For as large as this lake is, with over 212,000 acres of waterway and 929 miles of shoreline, it remains somewhat of a hidden gem of Minnesota’s large lakes. While Lake Mille Lacs, Leech, Red Lake and Lake of the Woods are well known world class fisheries, Rainy slides under the radar of most out-of-state fisherman.

Located on the states border with Ontario, Rainy offers a great north woods setting of towering pines, rocky outcrops and protected bays and islands. Relatively low fishing pressure makes this lake a great spot to get away from it all and really enjoy the outdoors in the summertime. Chase pike, but keep an eye out for deer, black bear and moose. Its about as close to a Canadian fishing trip as you can get without leaving the country.

2. Catfish on the Minnesota River


Minnesota Fishing Museum Hall of Fame
Minnesota Fishing Museum Hall of Fame

Stretching 332 miles across the state, the Minnesota River is fishable along its entire length from Big Stone Lake on the border of South Dakota, to its juncture with the Mississippi River near St. Paul.

This calm, flat and slow moving waterway makes for a great chance at a big flathead catfish, the king fish of the Minnesota River. Minnesota DNR fisheries scientist Steve Shroyer sums it up, “The Minnesota River is one of the highest-quality flathead catfish fisheries in the country,” he says. “We have a very high proportion of big fish. Thirty- to 40-pound fish are common.”

The twisting and slow  section between the cities of New Ulm and Mankato is a great place to catch these fish, my family has been doing it for over 100 years on our farm located along the river. A tip: catch these apex predators using live bait or fresh cut bait like bullheads, chubs or suckers.

3. Walleye on Big Stone Lake

Arts Bait and Tackle
Arts Bait and Tackle

Located on the border of South Dakota and Minnesota, Big Stone Lake is a fantastic walleye fishery that remains overshadowed by Mille Lacs, Upper Red and Vermillion. All the better for the fisherman that hunt for walleye on this heavily stocked and easy to fish lake.

The lake is ideal for the early spring opener and dead of winter ice fishing season. Jigs, minnows and leaches produce fish here year most times of year, making it a great lake to plan a trip around. Besides walleye, perch and panfish abound.

4. Winter trout on Hay Creek

Bob Mitchell's Fly Shop
Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop

While Minnesota is known for its amazing panfish, walleye and northern pike fishing, a often overlooked pursuit is fly fishing for trout on one of the many streams located on the eastern edge of the state. A great place to do this is Hay Creek near Red Wing, Minnesota. A great time do it is in winter, during the state’s winter trout season.

Minnesotas winter trout season typically starts in early January and runs through the end of March. Hay Creek, like many creeks in the southeastern part of the state is spring fed through limestone bluff country, keeping the water cool in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Fishing this stocked creek in the winter is catch and release only. Casting to brown and brook trout with a 14 nymph or scud seems to work the best for me. Fishing in the last few years has really improved due to projects undertaken on the creek by the local Trout Unlimited chapter.

On your way to Hay Creek, make sure you swing by Bob Mitchell’s fly shop. It is widely regarded as the best fly shop in the state, and a good place to pick up tips, as well as tackle.

5. Madison Lake, fun for the whole family

White's Corner Bait
White’s Corner Bait

Madison Lake in southern Minnesota is the last spot to round out this list. Arguably the most popular lake in the region, it is overlooked by anglers and recreationists outside of the area.

Located about 1 1/2 hours south of the crowded Minneapolis metro, a trip to Madison Lake is a easy and affordable option in providing a outdoor experience for the whole family. Tent and RV sites are available on the lake, and there is a variety of lodging and dining choices in the nearby hub of Mankato.

Anglers have multiple options on this lake as well. Madison is a fine panfish and walleye lake, with northern pike and bass hitting hard. The baits of childhood; minnows, night crawlers and wax worms are the go to grubs to place on your jigs.

Make sure to stop by Whites Corner Bait for your supplies. The old school bait shop is a institution on the lake and they can give great advice on what’s hitting where.

There you have it, five fishing spots to check out next time you hit the water in Minnesota. Now if you’ll excue me, I have to go pack up my fly rod, I heard the panfish are starting to come off their beds.


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5 Secret Minnesota Fishing Spots to Keep Just Between Us