Not-so-big Baby Lake known for its muskies and bass
By Glen Schmitt
There’s a long history of excellent muskie fishing on Cass County’s Baby Lake. The draw of muskies has always been, and continues to be, a numbers game rather than trophy-caliber fish.
While muskies are native to the lake, the DNR started stocking Shoepack-strain muskies in Baby during the 1970s. It’s a strain that doesn’t grow large fish, and that ancestry continues to dictate the size structure of the lake’s muskies today.
Fish in the 30- to 44-inch class are most common, so don’t throw a bait expecting to put a 50-inch muskie in the boat. They don’t exist.
“Baby has one of the highest muskie densities in the state, but it’s definitely a numbers lake,” said Doug Schultz, DNR Fisheries supervisor in Walker. “It has all the right ingredients for muskies: good habitat for spawning and plenty of forage in the way of ciscoes and suckers. They just don’t grow as big.”
Aaron Regier, of Swanson’s Bait and Tackle in Hackensack, pointed out that he’s seen and heard about more muskies over 40 inches being caught in recent years on Baby. Still no 50-inch fish, but just a slight uptick in the overall size structure.
Regier fishes the lake regularly and says overall numbers aren’t quite as high as they were 20 years ago. He also believes that might be contributing to a few more muskies over 40 inches showing up.
“It used to be a bigger destination (muskie) lake. If you wanted to see muskies, that’s where people would go,” he said. “Muskie numbers are still good, but down a bit. I do think the size is better. It’s just not quite like it was in the early 2000s from a numbers standpoint.”
Another Baby Lake constant has been its bass population, which continues to thrive. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are numerous, and both provide a legitimate opportunity for trophy-caliber fish – those over 20 inches in length.
During a 2019 DNR survey, smallmouth bass ranged from 11 to 18 inches in length and averaged 14 inches long. Largemouths up to 20 inches also were sampled, and they averaged just over 12 inches in length.
“It’s a phenomenal smallmouth lake, and you’ll see fish over 20 inches pretty regularly,” Regier said. “The largemouth fishing isn’t bad, either. Baby just has a lot of really nice bass in it.”
Walleye fingerlings are stocked during even-numbered years, which typically provides a good supply of eating-size fish for anglers. Baby also produces some bigger walleyes and typically has a representation of multiple year-classes in it.
DNR gill nets averaged about five walleyes per lift during a 2019 survey, and most were under 20 inches in length. Two strong year-classes stood out: The 2014’s averaged 17 inches in length, and those from 2016 were about 13 inches long.
“You can pick up your eaters, and there’s usually a good population of walleyes in the low 20-inch class and some in the upper 20s, too,” Regier said. “The spring and fall seem to be best, and the lake’s cabbage tends to be the biggest draw for walleyes.”
Baby was once a highly targeted lake for crappies, but their numbers have dwindled quite a bit over the years. While they’re much less abundant, the crappies you do catch now are typically large ones.
Its bluegill population has not changed much over time, with the vast majority of fish caught being less than 8 inches in length.
Northern pike numbers have remained pretty stable in Baby. It’s not an over abundant population, and one can expect healthy-looking pike from it.
“They have shoulders on them – not so much length, just real girthy pike,” Schultz said.
Surface area………………..737 acres
Maximum depth……………69 feet
Shore length………………..12 miles
Water clarity……………………12 feet
Fish species present:
Muskie, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, black crappie, bluegill, northern pike, pumpkinseed, tullibee (cisco), hybrid sunfish, yellow perch, bullhead, rock bass, white sucker.
DNR area fisheries office (218) 552-2338, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind or Swanson’s Bait and Tackle (218) 675-6176.