Best Minnesota Lakes for Walleye

by Maureen E. Johnson, columnist

Nothing is better than Minnesota walleye, Minnesota’s tastiest game fish. You won’t even mind cleaning them. In fact, you won’t even blink when making that lake home payment.

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Minnesota walleye! The fish that we love to worship, catch, eat, and make up lies about! This is the fish that made Minnesota famous. The land of sky blue waters. God’s Country. Have you ever sat in a boat on a clear spring night, about 10pm, on a lake in the whitefish chain, with Northern Lights dancing overhead, and hungry walleyes swarming under your boat? It’s enough to make a God-believer out of anyone. It doesn’t get any better than this. But do you know where to find them? When to find them? How to find them? How to catch them? There are more opinions about walleye fishing than there are walleyes. Get the straight facts here. It’s not nice to misinform people about fishing so they don’t go to your favorite lakes!

Minnesota walleye on campfire

Waverly Lake (Wright County):

The weedline is a promising place to look on this 485-acre lake. This is a great place to fish during daylight hours, as water clarity is only 4.25 feet. To avoid getting caught in the vegetation, remain just close enough to keep your bait along the outside edges, but far enough out to avoid catching weeds instead. Snag plenty of walleye by working this area using a live-bait rig with a minnow or leech. Walleye are abundant here, and a Department of Natural Resources survey found that most walleye measured between 15 and 24 inches. You’ll fare the best if you work the 10- to 14-foot areas. Catching plenty of northern pike, yellow perch, bluegill, black crappie, and black bullhead is also quite likely at this species-diverse lake.

Cannon Lake (Rice County):

This highly productive lake west of Faribault is nearly 1,600 acres and has a maximum depth of 15 feet, with lots of shallow sandbars and points. About 50% of the walleye surveyed here measured 12 to 15 inches, and half the lake’s sizeable yellow perch population consists of 8- to 10-inchers. Plenty of white bass are present as well. Well-known hotspots here are among the rubble and sand of the submerged islands on the lake’s northern end, a popular site during the opener. Bear in mind that due to heavy boat traffic that develops during the mid-morning hours, this area may go cold. Take this as a sign that the fish have moved away from the traffic, and get to work 8 to 10 feet away using a shallow-running crankbait.

White Bear Lake (Washington County):

Though White Bear is a whopping 2,416 acres with depths of 83 feet and water clarity of 10.5 feet, it’s nevertheless a great spot to snag walleye, due to a combination of their abundance and the lake’s conspicuous weedline cropping up around a rocky and sandy bottom. Most walleye here are 14- to 19-inches, with an average of 17 inches. It’s also a great place for muskellunge lovers, where 50-inch beauties have even been reported. Additionally, plenty of bluegill, black crappie, and 15- to 21-inch pike can be found. Take to the weedlines in early spring, and when the ice thaws early and the lake is fairly warm, work any sandy transition line with a live-bait rig in depths of 18 feet, near newly vegetated areas. When walleye are done spawning, catch some beauties around the lake’s sunken islands and inside turns.

Lake Alexander (Morrison County):

Here’s a hotspot for those of you who enjoy fishing at night and during dark days. The most popular lake in Morrison County, this 2,763 acres of clear water south of Motley (yes, there really is a town named Motley )has lots of offshore structure that walleye flock to after spawning. Your best bet is to use a live-bait rig in these parts. And if the water is still cold, it’s productive to work the bulrush beds using a slip-bobber and leech. Let’s get serious about this. Working the shoreline sandflats is also a good idea in this situation, but you’ll want to use a spinner on a 1/2-ounce bottom-bouncer for best results. Most walleye here measure 15 to 24 inches, and 26-inchers have even been reported. The lake is also home to plenty of 40-inch muskellunge, even some 30-pounders! You’ll also find plenty of bluegill, yellow perch, and good-sized northern.

Lake Vermilion (St. Louis County):

This lake is among Minnesota’s most popular, and was chosen as the location of the 2005 Governor’s Fishing Opener. Did the governor catch anything? There should be a joke here, but I can’t seem to find it.The 40,557-acre lake is fantabulous for fishing walleye, bass and muskie, especially between the beginning of June and October. The Department of Natural Resources captured 15.4 walleye per gillnet in 2003, which averaged 13.9 inches in length. Hard core anglers know that a good place to look for 1 1/2-pound walleye during early spring is the spawning flats. The winning strategy to use involves slowly backtrolling a live-bait rig with a leech through the sand at depths of 8 to 10 ft. If that doesn’t work, progress to one of the lake’s many reefs, sunken islands, and rockpiles, employing the use of a spinner rig on a bottom-bouncer in 12- to 16-foot spots. Happy fishing!

Stony Lake (Cass County):

Located northeast of Hackensack, much of this 595-acre lake is shallow and has an amazing abundance of walleye. Most of the walleye surveyed by the Department of Natural Resources in 1999 weighed in between 12 and 19 lbs, with a 15.8-inch average. Most fish don’t respond to surveys unless their answers are confidential. They also don’t like junk mail like boots and spare tires. But with a high degree of water clarity (21.5 feet), this lake produces the best results during the wee hours of the morning, and at night. A popular strategy is to use a snagless sinker with snell, working the sand in depths of 8 to 15 feet, yet you’ll have better luck along the northeast shoreline-a good spawning habitat-by using suspending crankbait. Stony Lake also contains plenty of bluegill, 12-to 19-lb northern , black crappie, and largemouth bass. Public access is located on the south side of the lake, off Township Road.

Knife Lake (Kanabec County):

Unlike Stony Lake in Cass County, this lake north of Mora is plenty cloudy , especially during summer, making for excellent daytime fishing. Yet this 1,266-acre jem has a maximum depth of 15 feet, meaning motor noise and water movement should be kept to a minimum to avoid scaring the fish. The average walleye here weighs 1.5 pounds and measures 16.8 inches. You’re also likely to snag some 2.5-pound Pike, or black crappie. Use two rods: one with a live-bait rig for the milfoil weedline, and a casting rod with a crankbait to use along the rockpiles and sunken islands. Remember to use a deep-diving crankbait around the sunken islands and saddles during opener. Long casts work great on Knife Lake.

Wild Rice Lake (St. Louis County):

Walleye fishing is much easier during those years when spring begins early and water temperatures are higher, making walleye easier to catch in shallow lakes like this one, where most of the water is less than 10 feet deep. Wild Rice is over 2,000 acres, has little structure, and plenty of walleye. According to the Department of Natural Resources, the average gillnet catch is as high as 20.1 walleye per net, and most of the walleye surveyed were over 13 inches! Due to the lake’s lack of structure, the walleye populate around schools of forage. And because it’s not possible to locate these spots using sonar, experts recommend using a strategy that spans a lot of water. Try a shallow-diving crankbait on a long line behind the boat, or a 1/2-ounce bottom-bouncer with a spinner rig to accomplish this.

Walleye info (Department of Natural Resources)

Check out the top Minnesota lakes for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, panfish, northern pike, and muskies.

There’s more walleyes to be caught. Why not live right next to them? Walleyes make good neighbors! Check out Minnesota lakehore homes and get a lake home you have always dreamed about! Rates are low and the lakefront inventory is good!