Best Bass Fishing Lakes In the Midwest

A Review of the Midwest's Top-Tier Largemouth & Smallmouth Fisheries

by Lake-Link Staff

Best Bass Fishing Lakes In the Midwest
The Midwest is starting to thaw, which has anglers getting their boats ready for the open-water season. Of course, diehard walleye sticks have been on rivers all winter and the spring bite is heating up right now. And Down South, well, it's been Classic time...

Did you know?

  • According to statistics, the largemouth bass is America's most popular gamefish - and not too far down the list, smallmouth bass.
  • Some states don't have a closed season on bass

That's right, you're allowed to fish bass throughout the calendar year in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Wisconsin is open year 'round for catch and release fishing.

Minnesota and Michigan are the exceptions; the Minnesota bass season doesn't open until May 13, 2023, and in Michigan, bass opens the last Saturday in April.

So, it's time to start planning bass lakes to explore! Here are our top picks for the Midwest's best bass fisheries (in alphabetical order):

(1) Lake Minnetonka - Minnesota

Located just west of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, Lake Minnetonka offers spectacular fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass over nearly 15,000 acres. Minnetonka now hosts more bass tournaments than any other lake in Minnesota.

Come Minnesota Fishing Opener on May 13, 2023-and well through the summer months-it's hard to go wrong working Minnetonka's docks for plenty of largemouth bass action-and some big fish, too.

A nice largemouth bass caught on Lake Minnetonka Minnesota
Photo by Lake-Link Staff
As largemouth bass move deeper throughout the season, weed edges are fished by locals with drop-shot rigs, jigs, and soft plastics. And then there's the frog bite - just look for lily pads.

And the smallmouths? They're a little harder to find, but rocky areas, signaled in many locations by marker buoys, is a good start.

Drive Times to Lake Minnetonka**
  • Chicago: 7 ½ hours
  • Milwaukee: 5 ½ hours
  • Green Bay: 5 hours
  • Minneapolis: 30 minutes
  • Detroit: 11 hours
  • Indianapolis: 10 hours
  • Open in Google Maps

(2) Lake Oahe - South Dakota

Lake Oahe, a 400,000 acre reservoir on the Missouri River, has seen a lot more smallmouth bass angler traffic since the Bassmaster Elite Series visited in 2018.

Loaded with points, rocks, timber, and submerged willow, there's plenty of places to fish a Ned Rig or drop-shot and other bottom-hugging baits.

But with plenty of shad, smelt, and ciscoes in the system, Oahe smallmouths can be open-water roamers, too. Jerkbaits and topwaters often work on these fish.

For bass anglers willing to brave the reservoir's big water and wind, Oahe can produce some really nice bass-and invariably, a few walleyes in the process for a campground fish-fry.

Drive Times to Lake Oahe**
  • Chicago: 12 ½ hours
  • Milwaukee: 11 ½ hours
  • Green Bay: 11 ¼ hours
  • Minneapolis: 7 hours
  • Detroit: 17 hours
  • Indianapolis: 15 ½ hours
  • Open in Google Maps

(3) Lake of the Woods - Minnesota/Canada

Called the "Walleye Capital of the World", Minnesota's Lake of the Woods is a massive 1.075 million acres. Although known as a go-to walleye destination, the smallmouth bass fishing can be unreal.

"As soon as the ice goes out the smallmouth fishing is phenomenal. They don't eat a lot all winter so they're ready to bite," says B.A.S.S. Elite pro, Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson.

"My two go-to baits are a soft-plastic paddletail on a jig head and a suspending jerkbait," shares Gussy.

He says the other great thing about bass fishing on Lake of the Woods is the multi-species aspect.

"As a bonus, you're going to catch walleyes, pike, and lake trout all while you're fishing smallmouths. Definitely lots of action!"

