Not many years ago, good news was hard to find at Leech Lake.
The walleye fishing had fallen off, and with it, visiting anglers. Also, publicity surrounding the shooting of cormorants on the lake as a way to help walleye numbers rebound was anything but positive.
In short, the lake seemed a shadow of its late, great self.
This year, everything is better at Leech, especially the walleye fishing, which has been good almost since the moment ice left the lake May 15.
Admittedly, the late ice-out was a big negative for area resorts, guides and other businesses, inasmuch as the entire May 11-12 opening weekend was missed — a time when cash registers usually ring continually in and around Walker, Minn., the lake’s business hub.
But since then, a jig and a minnow, or a minnow on a sliding-sinker rig, has produced walleye limits for anglers willing to put in a little time.
Leech’s bass fishery also is the source of good news.
In fact, many anglers have long argued that Leech is one of the state’s best lakes for largemouths — perhaps the best.
A tournament a couple weeks back in which the second-place team’s entry weighed more than 23 pounds (six fish) and took only second proves the point.
“We had a good day,” said Lindy Frasl, who lives near Brainerd and is an active, albeit amateur, tournament bass fisherman. (Frasl won a tournament on Gull Lake last weekend.)
During the Leech tourney, Frasl and Ryan McDuffee fished shallow, as most bass anglers do on the lake, targeting lily pads, rice and similar areas, looking primarily for largemouth.
But smallmouth bass also could be registered in this tournament, and bass weighed by the winning pair of anglers tipped the scale at more than 24 pounds, with each of the hefty fish being a smallmouth.
By any measure, six smallmouths averaging 4 pounds apiece is world-class fishing.
“The thing is,” Frasl said, “finding smallmouth bass is completely different than finding largemouth bass. So in Leech Lake tournaments where smallies can be weighed, to win you might have to figure out in advance where smallies might be in the lake, so you can have at least some of them among the fish you weigh.”
The broader point might be if you’re looking for good fishing, walleye or bass — largemouth or small — Leech this year is a good choice.