Best Minnesota Lakes for Northern Pike
by Maureen E. Johnson, featured columnist
Personally, I prefer fishing in shallow rivers in the fall while everyone else is duck hunting. The northerns turn into feeding machines before winter. Put weedless treble hooks on cheap spoons. Try different colors. Throw the spoon into bends in the river where the water is about three feet deep. Do this in the middle of the day. You might not get huge ones, but you will get more “hammerhandles” than you can shake your rod at! And it’s so dang easy!
But you wanted info on the best LAKES for finding these killers, so here it is.
No kidding. You don’t even have to drive very far. In fact, if you bought a nice home on Lake Minnetonka, you would already be there.
This 14,004-acre lake is known for its healthy numbers of sunfish, bass, northerns, and large numbers of fishermen. And whether you’re hoping to snag a trophy-winner or just looking to catch large numbers of any size northern pike, look no further! And don’t worry about the traffic’s effect on your fishing! This is actually to your advantage. During peak times, check out the weedlines along the edges of channels; the 15-to 18-foot depths in these areas are productive, as boat traffic causes the baitfish to flock here out of confusion, attracting predators. Remember, working a structure-rich weedline with a Number. 5 Mepps in-line spinner or lighter spinnerbait is always a great idea in shallow depths. When the northern swim deeper, ditch the weedline and focus on the base of the vegetation, working spinnerbaits deep, around 18 to 20 feet.
This is a great lake if you’re looking to be challenged by erratic depths. Indeed, you can be in 5 feet of water one minute, and 40 feet the next. The northern pike here aren’t terribly numerous, but boy are they huge! In fact, 10- to 15-pounders are far from uncommon. This is perhaps due an abundance of tullibees, which are known to positively affect pike growth rates. Start out working the shallow areas with bucktails or crankbaits, and working the weedline with spinnerbaits. Always move deeper as the day progresses. Also try live-bait rigging; you’ll find that northern pike are crazy for large sucker minnows on a wire leader with a heavy weight when used along a breakline. By the way, Wright county is a convenient spot for your Minnesota vacation home.
Craving lots of big ones? Take your fishing “medicine” at Medicine Lake, near Plymouth, where you’ll find the northern pike are not only great in number, but quite sizeable as well. In fact, a 2000 DNR survey found the average pike here is 24.6 inches 3.6 pounds. Plus, greater than 38% of the pike surveyed were over 25 inches in length! Keep in mind that the water clarity here is not so great, causing the weedline to vanish around 8 to 10 feet. Therefore, your strategy here will be to stick to the shallow depths using a lighter spinnerbait. And since you won’t find any deep structure or interesting weedlines, you’ll spend most of your time searching, either by trolling or fan-casting. Try to move around, and avoid staying in one spot. And last but not least, be sure to give thanks for the lack of fishing pressure here.
Here’s another metro-area lake with great-sized northern pike in the 10-pound class. Due to a good water clarity of 9.90 feet, you’ll find that much of the northern pike here are sitting in deeper and cooler depths, which is common in lakes that lack vegetation. The trick here is to work these depths by speed-trolling with a stout rod, progressing to greater depths all the while. Spoonplug crankbaits work great at higher speeds, and often produce more fish. Just be sure to use lures that can run straight at high speeds, such as Manns Stretch 20. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding plenty of walleye, largemouth bass, or sunnies while you’re here either!
Basswood Lake (Lake County):
Did you know that the most excellent northern pike ever caught in MN, a 45 pound, 12-ouncer, was caught right here?Located near Ely and spanning an awesome 22,722 acres, this piece of B.W.C.A. actually still allows gas motors. Basswood is deep and crystal clear, with miles of rocky and irregular shoreline. Northern Pike here average 22 inches, and don’t be surprised if you happen to snag a 20-pounder! You’ll have the best luck working the shallow cabbage with floating crankbaits and silver minnows.
Upper Red Lake (Beltrami County):
Not much for plant life on the bottom of, sandy-bottomed 107,832-acre lake, but rest assured there are plenty of enormous northerns lurking about to satisfy any northern angler’s ambitions! A 2003 survey conducted by the DNR found that most of the northern pike caught were between 25 and greater than 29 inches! I still don’t know how fish can answer survey questions. The surest way to reel in one of these beauties involves using a crankbait while trolling. Upper Red Lake is home to tons of yellow perch and good-sized walleye as well. But who wants perch?
You shouldn’t have any trouble finding plenty of large northern pike sulking about the large cabbage beds where Lake Winnibigoshish’s rivers flow into it. Start by using big shallow-running crankbaits over the top of this nicely vegetated area. As the day progresses, begin slow-trolling along the edges of these areas using a heavy spinnerbait. Winnibigoshish also boasts large numbers of walleye and yellow perch, as well as a large supply of tullibee (cisco). Yeah, more lousy perch to waste your time.
You probably already know that this highly popular lake near Warroad is reknowned as one of the best walleye hotspots in the world, but you’d likely be surprised to learn that this 950,400-acre walleye wonder happens to be home to plenty of world-class northern pike as well! “The Gap” contains tons of cabbage beds that are home ti some gargantuan northers, and the Minnesota NW angle is an excellent place to check out as well. And the best part is that you’ll have them virtually all to your lonely self, as the majority of area anglers have no interest in anything but the walleye. Take advantage, my friends!
Can’t get enough? Check out the best Minnesota lakeshore listings here. Find a lake home for yourself so you can fish every day!
Remember- a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work!
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