For all the press the southern states get for bass fishing, here’s a dirty little secret many of us already know: Minnesota bass fishing is some of the best you’ll find in the country for both largemouths and smallies. You might not catch a 12-pound fish, but solid numbers of 3- to 5-pound fish are everywhere in Minnesota’s waters – and under-utilized in the land where walleye is king.
What I’m talking about is the MN DNR’s recent announcement of a special Catch & Release bass season. What this really means is we finally have the opportunity to fish during a time when bass are heavily schooled and on the spring feedbag prior to the spawn. Yep, it’s time for live action and lots of it – and a great opportunity to introduce kids to fishing.
This Saturday, May 9th, through regular harvest walleye and pike opener on Saturday, May 23rd, Minnesota anglers can legally target and fish for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. All fish must be immediately returned to the water, but since most bass anglers are fishing catch and release already, this is a non-issue.
Read: Meat hunters need not apply. Although my understanding is that anglers in the Northeast corner of the state (north and east of U.S. Highway 53) can catch and keep bass during this season, in accordance with individual lake and state bag limit regulations, of course. What that means to me is if you’re fishing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and can’t catch walleyes for shore lunch, then sure, eat a few bass. Selective harvest is key; 12 to 16 inchers are perfect. Releasing the 18, 19 and 20 inchers ensures someone else an awesome photo opportunity.
So, whether you’re fishing the state’s natural glacial lakes or rivers, the bass will have one thing in common during this time of year: Pre-spawn schooling behavior. Catch one fish and chances are he has buddies nearby.
In terms of location, this new season means being able to fish spots before the jungle gets into full bloom, so you have far less acreage of vegetation or cover to sort through, so the opportunities are much greater. Water temperature definitely comes into play, so finding the the warmest areas of a lake or river is key. Back bays and boat harbors can pay off in spades. Also look for sprouting rice, milfoil, emerging cabbage, laydowns, stumps, and docks. A sure bet for smallmouths are rocks mixed in with vegetation. Expansive bulrush stands are also worth a look.
I’m a big fan of small spinnerbaits, jig worms, wacky-rigged worms, and small crawfish imitations (hard or soft baits). I’m also a fan of Northland Impulse soft plastics for their lifelike action and added scent. But play with what you already have in your box and let the fish help you decide.
Spinning or finesse baitcaster gear is my typical weaponry with these baits. I like the St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass series, opting for 6’ to 6’6” spinning sticks and 7’ casting rods with medium-light to medium action. They’re sensitive, rugged, powerful and don’t weigh much.
You can get by with lighter line, too. You don’t need the heavy stuff early in the year. 10 pound mono or 15 pound braid (4 pound diameter) with a 10-pound fluoro leader is just fine for jig worming and most of the other presentations, too.
A Word To The Live Bait Crowd
We all know that leeches, shiners and suckers can be deadly on bass. But please consider switching out your hooks if you’re going to fish the live stuff for bass. A circle or Kahle-style hook is no less effective than an octopus or Aberdeen — and it will minimize the chances of gut-hooking and unintentionally killing bass. A circle or Kahle almost always grabs a fish in the corner of the maw. Another cool thing about these hooks is you don’t need a big hookset, either. Simply sweep up your rod tip slowly and let the hook do the work!
I really hate to use the word, but this year’s new catch and release bass season is going to be epic. Epic like Faith No More. Epic like Goodfellas and Bambi.
Seriously, when you hit the water on this year’s May 9th walleye and northern pike opener, make sure to throw in your bass gear! Just tell everybody it’s “for the kids.” We’ll keep it a secret – because we know most walleye guys love fishing bass, too, just won’t admit it.
Now get out there and take advantage of some of the finest Minnesota bass fishing – and hats off to the MN DNR for making the early catch and release season a reality!
By Brian “Bro” Brosdahl