Big waters, big fun, big dollars
Minnesota's 10 largest lakes are sparkling jewels in the state's fisheries and tourism crowns. With a combined surface area of more than 825,000 acres, these lakes account for about 40 percent of the annual statewide walleye harvest and make a significant contribution to the $2.4 billion spent each year on fishing in Minnesota.
Each lake is part of the DNR's large lake monitoring program and has its own fisheries biologist based in a nearby area office. Each biologist oversees an intensive fisheries management program that includes annual fish population assessments, annual water quality monitoring, fish contaminant and disease inspections, zooplankton surveys, aquatic invasive species surveillance and regularly scheduled creel surveys.
Cass Lake, at nearly 16,000 acres, is the largest lake in the Cass Lake chain, which includes more than 25,000 acres of connected waters. The lake has a mix of expansive, shallow flats and deeper water with lots of underwater structure. Walleye, yellow perch and muskellunge are the most sought-after species. It lies north of Leech Lake and west of Lake Winnibigoshish, two other of Minnesota's largest lakes.
Lake Kabetogama's Ojibwe name – Ga-bi'-togum-ag' za’ -ga-I-gun – translates as "the lake that lies parallel or double with another lake." Rainy Lake, another of Minnesota's large lakes, is just to the north. Wet a line in Kabetogama and you'll find walleye, sauger, smallmouth bass, northern pike and perch.
- Lake of the Woods
Minnesota's 300,000-acre portion of Lake of the Woods offers great year-round fishing on a massive body of water. Fish the ice early December to late March. Dive right into fishing the Rainy River in spring and fall. Venture out to lake for the warm summer bite. You'll find walleye, northern pike, sturgeon, sauger and perch.
A variety of large and small bays give Leech Lake its irregular shape. The 112,000-acre lake is well known among anglers as a tremendous multi-species fishery with opportunities for walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, muskellunge, largemouth bass, sunfish, burbot (eelpout) and black crappie. Two other of Minnesota's largest lakes – Cass and Winnibigoshish – lie nearby to the north.
- Mille Lacs
This 132,516 acre-lake covers 207 square miles. Mille Lacs Lake is best known for its walleye fishing, but the central Minnesota lake offers additional trophy fishing opportunities. During the winter, venture out on the lake for a fast-paced walleye bite, catch a few tullibee or fish for some trophy northern pike. During the summer, you may hook into a trophy-sized smallmouth bass, muskellunge or northern pike.
At two miles across and 21 miles long, Lake Pepin is the widest navigable portion of the Mississippi River's 2,350-mile flow to the Gulf of Mexico. The naturally occurring lake is formed by water backing up at the delta formed by sediment deposited at the mouth of Wisconsin's Chippewa River. Water skiing was born on Lake Pepin in 1922, and recreational boating abounds. Even so, anglers will find success chasing walleye, black crappie, sauger, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, perch, bluegill and lake sturgeon.
Only 30% of Rainy Lake lies within Minnesota but its remote waters offer access to Voyagers National Park and beautifully breathtaking, big-water northwoods scenery. The lake is home to isolated, boat-in campsites; provides access to Namakan, Sand Point and Crane lakes; and features guided boat tours of its water-based, 218,000-acre national park. Anglers will find walleye, sauger, northern pike, perch, smallmouth bass and black crappie.
- Upper Red
The 48,000 acres of Upper Red Lake to the east of longitudinal coordinate 94 degrees 43 minutes 12 seconds are open to the public. The remaining 72,000 acres that lie to the west as well as all of Lower Red Lake can only be accessed by members of the Red Lake Nation. Walleye, the primary species sought by state anglers, are managed under a cooperative plan with the Red Lake Nation that establishes target harvest levels, which vary according the mature female population.
Lake Vermilion gets its name from the French translation of the Ojibwe word Onamuni, which means lake of the sunset glow. Its boulder-strewn, rocky shorelines border forests of pine, aspen and birch and offer a historic state park. Shallow bays with aquatic vegetation supplement those rocky shorelines, allowing Vermilion to support a diverse fish community of walleye, muskellunge, northern pike, smallmouth bass, bluegills, crappie and largemouth bass.
Lake Winnibigoshish is part of the Mississippi River headwaters reservoir system, which also includes Cass Lake to its immediate west. Located 15 miles northwest of Deer River, Winnibigoshish is a large, shallow, wind-swept reservoir with a sandy shoreline and gently sloping shoal areas. Nicknamed Winnie, it is a popular destination for anglers targeting walleye, yellow perch and northern pike. The 56,544-acre lake has a mean depth of 15.1 feet and a maximum depth of 70 feet.