Fishing In Minnesota: Exploring The Best Lakes And Rivers In Mn

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Minnesota, “The Land of 10,000 Lakes”, can keep an angler entertained for multiple lifetimes. The massive waters of Lake Superior, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, and many bodies of water in between are filled with fish waiting to be caught. 

The majority of freshwater fish species can be caught in Minnesota. Whether you’re spin fishing or fly fishing, you’ll have a shot at landing trophy fish all year round.

The friendly faces and plethora of access will make your trip to Minnesota one you’ll remember forever. 

Top Fish To Catch In Minnesota

Many people think of walleye when they think of fishing in Minnesota. While the walleye population is healthy and maintained quite well, you have several other species you don’t want to miss out on landing! 

These are the main fish species in the Minnesota rivers and lakes:

  • Walleye
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Muskie
  • Northern pike
  • Pink salmon 
  • Coho salmon
  • Steelhead
  • Rainbow trout 
  • Brown trout 
  • Brook trout 
  • Lake trout 
  • Panfish (Sunfish, crappie, perch, etc)
  • Catfish 
  • Carp 
  • Sturgeon 

Where To Go Fishing In Minnesota 

Since there are thousands of lakes and hundreds of miles of rivers to fish, it can be overwhelming to choose where to start. Thankfully, many hotspots throughout the state provide anglers with great access to land a certain type of fish. 

Your best bet is to choose the exact type of fish you want to catch and land and then work from there! The waters of Minnesota are beautiful, and you’ll have a blast no matter where you choose to go. 

Fishing At Duluth

Duluth has some fantastic trout streams for fishing.

Duluth is a wonderful spot to visit and fish in Minnesota! It’s a perfect spot for families, and the area provides a wonderfully diverse fishing experience! The main attraction of Duluth is Lake Superior. Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes. It’s home to a massive amount of fish, including Lake trout, musky, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, and various other species. 

You can fish Lake Superior in a variety of ways. You can take it from shore and from a boat. Make sure the boat you choose is capable of handling large water. Storms can suddenly appear, and the waves are surprisingly large! Again, start by deciding what type of fish you want to land, and you can move on from there. 

If you do not want a full lake experience, you can spend time fishing various rivers that run in and out of Lake Superior. The Knife River, Temperance River, and the Brule River are great options. You’ll find the yearly runs of Steelhead and Salmon and a healthy population of brown, rainbow, and brook trout. Take your fly rod along and see what you find! These fish are a blast to catch and don’t receive much pressure from overfishing. 

While fishing, make sure you enjoy Park Point and the variety of activities that Duluth and the surrounding areas offer. You won’t run out of activities if you’re into other outdoor sports. The hiking, biking, and sightseeing are amazing. 

Fishing At Brainerd 


Brainerd offers anglers a true Minnesota fishing experience. Rivers and lakes can be found any way you look. Whether you’re looking for a large lake or a more secluded lake, there are multiple choices. The lakes around Brainerd are home to healthy walleye, bass, and muskie populations. 

Gull Lake and Pelican Lake are popular locations, and if you’re willing to drive, Leech Lake is a wonderful option for anglers. You’ll find massive muskies in Leech Lake if you’re willing to put in the effort and take the time to learn their tendencies. 

Brainerd is filled with resorts and lodges, with plenty of opportunities for the family and access to all of the local waters. Living is simple in these parts, and most people’s lives revolve around the outdoors. It’s only a couple of hours north of Minneapolis and St. Paul, which makes it very accessible to visit the area.

One of the main attractors to the Brainerd area is the awesome ice fishing opportunities, especially for beginners! In Minnesota, ice fishing is almost as big an industry as any open-water fishing. Get your ice gear ready and tackle some of the lakes! The Red Lake and the Brainerd area are renowned hot spots for ice fishing in the United States. You have as good of a chance of landing a trophy fish in the winter as you would in the summer. 

Fishing At Lake Mille Lacs

Yes, it’s not always common to plan an entire fishing trip around one lake, but Lake Mille Lacs isn’t just another Minnesota lake. It’s one of the most productive Walleye lakes in the entire world. It’s one of those lakes that gives you a bit of excitement every time you throw your bait into the water. You never know what size of fish you’ll find. 

Even if you don’t want to go after walleye, you can land pike, bass, and muskie. With some recent efforts by the Minnesota DNR, the walleye population has drastically improved. Anglers could only remove one fish for several years, strengthening the population. 

Another great aspect of Mille Lacs is that it can be a DIY lake. Whether you have a boat or are willing to rent one, you can land fish. Focus on cover and rock piles throughout the middle of the lake and see what you can find. 

Also, Mille Lacs is a great place to take a long ice-fishing trip. You’ll find entire communities ice fishing and hoping to land some quality Walleye. The area surrounding Mille Lacs doesn’t offer many other activities, but you’ll have no shortage of water to fish! 

