Regardless of whether you follow professional bass fishing, what happened this past weekend on Minnesota’s Mille Lacs Lake is noteworthy. The top 50 professional bass anglers from across the country gathered on Mille Lacs for the Bassmaster Elite’s final event of its 2016 season.

In Minnesota, the walleye is the state fish, and Mille Lacs has long been known as one of the state’s finest walleye fisheries. The lake also has outstanding fishing for muskies, northern pike and perch. But as you’ve probably deduced by now, the bass fishing on Mille Lacs must be top-notch, too, and that’s why Bassmaster chose to visit.

The lake has large areas of shallow-water cover suitable for growing big largemouths (at least by upper Midwest standards), but the vast majority of the 50 anglers who competed September 15, 16 and 18 on Mille Lacs were after brown bass – smallmouth.

By the Numbers

For comparison sake, consider the results at the 2015 season-ending Bassmaster Elite event at Sturgeon Bay (Lake Michigan) in Wisconsin. This event also featured 50 of the best bass anglers, and Sturgeon Bay is well-known for big smallies. The anglers could keep a limit of 5 bass, and here were the results:

  • 4 anglers brought in limits weighing 20 pounds or more on day No. 1
  • A limit weighing 19 pounds was good for 5th place on day No. 1
  • 40th place on the first day was 6 pounds, 2 ounces
  • After 3 days of fishing, the winning weight (15 fish) was 53 pounds, 4 ounces. Only 2 anglers broke the 50-pound mark after the 3 days.

Consider the 2016 event held on Mille Lacs Lake (5-bass limit):

  • 23 anglers brought in limits weighing 20 pounds or more on day No. 1
  • A limit weighing 19 pounds was good for 33rd place on day No. 1
  • 40th place on the first day was 16 pounds, 14 ounces
  • After 3 days of fishing, the winning weight (15 fish) was 76 pounds, 5 ounces. An astonishing 41 anglers – out of 50 – broke the 50-pound mark for the event!

Dave Mercer, the event emcee for Bassmaster during the 3 days of weigh-ins, put it plainly: “There have never been this many big smallmouth bass caught in Bassmaster tournament history. Nothing holds a candle to this.”

Just how big are Mille Lacs smallmouth? Because Bassmaster Elite anglers can’t use landing nets, sometimes the best way to get a giant smallie in the boat is with a bear hug. Shown here is eventual Mille Lacs champion Seth Feider with a big fish from the first day. (Image by Bassmaster photographer James Overstreet)
Just how big are Mille Lacs smallmouth? Because Bassmaster Elite anglers can’t use landing nets, sometimes the best way to get a giant smallie in the boat is with a bear hug. Shown here is eventual Mille Lacs champion Seth Feider with a big fish from the first day. (Photo by James Overstreet/Bassmaster)

Of course, anyone with skin in the game when it comes to tourism in central Minnesota – including the MN Department of Natural Resources – could not have been happier with the results. “People across the country are seeing what a great fishing lake this is,” said Tina Chapman, director of the Mille Lacs Tourism Council. “We’re looking forward to the national exposure this tournament is bringing to our area.”

As angler after angler stepped on stage to talk about their day of fishing and weigh-in their catch, they kept repeating the same message: Mille Lacs in the best trophy smallmouth fishery in the world.

Kevin VanDam (below), a 7-time winner of Angler of the Year, finished in 10th place with 64 pounds, 3 ounces. He wrote recently on his Bassmaster column: “I’ve fished for smallmouth all over the Great Lakes, Canadian waters, New York and all the way to Maine. My home state of Michigan has absolutely some of the finest smallmouth in the country. But what is happening here is something very special. I’ve never seen so many big, old smallmouth in one lake.”

Kevin VanDam with two big smallmouth caught on the final day of the event (photo by James Overstreet/Bassmaster)
Kevin VanDam with two big smallmouth caught on the final day of the event. (Photo by James Overstreet/Bassmaster)

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6 thoughts on “Mille Lacs: The Best Trophy Smallmouth Lake in the World

  1. I hate how they man handle the fish, holding them outta the water, treating them like a set of tires and shows no respect. Wonder about the mortality rate of the best of the fish too. Lame. Competitive fishing illustrates the worst of the sport.

    1. 99.7% of the fish caught survived and were healthy during release. In a competition where 50 anglers caught five fish for three day’s that’s 750 fish weighed in. Out of that 750 fish 3 fish died. That’s excellent numbers. The average cottager will keep more than that in a weekend. Tournament anglers are given a bad rap, but in fact they go to extreme lengths to keep their fish alive as they are heavily penalized for bringing in an injured or dead fish. When there is $100,000 on the line you would make sure they were alive and well also. These guys care much morere about sustaining these fisheries than you ever will. Gotta love a keyboard warrior.

  2. Of course there are a lot of big smallies in that lake, when they get to that size they bounce right off the gill nets that natives set during the spring walleye spawn!

  3. To add to what Bob said, the primary reason that Mille Lacs is no longer known as the Walleye Capital of the World is because most of them are gill netted by the native americans (Ojibway/Chippewa) during the spring Walleye spawn. Growing up, I never heard of anyone going to Mille Lacs to fish for bass. At the resorts all around the lake, it was nothing, but charters for Walleye.

  4. To add to what Bob said, the primary reason that Mille Lacs is no longer known as the Walleye Capital of the World is because most of them are gill netted by the native americans (Ojibway/Chippewa) during the spring Walleye spawn. Growing up, I never heard of anyone going to Mille Lacs to fish for bass. At the resorts all around the lake, it was nothing, but charters for Walleye.

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