Drive Times to the Lake Of The Woods**
  • Chicago: 11 ½ hours
  • Milwaukee: 10 ½ hours
  • Green Bay: 9 ½ hours
  • Minneapolis: 4 ¾ hours
  • Detroit: 15 ½ hours
  • Indianapolis: 14 ½ hours
  • Open in Google Maps

(4) Lake St. Clair - Michigan

Lake St. Clair - Michigan
The smallmouth bass bite can happen early on Lake St. Clair, typically when the water temps hit the mid-40s. Anglers intercept them en route to their spawning grounds and the bite can be furious on suspending jerkbaits.

As the water temps climb, bass become a little more difficult during the spawn but anglers can tempt fish by dragging Ned Rigs and other soft plastics across their beds.

Looking for a place to start? Tournaments typically launch around the St. Clair Metropark-which can hold fish-and many spots aren't too far away. Check your maps for Miles Road, the Belle River Hump on the Canadian side (so get a Canadian fishing license, too), Anchor Bay.

  • Chicago: 4 ½ hours
  • Milwaukee: 6 ¼ hours
  • Green Bay: 8 hours
  • Minneapolis: 11 hours
  • Detroit: 20 min
  • Indianapolis: 6 ¾ hours
  • Open in Google Maps

(5) Mille Lacs Lake - Minnesota

Massive 130,000-acres-plus Mille Lacs Lake is one of the top smallmouth bass fisheries in the nation, with bass anglers trailering across the country for a shot at the lake's plentiful, giant bronzebacks.

Best way to find 'em?

Work the rocks and gravel on whatever side of the lake you launch your boat. Experiment with depth depending on the time of year. Bass could be super shallow on reefs or hanging off the edges of rock piles in deeper water. And don't be scared to cast the shoreline, especially around the time of the MN Fishing Opener on May 13.

Mille Lacs Lake smallmouth bass fishing is awesome
Photo courtesy of Brad Hawthorne
Tubes, Ned Rigs, lightweight marabou jigs (black, brown, or green pumpkin), and jerkbaits all produce. Later in the season, drop-shot rigs, deeper-running, weighted flukes, and cranks are all standard fare.

Come August, bee-line back to the shallow rocky reefs as both smallies and walleyes gorge themselves on molting crawfish.

For a guided trip and accommodations info, contact local, in-the-know guides, Brad Hawthorne and Tony Roach.

Drive Times to Mille Lacs Lake**
  • Chicago: 7 ½ hours
  • Milwaukee: 6 ½ hours
  • Green Bay: 6 hours
  • Minneapolis: 1 ¼ hours
  • Detroit: 12 hours
  • Indianapolis: 10 ½ hours
  • Open in Google Maps

(6) Minocqua Chain of Lakes - Wisconsin

The clear waters of northern Wisconsin's Minocqua Chain of Lakes (Minocqua Lake, Kawaguesaga Lake and Lake Tomahawk), are filled with bass-both largemouths and smallmouths.

While fish can be caught right around town, there are endless lakes and connecting waters in all directions to explore-so better plan on a couple (or a few) days in the area.

For largemouths, look for vegetation, docks, lifts, brush piles, and bays. It's hard to go wrong covering water with chatterbaits or spinnerbaits to maximize bites.

For smallmouths, keep your eyes peeled for rock bars, points, islands, fallen trees, deeper brush piles-and as the summer progresses, brown bass can be located and caught in deeper waters with electronics.

Rock bars in 10 to 30 feet are pretty key summer through fall. Ned Rigs, tubes, drop-shot rigs, and crawfish-imitating crankbaits are all standard presentations.

Not only are there numbers of smallmouths in the Minocqua Chain, there are some trophy-size fish, too.

Make sure to stop into Kurt's Island Sport Shop for the fishing report.

Drive Times to Minocqua**
  • Chicago: 5 ½ hours
  • Milwaukee: 4 hours
  • Green Bay: 2 ½ hours
  • Minneapolis: 4 hours
  • Detroit: 9 ½ hours
  • Indianapolis: 8 hours
  • Open in Google Maps

(7) Monroe Reservoir (Lake Monroe) - Indiana

Located about half-way between Indianapolis and Louisville, this 10,000-acre-plus reservoir is a Midwestern gem for largemouth bass numbers and size. It also holds smallmouth bass, bonus wipers, and a reputed population of spotted bass.

