One Man’s Opinion: Midwest’s Best Walleye Waters

The Midwest is ground zero for walleye fishing popularity. Midwesterners love their fish with the white-tipped tails and luckily, there are several great walleye fishing destinations across the northern tier of the United States. Of course we couldn’t put every great walleye fishery on this list and the list is in no particular order. This list is nothing more than some top-notch fisheries that are fishing extremely well right now. Healthy fish populations, trophy fish potential and catch ability all factor into some of the best walleye water we have seen in our travels that in our opinion offer some of the best walleye fishing in the region.

Leech Lake, Minnesota
This massive natural lake in northern Minnesota has gotten a lot of attention in recent years for great walleye fishing but this lake just seems to get more solid each year. There are a lot of walleyes in this lake with opportunities for both eater size fish and big fish. What is neat about this big lake is that you can fish so many different ways. From classic rigging and jigging presentations to lead core and swim baits, there is so much variety in this ecosystem that there are usually several solid patterns happening at once.

Lake Winnibigoshish, Minnesota
Another of the big natural lakes in northern Minnesota, Winnie has quietly developed into one of Minnesota’s best walleye lakes. Perhaps at the expense of the Lake’s renowned perch population, the walleye population is healthy and thriving. Fun, shallow weed patterns occur through the summer as well as classic structure fishing over deep gravel bars.

Devils Lake, North Dakota
This now massive natural lake is now nearly 200,000 acres of water when you look at the entire lake basin and include Stump Lake. With high water and a decade and a half of incredible recruitment, this lake continues to live up to its stellar reputation as a top tier walleye fishery. Several shallow patterns emerge that are fun for anglers. Top tactics include pitching crank baits and soft plastic swim baits into shallow water along with classic bottom bouncer and spinner presentations along weed bed edges.

Bitter Lake, South Dakota
The Glacial Lakes Region of South Dakota is very similar to Devils Lake in terms of history and high water creating new fishing opportunities. Bitter Lake is now the largest lake in the region and offers tremendous fishing. Anglers enjoy casting jigs and crank baits along weed bed edges or run the contours with bottom bouncer and spinners. Within 60 miles of Bitter Lake however are countless small lakes that also offer tremendous fishing and some of the lakes no doubt offer as good of fishing as you’re going to find anywhere particular for numbers of fish.

Green Bay, Wisconsin
Probably the best fishery on the list for consistently producing trophy caliber fish. Some fisheries like the Western Basin of Lake Erie, Columbia River, Lake Winnipeg and Tobin Lake get a lot of attention for producing big fish, but Green Bay often gets overlooked. Classic Great Lakes harness and board fishing tactics often shine through the summer with many small-boat fishing opportunities on the right days.

Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota
This reservoir on the Missouri River in western North Dakota has been on the upswing in recent years and has several good year classes of fish. Extremely high amounts of forage have actually slowed fishing down over the past few years but there are a lot of walleyes in this lake and they have been well fed. This is more of an anticipatory pick as this cyclic lake by nature is due to really turn on and the stars are lining up. Anglers often focus on classic reservoir structure with live bait rigs, jigs and bottom bouncer and spinner presentations along with trolling crankbaits.

Kabetogama Lake, Minnesota
A classic Minnesota north woods fishing experience. With much of the lake located within Voyageurs National Forest, this mostly undeveloped lake offers that cool wilderness experience. Classic deep structure jigging and rigging tactics shine on this lake. Much like a Canadian Shield fishing experience, this lake is full of 16- to 24-inch walleyes.

Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin
Really some of Wisconsin’s best inland walleye water. Great early season opportunities exist on the Wolf River but as the season progresses, much of the attention shifts back to the basin of Winnebago. Another lake with so many different patterns, walleyes can be found in shallow reeds and rocks or suspended out over the deeper basins.

Mississippi River Pool Four, Minnesota
We would rate this fishery right behind Green Bay for big fish potential on this list. Probably one of the best places in Minnesota for consistently finding fish over 29-inches. A variety of fun patterns emerge including wing dams, trolling lead core and blade baits.

Lake of the Woods/Rainy River, Minnesota
A big lake with a huge population of walleyes. The Rainy River spring walleye run is one of the best fishing opportunities there is but what surprises some people are just how good the small boat opportunities are on the Rainy long after the crowds have left. Out on the big water, there are some phenomenal trolling bites that more recreational anglers are discovering with snap weights and lead core.

Missouri River, North Dakota
While the overall size of the fish has dropped off in recent years, the spring run up the Missouri River near Bismarck, North Dakota is still a walleye slug fest where anglers can sometimes score some big catches of walleyes with many 15- to 19-inch fish. Pitch jigs along shallow wood and sand bar current seams, slip jigs in faster water or pull crankbaits upstream.

All of these notable fisheries are top-tier destinations that attract legions of anglers each season. It’s a sampling of some of the Midwest’s top walleye fisheries but in no way is this a complete list of every great fishing opportunity. There are several smaller and more obscure fishing opportunities that fly under the radar and remember that a great day on a mediocre fishery is much better than a poor day on a great fishery. Is there a fishery we left off this list?

Jason Mitchell is a well-known guide who founded Mitchell’s Guide Service on Devils Lake, North Dakota. Long-time member of the Perch Patrol ice-fishing guide service, at home guiding hunters and anglers, he hosts Jason Mitchell Outdoors television show, and writes frequently for MidWest Outdoors. jasonmitchelloutdoors.com

MWO

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Jason Mitchell

Jason Mitchell was a top walleye guide on Devils Lake, N.D. for nearly 20 years. Today, Mitchell produces the Jason Mitchell Outdoors TV program. Visit jasonmitchelloutdoors.com for more.

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