The bass bonanza begins Saturday
By Joe Albert Staff Writer
St. Paul – Bill Hildebrand, a professional bass angler and radio
show host, knows a fellow professional angler who makes his living
catching walleyes, but “when he wants to go out and have a good
time, he goes bass fishing.”
That’s kind of the story of bass in Minnesota. Walleyes bring
home the bacon; bass bring up the rear.
“You see bass fishing on TV and that sort of thing, but they’re
still kind of the poor cousin to walleye in Minnesota,” said Jeff
Reed, DNR fisheries research biologist in Glenwood.
Even the season in which to fish bass – it opens Saturday, May
28 across most of the state – begins two weeks later than the
That’s not to say bass fishing isn’t popular in Minnesota, or
that the state’s fishery isn’t healthy. Au contraire, according to
a DNR fisheries manager who targets them 20 to 30 times per
“For abundance and general size distribution, it’s probably one
of the best overall bass resources in the Upper Midwest,” said
Henry Drewes, regional fisheries manager in Bemidji. “It’s not a
state where you catch (many) fish in the 8- and 9-pound class –
they are very rare in Minnesota – but for fish from 2 to 5 pounds,
it’s probably second to none.”
Minnesota boasts bass lakes from border to border. They’re top
billing in some waters, niche fisheries in other lakes known mostly
for walleyes, such as Mille Lacs, Leech, and Vermilion.
“It would be hard to find a lake where you couldn’t go out and
have a pretty good day bass fishing,” said Reed, who’s researched
where bass nest in relation to shoreline development. “It’s
probably one of the things that tends to get overlooked by a lot of
people outside the area.”
If there’s an area where bass have the edge over walleyes, it’s
in the number of tournaments directed at them.
Multi-species tournaments are most popular in Minnesota, judging
by numbers of permits the DNR issues for them.
But when tournaments are directed at individual species, “Bass
and walleye are number one and two,” said Al Stevens, DNR lake and
stream survey program coordinator. “They’ve been that way for a
number of years.”
In typical years, DNR issues between 180 and 200 permits for
bass tournaments. More than that likely will be issued this year,
“I don’t think that’s a trend, but it’s too early to tell,”
New state record?
The chance the bass record in the state (Largemouth, 8 pounds,
12.75 ounces; smallmouth, 8 pounds) will be broken is about as good
as – you guessed it – the chance the walleye record will be broken,
“It’s not a record that’s ripe for the plucking,” he said. “A
bass in the 8-pound range is extremely rare. We are on the northern
end of their range, growth is slow, and they have to live a real
long time to get up to that size.”
Yet nobody said breaking the record would be impossible.
“You can almost predict the type of lake it will come from,”
Drewes said. “If I were a betting man, it would come from south of
Reed and Drewes both agreed a lake with the most potential for
kicking out a state record bass wouldn’t have an over-abundance of
bass; would have lots of forage; and would have extremely high
If Hildebrand were looking to hook a huge bass, he would look
for lakes with a lot of vegetation that don’t get much
“There’s probably going to be some dandies, if that’s what
you’re looking for,” Hildebrand said.
Opening day forecast
An early spawning season appeared likely with the warm snap in
early April, but the cold that followed it delayed things. Water
temperatures are just now creeping toward 60 degrees, meaning
opening-weekend anglers could find many fish on the beds.
“My guess is that (spawning) was delayed and there’s probably
going to be a fair number of fish on beds this weekend,” Reed
If that’s the case, expect to see some spawning bass, as well as
others still in the pre-spawn mode. Either way, look for a shallow
bite if the warm-weather holds, Hildebrand said.
Bass, including the bigger females, will be on or near spawning
beds, Hildebrand said. If anglers can’t find them on beds, the next
place to look is the first drop-off outside the spawning area.
“Once you find some active fish, then you can make some
decisions,” Hildebrand said.
Spinnerbaits – either retrieved through the shallows or
slow-rolled in deeper water – and stickbaits should be good,
Hildebrand said. He urges anglers to start with a variety of
presentations to determine what bass are biting on best.
“If you’re fishing with someone and you’re not catching them the
way they are, just put your rod down and watch what they are doing
and just duplicate that,” he said.