What makes good trophy walleye lakes?
Some anglers love catching fish after fish, while others prefer chasing trophy sized ‘eyes. Far too often, we’re forced to choose between those two alternatives. Many lakes excel in one of those two areas, but there are a few gems out there that offer the best of both worlds.
Below is a short list of trophy walleye lakes spread throughout the Upper Midwest that boast some serious big fish opportunities as well as good numbers of fish:
Located in the northern reaches of Minnesota, at 40,000 acres, Minnesota’s Lake Vermilion offers a Canadian Shield experience without the extra time on the road. Situated between the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Superior National Forest, Vermilion is a truly up-north experience. With countless islands, rock, sand, bays, coves, weeds and points, there’s no shortage of excellent walleye habitat.
And the lake’s walleye population is booming across all year classes – in fact, the genetics are so good, Vermilion walleye eggs are collected to stock many of Minnesota’s other walleye fisheries in addition to their own aggressive walleye stocking program that keeps the lake at the top of Minnesota anglers’ favorite walleye waters.
Whether you’re looking for numbers or trophy-size walleyes, Vermilion’s got it.
Lake of the Woods
Next on our list of trophy walleye lakes is a fishery you’ve probably heard of before.
Bordering the U.S. and Canada, Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods is billed “The Walleye Capital of the World,” a fitting title for the nearly 1 million acres of water that offer walleye fishing the entire calendar year. Many go for numbers – with liberal limits of a combined 8 walleyes and saugers in winter, and six during open water.
There are trophies, too, which the lake was built for: the combination of big water, the right genetics, endless spawning habitat and a variety of forage mean big fish pure and simple.
Lake of the Woods can be divided into three main parts: 1) The Rainy River, which feeds LOTW; 2) Big Traverse Bay, roughly 30 miles north to south, and 25 miles east to west; and, 3) the Northwest Angle, home to almost 15,000 islands.
No matter what area you choose, anglers of all skill levels can delight in excellent bites during daylight hours, thanks to the system’s stained waters.
And the season’s practically never-ending. Permanent fishhouses are typically on-the-ice from December 10th through March 31, extending the walleye season past the rest of MN. Fishing on late ice and the Rainy River doesn’t end until April 14th, opening again on MN Walleye Opener in early May.
Looking east to Michigan, the large, expansive and largely shallow basin of Saginaw Bay on the western shore of Lake Huron is true walleye gem. It’s a great example of a fishery that had been in some decline decades ago, but beginning in 1979 Michigan began re-establishing fingerlings – and studies now reveal many walleyes reach 15-inches in only two years!
As a result, anglers fish Saginaw year ‘round from pre-spawn through hardwater: the result? High walleye numbers, some trophy-class fish, and big, bonus perch to boot.
Located in East-Central Wisconsin near the towns of Oshkosh and Appleton, Lake Winnebago is nothing short of a walleye factory!
Although its 138,000 acres of water barely pushes the 20-foot mark, Winnebago offers every form of cover and bottom substrate walleyes need, including ample ideal spawning habitat in the connected Fox River, marshes, and main lake.
Following strong runs of spring fish, it’s the lake’s shallow weed and mud flats bites that draw throngs of anglers from near and far. It’s one of the best in the country.
Minnesota’s Leech Lake continues to kick out walleyes of all sizes, but is truly one of the states best trophy walleye lakes. With gorgeous shorelines and lots of water to explore, Leech offers diverse walleye habitat that continually produces solid numbers of good fish all year long.
Those that fish it say it’s just a fun lake to fish, with gorgeous up-north scenery located completely within the Chippewa National Forest. Whether you’re a jigger, rigger, love to pull cranks, or pitch plastics, Leech Lake a great option with lots of diverse walleye habitat the continually produces solid numbers of good fish, with the occasional trophy.
West Central MN
Situated between the forests of northern Minnesota and the plains of the Dakotas, West Central Minnesota offers superb walleye fishing. Lakes like the 14,000-acre Otter Tail continually produce solid numbers, where willing biters can be found everywhere from shallow to deep.
The Alexandria, Minnesota area is another favorite with walleye anglers. Lake Miltona and Osakis are walleye-head favorites, but Carlos, Ida, and Le Homme Dieu are solid producers, too – and shouldn’t be overlooked.
A short drive from the Twin Cities metro makes Douglas, Ottertail, and Becker counties a great quick fix for walleye anglers looking for a great bite!
Whether you’re talking about the legendary walleye fishing at Devils Lake, North Dakota, the booming bite in the Glacial Lakes area of Northeast South Dakota or the Missouri River system, the entire Dakotas region is a must-go destination for walleye-heads.
In terms of numbers, it’s hard to beat. Countless lakes surround the Webster, South Dakota area, and anglers are reporting high numbers of 3- to 5-pound fish – with willing biters around shallow wood, weeds, and windblown shores. Yes, it’s a casting and pitching dream. You don’t even need a boat in a lot of places, with exceptional shore fishing bites spring and fall.
And then there’s Devils Lake … what can we say? It provides limits after limits of fish – with the occasional trophy to boot. Again, there’s a great shallow bite, but lots of structure shallow to deep, meaning anglers can catch fish with their favorite techniques. That’s just a couple reasons why so many walleye anglers make the drive numerous times a year.