Imagine launching a bass boat into a hidden jewel—a 132,500-plus acre world-class bass fishery in the center of Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Lake Mille Lacs is not only one of the state’s largest lakes, but its bass, muskie, walleye, and northern pike also come trophy-size.
Mille Lacs was recently ranked 10th in 2015’s “100 Best Bass Lakes” (Bassmaster). And on September 15–18, Lake Mille Lacs is home to bass fishing’s renowned 2016 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Tournament where the top 50 bass anglers head to Mille Lacs to try their luck at $1 million in cash and prizes.
“We are excited to have this year’s Toyota Bassmaster Tournament held here,” says Tina Chapman, executive director of Mille Lacs Area Tourism Council. “It will help spread the word of our great bass fishery. We look forward to bass fishermen being drawn to the area for years to come.”
As the news about this gem of a bass lake continues to multiply, it attracts bass anglers from all across the United States. Lake Mille Lacs’ area fishing guides have known about the lake’s excellent bass fishing for many years. Tony Roach, owner of Roach’s Guide Service, is a guide as well as a tournament angler and outdoor communicator, and he said his “smallmouth trips are up tenfold.”
“Mille Lacs should come with a warning label,” cautions Roach. “Smallmouth bass fishing on the lake is highly addicting and can consume anglers’ thoughts and minds. The size and catch rate on Mille Lacs rival all other great fisheries across the country. It is a giant inland glacial lake with lots of massive rocks along the shorelines. You can fish all the way around the lake and find smallmouths just about everywhere. An angler could spend a lifetime on Mille Lacs and not fish all the spots.”
The lake’s size and its abundant smallmouth structure are factors in Mille Lacs’ growing fishing popularity.
“After being named Top 10 Bass Lake, we began seeing more anglers at the dock, but you don’t encounter many anglers on the water,” says Roach. “Mille Lacs has very little angling pressure—it’s a bass angler’s dream. It’s a huge lake with lots of structure and, not only lots of fish, lots of really big fish that are always biting. The growth rate of bass in Mille Lacs is slow due to the water’s cold temperatures. A 20 to 21 inch fish may be 11 to 15 years old.”
Another area guide and resort owner, Terry McQuoid, with McQuoid’s Inn, has been fishing Mille Lacs for more than 25 years.
“Bass fishing on Mille Lacs is phenomenal,” says McQuoid. “There are always 4 to 6 pound bass—even 7 pounders are very common. It’s continued to get better over the last 15 years and now the publicity is catching up with it.”
Most bass fishermen in the area practice catch and release and there is an active chapter of the Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance (MLSA). At a recent MLSA banquet, McQuoid said the quality of Lake Mille Lacs’ smallmouth fishing was compared to a hidden jewel with the possibility of becoming the “Lake Fork of the North”—the iconic bass lake in Texas known for trophy bass.
“What’s a good day of bass fishing?” says McQuoid. “30 to 100 bass, probably with 20 to 30 of them five pounds and up on a fairly regular basis.” Even on what McQuoid would call a “mediocre day,” it means 25 to 30 smallies in the four to five pound range.
When you hook a smallmouth on Mille Lacs, be prepared for spectacular leaps and determined dives unrivaled among freshwater fish. They put up a big fight and there’s nothing more exciting than a Lake Mille Lacs smallie exploding from the depths to strike a top water lure.
And the best part of fishing smallmouth on this huge lake? There’s plenty of lake—and bass—to go around.
For more information about Lake Mille Lacs: www.millelacs.com
Tips for Smallies on Lake Mille Lacs
Tony Roach’s Tips:
One of my favorite techniques in the spring and fall is jerkbaits. I love throwing x-raps #10s. Some of my best colors are white, pink, clown, and yellow perch. The key to catching big fish is long pauses. Most of the bass hit on the pause. The colder it is, the longer the pause. You can easily rack up a 100-fish day pretty quick when they are on the chew.
Seasonal Tips from Tutt’s
(Orrin Tutt, Tutt’s Bait and Tackle, Garrison, MN)
Early Spring to Mid-June – On opening day (May 14–27 catch and release only, May 28 may keep four fish, with only one over 21 inches), pre-spawn, spawn, or post- spawn conditions vary from spawning, to being “locked” in on the nest, to pre-spawn feeding. Due to Mille Lacs’ size, there is usually a combination of conditions. Water temps and winds are the deciding factors. Mille Lacs smallmouth will spawn from one foot deep to 8–10 feet. Popular spring lures are lipless crankbaits (pre-spawn), hard and soft stick baits, tube jigs, spinner baits, and finesse worms.
Post Spawn: Mid to end of June – This is the toughest time to pattern fish. Usually after the spawn, the bigger females retreat to recover. Locating big fish can be challenging. Smaller males can be caught on the nest guarding the fry. Search areas where fish spawned early. They will get on their summer pattern earlier than their late-spawning relatives.
End of June to September – This is a favorite time of the year to catch lots of smallmouth on Mille Lacs with more stable weather and the fish locked in on structure, becoming predictable. “Connect the dots” using the marker buoys and fish the easy-to-find, shallow rock reefs scattered throughout the lake.
Popular lures are top water baits—buzz baits and poppers, spinner baits, crank baits, soft plastic stick baits (Gulp sinking minnows), and tubes, spider grubs, or any jig plastic combo that imitates a crayfish. When jig fishing the rocks, keep the jig size light—heavier jigs hang up. Fish the tops early and late (low light) and the sides and breaks as the day progresses. The fish tend to school, foraging on crayfish and small perch. Later, when young minnows show up by the thousands, smallmouth go after the easy prey.
The other summer pattern is in deep-water. Many believe there are huge schools of smallmouth sharing deep water with the walleye. Most of these fish have never seen artificial bass bait. Good electronics will find them, then try deep cranking, drop-shotting, and finesse jigs.
Fall – Cool water triggers a migration of yellow perch to the shallow, weedy areas of Mille Lacs. Smallmouth bass begin to change their forage from crayfish to perch and other small fish. Smallmouth ambush prey along weed edges 3 to 10 feet deep. Try spinner baits, small swim baits, chatter baits, small crank baits, or jig-n-worms.