Mille Lacs Lake is the second largest inland lake in Minnesota and it offers fishermen a multitude of fishing opportunities for anglers all year long. The original French means “thousand lakes” and while it is just one big lake, it offers a thousand ways to fish for various species on varied structures using numerous techniques.
The lake covers 132,516 acres and although it does have some deep areas, much of the lake is shallower mud flat, shallow reef-top, and rock bottom terrain. If you are new to the area, here’s the first tip. It’s pronounced “mill laks”. Second, you need to know what all the types of fish are that are available here. The lake has fantastic walleye, muskie, northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, black crappie, and several other less popular game species.
Mille Lacs is located in the counties of Mille Lacs, Aitken and Crow Wing. It is about 100 miles north of the huge Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. Fishing on Mille Lacs produces regular limits and trophies when it comes to walleye. In fact, if you drive to the lake through Garrison on U.S. Rt. 169, you’ll be greeted by a giant walleye statue to get your fishing fever peaked.
A quick look at a topographical map lets you know that shallow reef-top fishing exists around the lake. The best deep water fishing is on the southern deep gravel and rocks, and mud flats to the north. A weed line goes around much of the lake out to about ten feet deep.
Numbers of walleye on the lake are closely monitored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and when anglers reach a “safe harvest level”, the DNR can close the season for some time, so make sure and check that if you plan a trip. Otherwise, it’s full speed ahead. Walleye fishing has been much improved here in recent years and officials are working to keep it that way.
Walleye season generally opens in early May, when the fish are just finishing the spawn. You can find them on clean gravel bottoms, usually where there is some current on their eggs. You don’t have to fish deep. In fact, most fish this time of the year are caught in 10-12 feet or shallower.
Walleye go deeper in the summertime, hanging out on drop-offs and edges of islands. They are easier to catch on the move early and late, or on cloudy days. When the sun is high and bright, the fish will hold tight near the bottom on structure.
Fall is a good time for walleye as they feed up for the winter. They feed mostly on minnows and perch. Walleye aren’t as active in the winter, but can still be caught on structure. Many ice fishermen target the fish in the winter months, when the whole lake usually freezes over solidly by mid December. Anglers also fish for crappie, perch and muskies through the ice.
Smallmouth bass fishing may be one of the most overlooked pursuits here, but the fish are plentiful and grow large. Mille Lacs has been noted by Bassmaster as one of the top bass lakes in the country and has even hosted major tournaments here. Bass grow slow because of the cold, but what the lake lacks in lunker bass is made up for in numbers. Bass can be caught around the rocky ledges and on the flats pretty much anywhere around the edges of the lake. In the hotter months, they’ll move out and hold over deeper structure.
Smallmouth bite pretty much all year long and while they get most of the attention, there are also some good largemouths in the lake. The largemouths hold near grass beds and shallower banks in the late spring and summer and follow sallies deeper as the water warms. Early and late in the day are good times to find them shallow.
Muskies are one of the biggest success stories here. The world record for muskie on a fly rod was taken on the lake. It was a 57-inch, 52.5 pound monster.
Popular areas on the northern end of the massive lake are Rock Pile, Pantry Flat, Carlsona Sand Bar, Schultzes flat, and Top Edge Mud Flat. On the southern end, the Gravel Bar area, Vineland Bay, Top Edge Mud Flat and areas around Sunset Bay are good fishing.
There are resorts and inns dotted around the lake. Fishermen can access the lake there or from launching areas like Lake County State Access, Garrison State Water Access, Shah-bush-kung State Water access , Cove Bay State Water access site, Wahkon State Access State, Father Hennegin, Cedar Creek, Liberty Beach, Malmo and Reddy Creek.