Mille Lacs Virgin No More

Posted by MNAngler On June - 27 - 2010

Date: 6/26/2010
Time: 8:00am-5:30pm
Body of water: Lake Mille Lacs
Location: Isle, MN
Weather Conditions: overcast/sunny, windy

I have a confession to make. For the past year, I’ve been lying to you. You see, when you grow up in Minnesota, you can’t officially be known as a Minnesota Angler unless you’ve fished and caught a walleye out of Lake Mille Lacs, the biggest and most well known lake in the state.

But I had never fished it… until yesterday.

Lake Mille Lacs has a bit of mystique about it. Every current and former state resident knows where it is, knows its reputation, and knows what it means to fish it. Stories are told over and over again about anglers pulling dozens, even over a hundred walleye out of Lake Mille Lacs in one day.

I got a call from Mark last Thursday night asking me if I wanted to come along on a day trip to Mille Lacs. Of course, I said yes. We left at 5:15 in the morning in a dense fog for the hour and a half drive and met a friend of his along the way. Five of us in two boats motored onto the lake at 7:45am.

A little after 8 am, Mark got the first fish. Mille Lacs has a limit of 18″ for Walleye in the lake. That is, you can’t keep any Walleye over 18″, except for one trophy over 28″ (in case you wanted to mount it). So imagine Mark’s disappointment when he measured his catch and discovered it was 18 1/4″. He had to throw it back.

Shortly thereafter, the other boat landed their first fish. Their measuring tape was on the top of the ledge of the boat. I know what you’re thinking. I was thinking the same thing. But they measured it at about 18″ and kept it in the boat. They were about to put it in the live well when the angler that caught it decided to double check the measurement. The fish wiggled and *splash*. It was gone.

Two fish in the first half hour. But it quieted down after that. The next fish wasn’t landed until about an hour later. Mark caught another at 18 1/2″. Then the other boat got a keeper under 18″.

Over the course of the day, we motored between 3 or 4 different spots including an area called the Graveyard. The fish above were caught off the shore of Father Hennepin Park. Around lunchtime, we tried fishing for smallmouth bass in and around a really shallow rockpile. We saw smallies jumping all around us, but five of us casting couldn’t land a single one. I saw all manner of lures being thrown: topwaters, x raps, spinners, beetle spinners, jigs, and flukes. The smallies would have nothing of them. So we went back to lindy rigging.

Mark would end up with two more Walleye at 19 1/2″ and 22 1/2″ and the other boat would land two more keepers over 17″. All were caught outside Father Hennepin Park. All I had to show for my efforts was a 12″ perch that I caught across the lake from the walleye spot. It was a bit frustrating because I kept feeling bites, but after letting the fish run, I would come up empty when I tried to set the hook. Sometimes the leech would still be on the hook (so it was probably not really a bite), other times it would get picked. Around the area I caught the perch, I had four picks in a row.

Species: Perch
Size: 12″
Lure used: leech on a lindy rig

Our method had been lindy rigging mostly by drifting. We would drift past a spot, then motor back upwind and drift back again. One time when it got quiet at our walleye spot, I had suggested going back to the Graveyard to give that area another try. But we were going to drift down one more time. At the end of that drift, Mark told me to reel up to get ready to go. I reeled up a few feet, then felt some tugs. Instinctively, I set the hook and boated a 17″ walleye. It was my first Lake Mille Lacs walleye and a keeper!

Species: My first Lake Mille Lacs Walleye!
Size: 17″
Lure used: leech on a lindy rig

Since we had action again, we drifted a few more times before heading out to the Graveyard, but yielded nothing. Halfway there, Mark stopped on another rockpile. We drifted again and I got a good thunk on one pass. I let it run and set the hook. Like many other sets earlier in the day, there was no fish on the other end. But this time, when I pulled up the end of the line, it was gone! It had been cut. Muskie, maybe?

That spot wasn’t productive after that and neither was the Graveyard. It was getting late so we decided to hit our walleye spot one more time. Multiple passes by both boats got us nothing. Mark motored around to a few spots nearby as I decided to try to be a little more productive and try some casting for smallies again. Several different spinners and flukes yielded nothing. Mark, however, landed a 23″ Northern that made quite a statement by jumping out of the water three times while being reeled in.

We went back to our productive spot where the other boat still was, talked to the guys in the other boat, and decided that we would give ourselves until 5:00pm and then head out. That gave us 20 more minutes to fish. Mark decided to motor out a little further to a finger of a rockpile he knew about and also saw someone catch a fish just an hour or two earlier. At one point, Mark called, “3 minutes left.” A few seconds later, I felt a tug on my line. I let it run and expected another empty hook set. But this time, I hooked it! It was very satisfying to feel a weight of a fish on the set rather than nothing. It felt like a good one, especially because it made two runs when it got near the boat and saw the net. It was a 19-incher! Finally, I was able to land a walleye using the lindy rig the way it was meant to be used. That felt like a real accomplishment.

Species: Lake Mille Lacs Walleye
Size: 19″
Lure used: leech on a lindy rig

We let our deadline pass and finally called it a day about 15 minutes later. As we were getting off the lake, a charter passed us on the way out to the main lake. In the back, a guy with a Twins hat acknowledged me with a nod and hand gesture. I recognized him as a local sports celebrity and thought it was a Twins coach. Upon further searches in my head for face recognition, I think it was Leslie Frazier, the Defensive Coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings! I then wondered how many of the burly guys sitting in the back were Vikings players. No Childress, though. No infamous QB either.

In the end, Mark and I landed 8 fish (4 walleye and a northern for Mark, one perch and two walleye for me) and the other boat landed 4 walleye including 3 keepers, plus a small northern while they were waiting for the boat trailer on the way off the lake.

On any other lake, it would have been a good day. But on Mille Lacs, it wasn’t a banner day by any means. In hindsight, I should have thrown a super fluke through the areas where we knew there were fish because I’ve caught walleye on them before. There was even a spot that Mark saw fish suspended at 5-10 feet in 14-17 feet of water. That might have been a perfect opportunity.

It was still a fun day, though. And now I’ve certified my moniker.

3 Responses to “Mille Lacs Virgin No More”

  1. BigSkyAngler says:

    Sounds like a nice day on the big pond.

  2. MNAngler says:

    Well, shiver-me-timbers. It turns out that WAS Leslie Frazier I saw on the charter headed out as I was coming in. He was on a Coaches weekend with 15 other NFL coaches. You can see him here:

    He’s the one sitting at the end of the boat on the right with the blue hat and red brim, exactly where I thought I saw him. In fact, the guy on the left side of the boat was in that engaged position when I saw the boat. That picture must have been taking very shortly after I saw them.

    Apparently, Coach Tony Dungy, who used to have Leslie Frazier’s position with the Vikings, was on the boat, too. I didn’t see him, though.

    That’s kinda cool that I saw them.

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