Lake Mille Lacs still has its unique fishing mystique.

I just returned from three days fishing the lake with friends and co-workers, targeting walleye that are required to be released through the remainder of the open-water season. For as much negativity as walleye regulations and management on Mille Lacs have elicited in recent years in popular and social media, the accesses were full of boat trailers, on weekdays mind you.

The mystique of Mille Lacs is the remarkable potential that sits in the back of your mind while fishing it. It’s the potential of 40-plus walleye days, of hooking a wall-hanger-sized walleye, of having the chance of catching huge muskie, pike or smallmouth bass, or the seemingly unlimited number and variety of structures to fish on the lake.

You can fish shallow or deep, on the substrate of your choice, using your favorite method of fishing. If you like live-bait rigging, slip bobbers, jigging, pitching or casting glidebaits, or trolling crankbaits, you can do it all on the big pond.

The pattern I fished was working the deep side of gravel or boulder humps and picking up stray walleyes. I’d mark a fish or two here and there and get a fish with matching spottiness. Another strategy might have been to search until a large school of fish was discovered, but I played it conservative and fished to the onesie–twosie marks I’d found.

Sometimes, pulling a live bait rig after marking a fish resulted in a hookup, other times the moment of opportunity came and went. Mudflats held a few fish; fishing these midlake structures will only get stronger as the water warms and summer progresses.

Jumping from spot to spot seemed to keep our troupe of anglers engaged and new fish coming into the boat. When one spot slowed, it was time to jump to another. While Mille Lacs public accesses were nearly full by late morning, there still are enough fishing spots to go around, especially considering the split of walleye, muskie and bass anglers plying her waters. The diversity of the fishery is a strength of the lake and something local angler tourism dependent businesses are using to their advantage.

Even on slow fishing days, it’s nice to know that on Mille Lacs you are one move away from reversing your fortunes. One morning started slowly for me recently, but after a few moves and a weather change, the fish were back on the bite. If you can stay with it in the down times, chances are you’ll be rewarded when the bite turns on or you move enough to finally stumble onto some fish.

There’s a certain satisfaction that I and others take in walleye live-bait rigging. I remember once remarking that if, in some bizarrely construed holdup, a theoretical hitman puts a gun to my head and I can only choose one way to catch walleyes the rest of my life, very quickly I would blurt out “live-bait rigging!”

There’s just something about feeling the delicate and finesse take of a fish against the contrast of the ticks and rubs of countless gravel bars, cobble and boulders.

On one of my days out recently, I was able to pull off the enviable feat of seamless back-to-back fish. A first fish is caught and released, the hook is rebaited, and shortly after returning the rig to the bottom of the lake, a bite is detected almost immediately and a fish is hooked up.

This has happened a few times in my fishing career. Sometimes, it’s just your day.

You can fish with two or three friends, all using the same setup, all with experience live-bait rigging and detecting bites, and on occasion, one of you will have the hot rod. When it’s you, it’s best to stay humble. On another trip, it may not be your day.

Some days, the bites and fish equal out. On others, it’s an angler’s figurative birthday and everything is coming up roses for a single member of the party.

One of the challenges of live-bait rigging is riding out dry spells. Fishing this technique is enjoyable, but if you go hours between bites, it can become a drag. Mental fatigue becomes your enemy.

When a fish does bite after the lengthy intermission, you have to be ready to release line immediately. If you are worn down from the long wait, you can miss your opportunity and be sentenced to another hour-plus lull as punishment.

Mille Lacs remains a great lake on which to make memories. A slight chop still activates walleyes and angler imaginations. The reefs and shoals, humps and mudflats, weedlines and points hold the fish of anglers past and future. Mille Lacs still has its unique fishing mystique.

Scott Mackenthun is an outdoors enthusiast who has been writing about hunting and fishing since 2005. He resides in New Prague and may be contacted at

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