No fish in Minnesota is more formidable—and few so coveted—as the muskellunge, universally known as the “muskie” or “musky.” This biggest member of the pike and pickerel family is purely a North American beast and the Gopher State is arguably the best place anywhere to cast for it.
1. Mille Lacs Lake (Mille Lacs, Aitkin, & Crow Wing counties)
Number one on our list of best muskie lakes in Minnesota is Mille Lacs Lake. This enormous “Thousand Lakes” (the meaning of Mille Lacs Lake’s French name) is the second-biggest lake in Minnesota, sloshing about over nearly 133,000 acres east-southeast of Brainerd. Mille Lacs is most renowned as a walleye hotspot, but it’s also got a well-deserved reputation for hefty muskie.
The DNR commenced muskellunge-stocking at Mille Lacs Lake back in the 1970s, and these giant pikes have done marvelously here: A fly fisher hauled up a 57-inch muskie here not long ago that tipped the scales past 50 pounds. Extensive cabbage beds in Mille Lacs bays as well as the lake’s reefs are reliable muskie hangouts.
With its alligator-like snout and ample teeth, the muskie—capable of reaching more than six feet in length and better than 70 pounds in weight—sits comfortably at the very apex of Minnesota’s freshwater food chain. Nearly anything, this magnificent predator regularly encounters in the lakes and rivers it prowls, could land on its menu, including any other fish as well as frogs, snakes, waterfowl, and muskrats.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources actively manages over 99 lakes for muskellunge, and anglers find ace opportunities to try their luck against this fabled “fish of 10,000 casts” in most corners of the state. If you are wondering which are the best muskie lakes in Minnesota to try your hand at not just fishing, but catching a great muskie, we’ve got some of the best muskie lakes in Minnesota listed below.
2. Lake Minnetonka (Hennepin & Carver counties)
Sprawling across more than 14,000 acres with its magnificently convoluted shoreline, Lake Minnetonka is the biggest of the numerous lakes in the Twin Cities metro region and one of that area’s best muskie lakes in Minnesota for your fishing destination.
Headwaters of Minnehaha Creek (which tumbles in the famous Minneapolis waterfall of Minnehaha Falls), Lake Minnetonka reaches more than 100 feet deep in Crystal Bay and supports a coveted muskie fishery launched by stocking back in the late ‘70s. Besides those monsters, Minnetonka is also known as an angling destination for walleye, northern pike, and largemouth bass, among other gamefish.
3. White Bear Lake (Ramsey & Washington counties)
Another prized Twin Cities angling epicenter, 2,427-acre White Bear Lake—with an average depth of 20 feet and a maximum plunge of 83—is also a great place to try your luck against muskies. The Minnesota DNR deems White Bear Lake’s muskie population as “average” in abundance, with a decent share of good-sized fish. Northern pike, walleye, largemouth bass, bluegills, and crappies are among the other sought-after species in White Bear.
4. Detroit Lake (Becker County)
Detroit Lake is actually a roughly 3,000-acre complex of three basins: Deadshot Bay (or Curfman Lake), Little Detroit Lake, and Big Detroit Lake, the biggest and deepest (at up to 89 feet) of all. Part of the Pelican River watershed, Detroit Lake supports a very well-known and diverse fishery, including walleye, northern pike, bluegill, yellow perch, pumpkinseed, and bullheads.
And, yes, muskies, too, including some legit whoppers: A 2019 DNR survey suggested an average length of Detroit Lake muskellunge of 44 inches, with about 13 percent of sampled fish exceeding four feet and a maximum recorded nose-to-tail span of 53 inches.
5. Leech Lake (Cass County)
At some 112,000 acres, Leech Lake southeast of Bemidji is one of the biggest natural lakes wholly within Minnesota’s bounds. It also happens to be one of the best—and one of the most important—muskie fisheries in the state.
Its productive and large-growing muskellunge population has long been tapped by the DNR for stocking other lakes in the state. Excellent places to seek out those famous Leech Lake muskies include the weed beds of Sucker Bay, Portage Bay, Black Duck Point, and Bear Island Narrows.
6. Lake Vermilion (Saint Louis County)
Situated in northeastern Minnesota’s Canadian Shield country, Lake Vermilion is a stunning North Woods body of water whose name, given by the French, nods to its indigenous Ojibwe label: Onamuni, “Lake of the Sunset Glow.”
This forest-nestled lake, some 40,000 acres in area and reaching close to 80 feet deep, is one of the best muskie spots anywhere. Recent DNR surveys suggest an average muskie length of 45 inches, and there are definitely some real hulks finning around in here: In 2019, Lake Vermilion produced the new state catch-and-release record with a 57¼-inch muskie, and eight years before an angler hauled in a 60-inch behemoth.