The reservoir is actually "built" for bass. In 2018, the Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife sank nearly 250 artificial fish structures throughout the lake, areas anglers will target later in the day after working shoreline structure in the morning.

The key to catching bass on Monroe? Mimic the forage, which is predominantly gizzard shad, so crankbaits, spinnerbaits, Chatterbaits, soft plastics, and rattlebaits can all come into play.

Drive Times to Monroe Reservoir - Indiana**
  • Chicago: 4 hours
  • Milwaukee: 5 ¼ hours
  • Green Bay: 7 ¼ hours
  • Minneapolis: 10 ¼ hours
  • Detroit: 5 ½ hours
  • Indianapolis: 1 ¼ hours
  • Open in Google Maps

(8) Newton Lake - Illinois

Created as an impoundment to hold the cooling discharge off the Central Illinois Public Service Company power plant, this nearly 2,000-acre lake is known for producing big bass throughout the calendar year. With both gizzard and threadfin shad in the system, Newton's bass are eating 12 months out of the year, meaning quick growth and better-than-average sizes.

High-percentage spots include what locals call the "cold water arm" on the east side where there's lots of vegetation, but working shoreline grass, wood, and riprap throughout the lake is a consistent producer of fish between 4- and 6-pounds, with a shot at a beefy, 7-pound-plus bass.

Anglers will have to use their trolling motors, though, as there's a 25 HP outboard restriction on the lake. Make sure your deep cycle batteries are topped off!

Drive Times to Newton Lake - Illinois**
  • Chicago: 3 ¾ hours
  • Milwaukee: 5 hours
  • Green Bay: 6 ¾ hours
  • Minneapolis: 9 hours
  • Detroit: 6 ¾ hours
  • Indianapolis: 2 ½ hours
  • Open in Google Maps

(9) Sturgeon Bay - Wisconsin

Sturgeon Bay - Wisconsin
Ample forage, textbook structure, and premium spawning habitat all make Door County's Sturgeon Bay one of the finest smallmouth bass destinations in the country. In 2020, Bassmaster rated it as one of the "Best Bass Lakes of the Decade."

Connected to the greater Lake Michigan, Sturgeon Bay, exceptionally clear waters make early-season sight fishing a common approach, with anglers pitching tubes, Ned Rigs, and other goby-imitators at pre- to post-spawn fish.

Jerkbaits, small crankbaits, rattlebaits, spinnerbaits, and soft plastic minnow imitators all work at times, too. As the fish move deeper, drop-shot rigs on light fluorocarbon line are popular.

To get on trophy Sturgeon Bay smallmouths, contact veteran area guide Bret Alexander or go here for more guides & charters.

Drive Times to Sturgeon Bay - Wisconsin**
  • Chicago: 3 ¾ hours
  • Milwaukee: 2 ½ hours
  • Green Bay: 45 minutes
  • Minneapolis: 5 hours
  • Detroit: 8 hours
  • Indianapolis: 6 ½ hours
  • Open in Google Maps

(10) West Okoboji Lake - Iowa

Part of a series of glacial lakes that spans southeastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota, northern Iowa's 4,000-acre West Okoboji Lake offers some good bass fishing opportunities.

Located near the home of Berkley/Pure Fishing in Spirit Lake, Iowa, make sure to stop into their factory store before ever launching the boat. After stocking up on their bait recommendations-and current fishing reports-you can expect both largemouth and smallmouth action on West Okoboji.

For largemouths, the lake's many docks, lifts, and swim platforms all produce fish-and for smallies, look for rocks, points, and hard bottom areas.

Drive Times to West Okoboji Lake - Iowa**
  • Chicago: 7 ½ hours
  • Milwaukee: 6 ½ hours
  • Green Bay: 7 hours
  • Minneapolis: 1 ¼ hours
  • Detroit: 12 ¼ hours
  • Indianapolis: 10 ¼ hours
  • Open in Google Maps

** Drive times are approximate and may vary based upon time of day, traffic conditions and construction

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