It’s going to be a great summer to fish Lake Mille Lacs and I can’t wait for the season to begin. Unfortunately for area resorts, guides and businesses, most anglers will opt for other waters this summer.
No thanks to a lot of the local media for that one.
As I drove home from work the other day, I heard them talking on Minnesota Public Radio about the catch and release only season this summer on Mille Lacs. Not the usual place to hear fishing talk, the announcer barely said the word walleye. Most listeners would have incorrectly walked away from the report thinking the entire lake was catch and release.
I shook my head and though, “That can’t be good for business.” And it isn’t because not enough is being done by those major news outlets to educate the public. The phrase “a dwindling walleye population” was also used and that’s a complete miscatgorization of the issue at hand.
The walleye season is going to be a tough one, but that’s going to free up the lake for those of us who love this multispecies mecca. This is a lake with giant pike, at least a few state record muskie, oodles of jumbo perch a plethora of trophy smallmouth bass, and the occasional behemoth bucketmouth.
If we hadn’t gotten to used to it being an amazing walleye fishery as well, nobody would be complaining. The town of Garrison would do good to take down their giant walleye and replace it with another species. Or, better yet, put up a few more statues to make it clear that this is a trophy lake with a lot to offer. If you only come here for the walleye, you are missing out on something really special.
What I’m most excited about is hitting the lake for bass, starting in May and going straight through into the fall. Lake Mille Lacs is going to see a lot of bass anglers this summer as some of the top professionals prepare for the B.A.S.S. Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship.
Will all those anglers “educate” the smallmouth bass on Mille Lacs? Plenty of us regular folk throw plenty of lures and technique past those red-eyed bronzebacks, but put some of the top anglers in the world out there and those bass will get a Master’s degree in fishing pressure.
Most anglers know that Mille Lacs is ranked 10th on Bassmaster Magazine’s 100 Best Bass Lakes in 2015 ahead of other Minnesota favorites including Rainy Lake, Lake Minnetonka, Leech Lake, Alexandria Chain of Lakes, and Pools 4 and 5 of the Mississippi River. Last year Mille Lacs was number 69, in 2013 it was 74, and in 2012 it was 35.
I’ve fished Mille Lacs in a big ol’ bass boat, a small fishing boat, a kayak, and from the shore. The good news is that I’ve caught plenty from each watercraft and the bad news is I’ve had some awful days on the water. On the right day, you can’t keep those smallmouth from biting and on most days you have to work hard for them.
The rock piles on the south end are the most popular places, and some of the easiest to locate, but that’s what makes them so tough. Unless you are the first angler to roll up on a spot in a week, those bass have seen a thing or two.
My prediction is that the elite bass angler who works the north and west structures is going to win the tournament. It could also go to the most daring angler who hits midlake structure and pops a few of the chunks roaming the sand and mud transition zone. Make no doubt about it, there are smallmouth bass all over the lake and catching five fish over 20-inches is very doable.
Not necessarily by yours truly, but I’ve come close.
While Mille Lacs largemouth and smallmouth bass have a tendency to be finicky, they will go for a variety of lures. My favorite has been a tube jig with a rattling jig head but six-inch plastic worms texas-rigged or wacky style are a close second. On slow days, bouncing a crankbait off the rocks or ripping through sparse weeds is great fun. The deep water reed beds are also fun places to splash around with topwater lures, just have strong line on because the shortest distance between that fish and your boat is a straight line--something those bass know just as well and will exploit if you let them.
While I expect a few phone calls to come from bass anglers around the country looking to hit the water together, I’m more excited to get my kids on the lake this year for some tackle busting bass fishing.
The moral of the story is this: Lake Mille Lacs is a tremendous fishery and anglers who know that are going to have nothing to complain about once again this season. While a walleye dinner will be tough to come by, and any you accidentally catch must be immediately released, this is a lake worth continuing to care for.
Follow the lead of those muskie anglers last fall who released two probably state record fish. Both are still swimming around. Follow the lead of most bass anglers who battle a 21-inch trophy smallmouth and then photograph it in a quick grip-and-grin before returning it to the waters. Respect the trophy pike that love tricking muskie anglers and release that 40-incher.
Those of us who wet a line in Mille Lacs this summer have the same responsibility as all the locals do--keep the fishing spots a secret but remind people how good this lake is and, until they show up in masses, make the most of it.