Ah, the walleye: the fabled “yellow pickerel” honored as the state fish of Minnesota—no surprise, really, given this biggest North American perch is the Gopher State’s most sought-after finned quarry. This warm-to-cool-water species makes mighty good eating, which explains a great deal of its popularity. And Minnesota’s one of the go-to destinations in North America for pursuing it, without question.
For proof, consider that not one but two Minnesotan towns—Garrison and Baudette—tout themselves as the “Walleye Capital of the World,” and that the state record tipped the scales at 17 pounds, 8 ounces. Needless to say, the best walleye fishing in Minnesota, which we’ll be digging into here, translates to some of the best walleye fishing anywhere.
So without further ado, let’s take a tour of some of the finest walleye fisheries in the state!
1. Leech Lake
The third biggest natural lake entirely within Minnesota’s boundaries, and first on our list of the best walleye fishing in Minnesota is the mighty Leech Lake. Covering some 112,000 convoluted acres, its shoreline is indented by numerous bays such as Headquarters, Steamboat, Kabekona, and Sucker.
Situated southeast of Bemidji with the town of Walker right on its shores, Leech ranks among the most legendary walleye fishing grounds in the Midwest, with a significant proportion of its nearshore waters defined by the kind of breezy, rubbly flats favored by the fish for spawning. Walleye abundance here has been high since 2007—sometimes almost too high—making this vast Northwoods water body a perennial hotspot for anglers.
2. Lake of the Woods
Leech Lake is vast but Lake of the Woods is that much vaster, although only about a third of it lies within boreal Minnesota; the rest sprawls into the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario. But what an awesome—and walleye-rich—third it is! (Baudette—one of those two Minnesotan “Walleye Capitals of the World”—sits on the doorstep of Lake of the Woods.)
Altogether this gigantic lake, a remnant of the grander-yet Glacial Lake Agassiz and still one of the great freshwater features of the North American continent accounts for nearly 1,700 square miles, a whopping 65,000 or so miles of shoreline, and close to 15,000 islands and islets. Lake of the Woods hosts a big-time ‘eye population with some reliably good-sized fish.
3. The Rainy River
Flowing into Lake of the Woods after a 90-mile course defining the Minnesota-Ontario boundary, the Rainy River is another mythic walleye hotspot intrinsically connected to the huge lake’s stock.
The spring spawning run of walleye out of the Lake of the Woods into the Rainy is one of Minnesota’s great angling opportunities. Intensive monitoring suggests the Lake of the Woods/Rainy River walleye population is healthy, supporting a sustainable fishery that every year lures anglers to the extreme north of the Gopher State for the best walleye fishing in Minnesota.
4. Rainy Lake
Another remnant of Glacial Lake Agassiz, the 360-square-mile Rainy Lake—headwaters of the Rainy River on the Minnesota-Ontario line—is also another one of those bodies of water walleye anglers speak of in hushed tones.
Edged by a scenic shoreline of ancient Canadian Shield rock and protruding into Voyageurs National Park, Rainy Lake offers prime walleye casting and trolling off its many bankside points and offshore reefs.
5. Mille Lacs Lake
Garrison, that other “Walleye Capital of the World” in Minnesota, has Mille Lacs—a 132,516-acre, roughly square-shaped lake east-southeast of Brainerd and just a bit more than an hour north of the Twin Cities—as its claim to fame.
Indeed, this second-biggest of the Gopher State’s lakes is another of the truly enshrined walleye stomping grounds, with extensive spawning habitat and what the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources calls “phenomenal walleye catch rates.” It’s also a great place to try for smallmouth bass, crappie, and yellow perch, so you’re well set up for a top-notch day of fishing on Mille Lacs.
6. Red Lake
Next on the list of best walleye fishing in Minnesota is Red Lake. South of Lake of the Woods, the 440-square-mile Red Lake ranks as the largest natural lake entirely enclosed within Minnesota’s borders. This wonderful body of water comes co-managed by the state and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa/Ojibwe, who collaborated on a major effort to restore a premium walleye fishery hammered by overharvesting at the close of the 20th century.
Now, this Lake Agassiz basin water feature is another walleye mecca, and particularly Upper Red Lake (a peninsula nearly divides the lake into two sections, Upper and Lower): an easy-to-fish, ‘eye-packed swath well worth experiencing firsthand.
7. Lake Winnibigoshish
Covering close to 67,000 acres, Lake Winnibigoshish—aka “Lake Winnie” or “Big Winnie” in local parlance—offers first-rate walleye fishing with a mostly undeveloped shoreline within the Chippewa National Forest.
Lake Winnie’s well known for its hefty yellow perch, an angling draw in their own right, and also an important prey item for the sturdy walleye population. Another plus of aiming for Lake Winnie to seek your trophy walleye is the preponderance of other highly productive lakes near at hand, including Cut Foot Sioux and Little Winnie. Fish to your heart’s content, in other words!
