If planet earth conceals a finer fishing destination than Grand Rapids (and Itasca County), Minnesota, I have yet to discover it. I live just an hour south, yet often choose trips to this rich aquatic locale over many more exotic destinations-- even during a Minnesota winter. (Interpret that any way you wish.)
Set out a sheet of paper during a rainstorm, and leave it there for a few minutes. Now pick it up and examine all the drips, pools, and streams-- these more or less approximate the watery topography of the region. Near Grand Rapids, the aquatic world really is your oyster.
Roughly west of Lake Superior, this 3,000-square mile region harbors over one-thousand lakes, plus reservoirs and streams galore. Did I mention the Mississippi River? It was born just up the road, trickling to life at Lake Itasca.
During a recent media trip to this angling oasis, a group of writers sampled the region's bountiful ice fishing resource. We slid onto the ice a virtual life-list of species-- many of them outsized specimens worthy of In-Fisherman magazine photos. (It's here I venture several times each winter, capturing many of the photos you see in articles.)
On this trip, we iced sunfish exceeding 10-inches; crappies to 14; 6 to 9-pound walleyes; 4-pound largemouth bass. Plus trophy rainbow trout and northern pike to nearly 20-pounds. I could go on and talk about giant muskies on Frabill tip-ups. Or the region's fine lake trout and splake fishing.
Finding fish isn't the issue. It's deciding which fish to find that's the problem. A mass of waterbodies somewhat distribute fishing pressure. But some waters still need a little help from your friends, following years of un-selective harvest.
We recently stayed at Hidden Haven Resort on Bass Lake. Accommodations at this wonderful family facility included clean comfortable cabins with every modern amenity. Hosts Bob and Katie Barton greeted us with hearty smiles, handshakes and helpful fishing advice. Hidden Haven is not only located on a prime fishing lake, it's a sweet central site for launching quests to a hundred other fisheries.
Bass, like several other lakes in the region is now managed for trophy sunfish, built around a 5-fish possession limit. Still, many of the area's top anglers view these as special catch-and-release waters, where returning all 'gills over 7- or 8-inches is more than a good idea, it's a management tool itself that perpetuates the population. Countless other lakes in the area offer outstanding harvest-oriented fishing for midsize crappies, sunfish, pike and walleyes. So why remove those rare 9-plus inch bluegills from waters that hang on such a delicate balance?
Many of the area's top guides agree, and here you'll find a collection of the finest ones anywhere in North America (which makes sense, when you consider the caliber of fishing.) Hall of Fame angler Tom Neustrom, Brian Brosdahl, Scott & Marty Glorvigen, Jeff Sundin, and Rod & Nick Dimich can all put you on world-class bites-- ice or openwater.
A fun exercise buddies and I often employ is to pick from the map four or five lakes in the region we've never fished before. After confirming adequate depth and access, we trek through the woods and terrain with a trusty Honda MUV. In a two day trip-- underwater scouting with a pocketsize Aqua-Vu Micro Plus camera-- it's easy to effectively fish up to five small lakes. And in five educated attempts, we'll often uncover a diamond among gems-- that one small undisturbed waterway harboring hordes of humpbacks.
Where else on earth can you find hundreds of fishable lakes, all within a single hour's drive; let alone a place where you can choose from more than ten lakes named after a Bass?