B.A.S.S. Chooses Mille Lacs Lake for Elite Series Finale

Bass anglers in the Upper Midwest, and specifically in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, were excited last November when B.A.S.S. announced plans to hold its Elite Series finale on Mille Lacs Lake.

While this 132,000-acre central Minnesota fishery has a long and storied history as one of the state’s best fishing lakes, for decades the emphasis was focused on the large populations of Minnesota’s favorite fish species: the walleyes.

In recent years, the overall walleye population has been in a downturn due to a variety of forces in play. But the lake has always proven its ability to bounce back quickly from cyclical lows in walleye populations. The environmental conditions such as abundant spawning habitat, large and dynamic forage bases and ideal water temperatures make Mille Lacs a true “walleye factory.” Natural reproduction is so significant that the lake doesn’t require ancillary stocking programs to boost walleye populations. Despite its proximity to a large Midwest population center (Twin Cities metro), Mille Lacs has always handled intense angling pressure.

Giants, like this one shown by Mike Verdeja, are sure to add to some huge weigh bags during this September’s Bassmasters Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs.
Giants, like this one shown by Mike Verdeja, are sure to add to some huge weigh bags during this September’s Bassmasters Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs.

For 2016, walleye fishing is restricted to catch-and-release only. Walleye angling techniques such as refined live-bait rigging, slip-bobber fishing, and spinner/’crawler rigs were perfected on Mille Lacs many years ago, and continue to lead the way as productive tactics today. You can choose your favorite walleye fishing tactics here, employ them, and expect to put fish in the boat. Mille Lacs Lake also is a troller’s dream during the summer months, with leadcore and longline trolling tactics producing excellent numbers of walleyes as well as impressive average size. Currently, the lake boasts good numbers of 14- to 16-inch walleyes, as well as more fish in the mid- to high-20 inch range.

As the world’s largest fishing organization, B.A.S.S. commands the attention of fishing enthusiasts everywhere. The decision to hold its prestigious Elite Series season wrap-up—the $1 million Toyota Angler of the Year Championship—was met with great interest. It’s unusual for the organizers to select “new” bodies of water for such events. This year, not only is Mille Lacs in the lineup, but also on the schedule is Lake Texoma, Okla., which has never been chosen for an Elite event despite holding numerous bass-fishing competitions over the years. In 2016, Texoma held “BASSfest” on June 8-12, while the AOY Championship is September 15-18.

Mille Lacs is on the radar of the national tournament promoters because the Minnesota DNR announced that for the first time it would permit culling bass in major tournaments as an incentive to lure the big events.

“We applaud the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for its efforts to accommodate competitive bass fishing,” said Bruce Akin, B.A.S.S. CEO. “The Angler of the Year Championship is expected to generate $3.4 million in economic impact for the region, and the area will continue to benefit as the bass fishing world learns about the fantastic fishing available in Mille Lacs Lake.”

More national awareness for the fishery can’t hurt, as resorts and area businesses have been affected by the negative publicity associated with walleyes here. There remains an ongoing battle over publicizing information based on the lake still having plenty of walleyes available to catch.

Bass anglers willingly travel here from long distances for the best fishing. And as far as smallmouth bass anglers are concerned, this fishery is among the nation’s finest. The overall numbers and average size of smallies here is the absolute best. In a day’s fishing for bass, it’s common to catch many exceeding the 20-inch mark. Not only does the lake offer excellent habitat, but it’s also positioned on a more southerly latitude, making the average temperatures higher, stimulating fish growth. The lake’s shallow depths enhance the warm-water temps too—there’s an average of 30 feet with a 42-foot max.

Minnesota’s bass season opened May 14, and throughout the open-water season Mille Lacs Lake is a favorite destination to fish for bass. Bonus walleyes and jumbo perch roam the entire lake, huge crappies and bluegills hold in the shallow bays and the fishery boasts some of the state’s largest muskies.

If you’d like to explore a great multi-species fishery, this one should be at the top of your list. Experience the Mille Lacs Lake before you tune in to the AOY Championship in September to watch the pros fish the same lake.