8. Lake Vermilion
Yet another notable Northwoods walleye destination, Lake Vermilion in the Vermilion Iron Range of northeastern Minnesota was named by French voyageurs inspired by the native Ojibwe label, which referred to its red-tinted waters of sunset. Shallow bays and feeder rivers offer nice ‘eye fishing in the spring and early summer, with continued opportunities in deeper waters as summer progresses and into fall.
Keep in mind that, as with any walleye waters in the state, roiled and turbid conditions, significant lake chop, and overcast weather may encourage the shroud-haunting gamefish to forage more actively into easily accessible shallows, even during high summer.
9. Kabetogama Lake
This backcountry water body lies mostly in Voyageurs National Park, a wolf-, moose-, and loon-roamed slice of northeastern Minnesota that offers a fantastic taste of true Upper Midwest wilderness. More than 24,000 acres across and connected to Namakan Lake, Kabetogama provides extended walleye fishing opportunities, from the windy shorelines of spring to the offshore humps and rises frequented in summer and fall.
It’s not uncommon to haul two-foot-long walleye out of these waters. Not only that, but you’ve got an incredibly diverse roster of other freshwater prizes to target, including northern pike, cisco, bluegill, black crappie, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and the walleye’s little relative the sauger.
10. Otter Tail Lake
One of the prime spots to seek walleye in southern Minnesota, Otter Tail Lake ranges from fertile shallows to depths plunging to 120 feet down. Lapping across some 14,000 acres and more than 20 miles of shoreline, it’s the anchor of the Otter Tail River chain of lakes, which also includes Rush, Big Pine, Little Pine, Deer East Lost, and West Lost lakes.
Claiming a mostly developed shoreline but with some relic beds of hardstem bullrush, Otter Tail Lake offers year-round walleye fishing, and comes annually stocked with fry. A small percentage of the lake’s walleye migrate into the Otter Tail and Dead rivers to spawn.
11. Big Stone Lake
Fed by the Little Minnesota River and sourcing the Minnesota River (rolling along with its own excellent walleye depths, mind you), Big Stone Lake covers nearly 13,000 acres on the Minnesota-South Dakota line, promising top-notch ‘eye angling in the far west of the Gopher State.
Stocked with walleye fry on a regular basis, this “border water” also tempts with an earlier season than Minnesota’s inland walleye waterways, giving fishermen and women a jump-start on the year’s yellow-pickerel hunt. In those opening spring days, the walleye are liable to be found close to shore in full-on spawning mode, moving to deeper water and southern island fringes as the summer unfolds.
12. The Fairmont Chain of Lakes
This north-south stack of enticing basins—Amber, Hall, Budd, Sisseton, and Geoge lakes—provides some of the finest opportunities to cast or troll for walleye in south-central Minnesota.
Constituting about 1,200 acres in total, this freshwater necklace offers not only fine walleye fishing (with Hall Lake perhaps most renowned) but also rich pickings when it comes to bluegills, black crappie, yellow perch, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and northern pike.
13. The Mississippi River
Don’t neglect the Big Muddy was far as walleye fishing goes: Anglers who restrict themselves entirely to Minnesota’s legitimately homerun lakes miss fabulous ‘eye opportunities on the nation’s mightiest flow.
Fine spots to try for walleye on the Mississippi include the St. Cloud Dam, Coon Rapids, and Lake Pepin, among many others. There’s something extra-special about going after walleye on this grandest American river, regardless of what you happen to haul in.
14. Lake Minnewaska
Pooled in west-central Minnesota’s Polk County, Lake Minnewaska is yet another reminder that one doesn’t have to beeline for the Northwoods to find truly solid walleye fishing in the Gopher State.
Covering some 8,050 acres and reaching more than 30 feet deep, Minnewaska boasts a healthy population of walleye as well as other sought-after game fish such as northern pike, muskies, green sunfish, bullheads, and largemouth and smallmouth bass—quite the bountiful fishery!
15. Lake Elysian
This roughly 1,900-acre prairie pothole is on the shallow side of things, but it exhibits mighty impressive walleye growth rates, translating to some of the best ‘eye-angling odds in southern Minnesota. Lake Elysian’s productivity helps compensate for the occasional winterkills: a fact of life given its modest depth.
16. Lake Washington
Last but not least on the list of best walleye fishing in Minnesota is Lake Washington. Just a stone’s throw from Mankato and shared by La Sueur and Blue Earth counties, 1,500-acre Lake Washington provides another rewarding spot in southern Minnesota to try for walleye.
Claiming about 13 miles of shoreline and reaching as deep as 50 feet, the mostly residential lake—served by a pair of public boat ramps—offers rich pickings not only for walleye but also northern pike, crappie, and bass.
Take to Some of the Best Walleye Waters in the World in Minnesota
From the deep, wide-open pools of the Mississippi to remote conifer-cupped coves in the depths of the Northwoods, the Land of 10,000 Lakes entices freshwater anglers with some genuinely outstanding walleye grounds: It doesn’t come much better than the best walleye fishing in Minnesota! Whether you’re going with a jig-and-minnow approach, trolling with live bait, or trying your luck with a plastic lure, here’s wishing you the best of luck out on those ‘eye-prowled waters.