Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Crane Lake, St. Louis County

In the northwoods, Crane Lake fishing is turning heads

By Glen Schmitt
Staff Writer

St. Louis County’s Crane Lake is part of the Namakan Reservoir system, which also includes Sand Point, Kabetogama, Little Vermilion, and Namakan lakes. It’s also a popular entry point to Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

This makes the 2,291-acre Crane Lake one of the state’s destination getaways, attracting hoards of anglers and recreational users alike to its picturesque setting and bounty of outdoor-related opportunities. 

Crane is a proven fish producer, with a long history of excellent walleye, sauger, smallmouth bass, and crappie fishing. Along with some girthy northern pike, the occasional muskie, and the unexpected lake sturgeon, you never really know what you might pull from its waters. 

The DNR conducted a survey of Crane last year and the results solidified that it remains a top walleye fishery. Gill nets averaged nearly 18 walleyes per lift, which was the highest average recorded since 1970.

The fish sampled were driven by three year-classes – those from 2017, 2018, and 2019 – which made up over 80% of the catch. In all, 11 year-classes were represented.

“We saw high numbers of 2- to 4-year old walleyes, but the lake has big fish, too. We tend not to catch them in our (sampling) gear,” said Ben Vondra, DNR large lake specialist in International Falls. “The lake’s walleyes look really good, with numbers of 10- to 15-inch fish, and they’ll be a couple inches bigger in a year.”

Sauger provide somewhat of a bonus catch on Crane with enough keeping-size fish to fill out a day’s limit. State law allows a six-fish bag on Crane, but only four may be walleyes. Walleyes from 18 to 26 inches must be released.

Generally, any of the lake’s areas of current hold walleyes and sauger in the spring – especially big walleyes. The numerous main-lake reefs and rocks are spots to hit during the rest of the season.

Smallmouth bass are numerous and run good-sized. DNR electrofishing work in the spring of 2021 produced 11 different year-classes, an abundance of 2- to 5-year-olds, and smallies up to 20 inches in length.

Work shallow rock and gravel shorelines in the spring, while the aforementioned main-lake reefs are go-to areas for brown bass during the summer and fall. The lake’s weedy bays will give up an occasional largemouth bass as well. Don’t expect great numbers, but you’ll hook into some big largies.

“Crane is a well-known smallmouth fishery with good size structure – just like all the lakes in the chain,” Vondra said. “It’s primarily a walleye destination, but people come here to specifically fish smallmouths.”

On the panfish front, you’ll find a few bluegills, but nothing much to talk about. Crappies are another story, with good numbers of quality fish that draw the attention of anglers, usually during the spring and fall. The crappies sampled last year by the DNR averaged just over 11 inches in length. 

The lake has a low-density northern pike population, but annually produces big fish. Its muskies seem to be growing in numbers, likely making their way into Crane from Lake Vermilion.

“It’s become an up-and-coming muskie fishery, and we’ve seen some really nice fish in recent years,” Vondra said. “I’d say it’s a fishable population now. I hear about more people targeting them.”

If you hook into something that won’t seem to budge from the bottom, it might be one of the lake’s rogue lake sturgeon. 

Although not numerous, sturgeon are another bonus or accidental catch that anglers encounter here. Vondra says he hears about a few sturgeon being caught every year.

Crane Lake

Nearest town………..Crane Lake

Surface area……………2,921 acres 

Maximum depth………….80 feet

Shore length………………34 miles

Water clarity……………………9 feet

Fish species present:

Walleye, sauger, smallmouth bass, black crappie, northern pike, muskie, lake sturgeon, bluegill, yellow perch, burbot (eelpout), cisco (tullibee), rock bass, largemouth bass, white sucker, redhorse.  

For information:

DNR area fisheries office (218) 598-8195, the DNR website

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