7. Cass Lake Chain of Lakes (Cass & Beltrami counties)
This extensive waterway complex threaded by the Mississippi and Turtle rivers provides outstanding muskie fishing. That’s certainly true in the biggest of the chain’s lakes, roughly 16,000-acre Cass Lake proper, whose waters annually produce the second-largest muskie catch in Minnesota (after that legendary Leech). But other depths in the Cass Lake chain are well worth seeking out, including Big Wolf Lake and Lake Andrusia.
8. Lake of the Woods (Lake of the Woods County)
Although only a portion of it lies in Minnesota, the rest of it lapping up against Ontario and Manitoba shores, the international waterworld of Lake of the Woods is dramatically bigger than any other of the Gopher State’s inland lakes, covering nearly 1,700 square miles and encompassing close to 15,000 islands and islets. (Trivia for you: Minnesota’s “Northwest Angle” jutting into Lake of the Woods is the only chunk of the conterminous U.S. north of the 49th Parallel.)
Lake of the Woods is also regarded by more than a few as the greatest all-around muskie fishery in the world, just in case you needed your appetite whetted any more keenly. Many of the Lake of the Woods muskellunge exceed the trophy 50-inch threshold, and fishing trips here frequently get into almost mythic territory.
9. Lake Winnibigoshish (Cass & Itasca counties)
“Big Winnie,” as this approximately 67,000-acre reservoir in the Chippewa National Forest is often called, marks the broadest reach (at 11 miles across) of the Mississippi River. It’s also famed as a walleye hub. It’s less of a widely touted muskie destination, but nonetheless well deserving of a spot on this list:
While there may not be oodles and oodles of muskies in here, the ones that do call Lake Winnibigoshish home are quality fish—often genuine hogs. Indeed, Big Winnie lays claim to the official Minnesota state record for muskellunge: a 56-inch, 54-pound bruiser caught here back in 1957. A good proportion of the muskies reeled in here today are longer than four feet.
10. Moose Lake (Itasca County)
Muskies are one of the primary DNR management species at Moose Lake, a fine 1,274-acre North Woods lake also known for its good ‘eye angling. Actually, a muskie trip here gives you two good bodies of water for the price of one: Little Moose Lake flows via an outlet creek into Moose (which, in turn, drains to the Mississippi via Moose Lake Creek and the Deer River), and muskellunge are thought to move between them. Moose Lake’s bars and reefs are good spots to target.
11. Mantrap Lake
Last but not least on our list of the best muskie lakes in Minnesota is Mantrap Lake. The 1,618-acre sprawl of Mantrap Lake near Park Rapids isn’t all that far from Leech Lake, so you can consider taking a visit to this mighty sturdy muskie mecca onto that much better-known one in a single trip. It may be overshadowed by Leech, but Mantrap’s become more and more associated with good-sized muskies—a recent DNR survey measured a 52-incher—and healthy bites, not least around the rock structures in the middle of the lake, which reaches nearly 70 feet deep.
12. Fox Lake (Martin County)
Fox Lake’s as far south as you’ll find prime muskie waters in Minnesota, and that’s pretty darn far south: This roughly 1,000-acre lake is situated in south-central Minnesota along I-90 near Sherburn, basically a stone’s throw from the Iowa line.
A shallow lake bottoming out at 20 feet, Fox has been stocked with muskies since 1999, and a recent study suggested a 41-inch average length for the fish here, with more than a few catches north of four feet long. It’s also a good place to try for black and white crappie, yellow perch, cats, walleye, largemouth bass, and the muskie’s smaller cousin, the northern pike.
Muskie Madness at the Best Muskie Lakes in Minnesota
To be clear, we’ve definitely left off some other fruitful muskie lakes in the Gopher State, from Boy Lake, Pelican Lake, Lake Milton, and Island Lake to the increasingly renowned Bemidgi Lake. But the above dozen all exemplify just how fabulous casting for ‘skie in this part of the Midwest can be.
Indeed, spend a little while on one or more of the above lakes, and you’ll likely come away convinced that Minnesota is indeed just about the best place to chase the mighty muskellunge! Let us know in the comments below your favorite muskie fishing holes in the state—or if you’ve had any success on the outstanding lakes we’ve profiled here.
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Born in Madelia, MN, to a now 5-generation Minnesota family, Ryan’s MN roots go deep.
A painter by day, Ryan founded Life in Minnesota in 2013 with his wife Kelly to chronicle their musings on everything Minnesota. Ryan and Kelly are raising their 7 kiddos in Maple Grove, MN.
When he’s not shuttling his kids around to hockey practice, you might find him in the shop working on his leatherwork. Undoubtedly, there will be a family trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every summer, and of course weekends at Grandpa’s cabin up north in the summer.