Mille Lacs has been losing its identity as a leading walleye lake in the Upper Midwest, but it keeps gaining attention for great bass fishing.

The big pond in central Minnesota today was named the best bass fishery in the country by Bassmaster Magazine. The 2017 rankings put Mille Lacs No. 1 overall in a listing of the 100 Best Bass Lakes in America. The iconic central Minnesota lake ranked sixth on the same list a year ago. It dethroned Toledo Bend Reservoir, holder of the top spot for the past two years.

The magazine said Mille Lacs surged to the pinnacle in part because of the smallmouth bass production achieved by professional anglers in last September’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. Judges weighed nearly 100 five-fish limits of smallmouth during the tournament that topped the 20-pound mark. The three-day event was won by Seth Feider of Bloomington, the only Minnesotan on the circuit. The tournament returns to Mille Lacs this fall.

“Had that been a four-day event ... Feider may have topped the 100-pound mark with smallmouth, a feat that has never, ever happened before,’’ said James Hall, the magazine’s editor.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been trying to raise the bass-fishing profile of Mille Lacs as the agency struggles to understand and fix a sharp decline in the lake’s walleye population. DNR fisheries biologists this summer are doing fieldwork to measure the smallmouth population in Mille Lacs in a step toward new regulations that would help protect the species from overharvest.