Ice Fishing
There are some awesome Ice fishing spots in Minnesota

Fishing In The Bluff Country 

In the southeast corner of Minnesota, you’ll find what is affectionately known as Bluff Country. Towns like Houston, Winona, Fillmore, and Wabasha make up historic Bluff Country. This part of Minnesota is also known as the Driftless Region. During the final Ice Age, the glaciers never covered this portion of the midwest, so it lacked all glacial deposits! 

This resulted in steep hills, dense forests, and miles of spring-fed streams! When you enter the Driftless Region, you’ll feel as if you entered a different world. The vegetation and varying landscapes are a sight to behold. 

The spring-fed streams that flow throughout this portion of Minnesota are filled with extremely healthy trout populations. Brown trout, rainbows, and brook trout all find homes in these waters. While stocking efforts exist, most of these populations thrive independently and reproduce without extra work from the state Department of Natural Resources. 

Bring your 3 or 4-weight fly rod, and you’ll have a blast targeting these fish. If you enjoy biking and hiking, you’ll also find plenty to do in these areas. Enjoy the small town life while landing some spectacular fish. 

You can find more information on fishing with natural trout baits and my selection of the best lures when fishing for trout. 

Fishing At Cass Lake

Cass Lake in Minnesota is growing recognition, particularly for its excellent muskie fishing, with muskies over 35 lbs often being caught each season. The lake also hosts plenty of walleye, northern pike, and yellow perch populations.

It’s a large area with 15,996 acres and depths of up to 120 feet. If you target the musky, look for weed bed areas and underwater rocky areas. The areas around Star Island, where bars and reefs can be found, are traditional hotspots.

You can hire a fishing guide through leisure outdoor adventures if you are unfamiliar with the area. They offer boat fishing for muskies and walleyes for anyone staying at nearby resorts or hotels.

When Is The Best Time To Go Fishing In Minnesota?

While Minnesota experiences all four seasons, that doesn’t mean fishing ever has to stop. You can fish open water in the spring, summer, and fall and move to ice fishing in the winter! If you’re willing and able, you won’t ever have to put down your rod regardless of the time of year. 

If you’re looking for prime times, the spring after the ice melts is always extremely productive! You’ll experience the spawning of several species and be able to target fish that are hungry after a long winter. Walleye, Bass, and Pike are all spawning in the spring. If you want a chance to land a trophy, this is when you should be on the Minnesota fishing lakes. 

Also, the fall is going to be productive as well. Whether you’re hunting salmon on the north shore or looking to land some Walleye that are looking to fatten up before winter, this is the right time to hit the water before it freezes over in the fall. 

Ice fishing season is usually best around December and January. This is when the ice is the thickest, and you have the opportunity to spend a massive amount of time on the water! This also happens to be some of the coldest weather of the year. Make sure you’re well-equipped. 

Ice Fishing Largemouth bass
Plenty of Largemouth bass can be caught
during the ice fishing season in Minnesota.

Best Methods to Catch Fish in Minnesota

You can target fish in Minnesota with a traditional spin setup, a fly rod, and an ice fishing pole. The most common method will be a spin fishing setup, but if you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone, you’ll be surprised at how fun fly fishing and ice fishing are. 

A baitcaster or spin setup will land you the most fish in lakes! In any sort of moving water, take out the fly rod and see what happens. If you’re targeting Lake Trout in Lake Superior, you may need to use a downrigger to get deep enough for these fish! However, they will also hit your bait on the surface at the right time of the year. Check out all my other articles on trout fishing.

Minnesota Fishing Regulations 

The regulations are fairly straightforward if you’re going after fish in Minnesota. A non-resident one-day license is going to cost you $14. A non-resident 72-hour license is $36. A non-resident 7-day option will only cost you $43. Your final short-term non-resident license option is a 14-day license for $54. 

You can learn more about the most recent costs and regulations for getting a Mn fishing license at the DNR official site.

You’ll have to purchase a $10 trout stamp if you’re targeting trout. Many states in the Midwest require anglers to purchase the additional trout stamp. 

If you plan to visit several states in the Midwest area, check out my article on how and where to get your fishing license in the USA, which covers all the necessary information that you will need.

Final Thoughts

Fishing in Minnesota will never be as popular as on the West or East Coast. However, this gives anglers the opportunity to find seclusion and fish in absolute peace. The number of fish and the sizes you can land should be enticing for anglers of all levels! 

Choose your favorite time of year and make a visit; you can be sure the Minnesota fishing lakes and rivers will not disappoint. Finally, remember to plan your fly fishing trip well ahead; this way, you will have the most enjoyable and stress-free vacation.

Daniel Mooers