Region’s abundance of lakes, proximity to Twin Cities attracts anglers
The greater Forest Lake area has long been a hotbed for fishing, and for good reason. An abundance and variety of lakes cater to anglers of all types, and the proximity to the Twin Cities gives visitors the feeling of being “up north” without having to drive for hours.
With its three basins covering 2,271 acres, Forest Lake is a close second in size to White Bear Lake among lakes near the north metropolitan Twin Cities. This, in addition to a wealth of bass, made it a natural destination for anglers throughout the 20th century.
Today the bass population has waned, but Forest Lake is regarded as a top spot for another catch: muskellunge.
“In the metro, if not the best, it’s probably one of the best (muskie lakes),” said Rich Robinson, owner of Mike’s Bait on 8, while preparing for the Memorial Day weekend rush at his Forest Lake business Friday morning.
Forest Lake is a perennial destination in the multi-lake Metro Muskie Tournament, which on June 14 will pay out tens of thousands of dollars to some of an estimated 450 participants. Muskie taken from Forest Lake have won the contest or placed in it more than fish from any other lake, Robinson said.
The East Metro Fisheries Office, of the state Department of Natural Resources, samples most of the lakes it is assigned to every five or six years, but Forest Lake is one of four to get special attention in the form of every-other-year sampling. The office stocks Forest Lake with several thousand muskie every other year.
A muskie is a trophy catch, but even a seasoned fisherman might land one only every few thousands casts. Fortunately Forest Lake has plenty more to offer.
“Three years in a row it’s been a really good walleye harvest,” Robinson said.
The local fisheries office also stocks Forest Lake with walleye every other year. The sampling conducted last summer revealed the highest amount of walleye on the lake in 15-20 years, said T.J. DeBates, area fisheries office supervisor.
Also abundant are northern pike, bluegill and crappie.
“You can take any of the lakes around here and the biggest crappies come from Forest Lake,” Robinson said, noting he differs from many in feeling this is due in part to muskie weeding out the smaller crappie.
Bass, too, are still to be found, as evidenced by tournaments for the species held throughout the summer.
“As far as big bags of bass, as far as weight, it’s not the best lake around here, but there’s plenty of bass in there,” Robinson said.
The city has a public access to the lake just north of Lakeside Memorial Park downtown. DNR public accesses are located on North Shore Trail, north of the center and east basins. Timm’s Marina operates south of Third Lake (east basin), and Your Boat Club runs a marina near the public landing downtown.
Robinson said the lake’s two biggest basins – First Lake and Third Lake – are the most popular for fishing. First Lake is the biggest and shallowest basin, while Third Lake is the deepest and has the most shoreline points.
As cabins on the lake have turned to year-round residences, aquatic recreation has increased.
“It’s a good fishing lake, yet it does get a lot of waterskiers and jetskiers and partiers, which is fine, nothing wrong with that, but as far as fishing goes, you have to get out there early,” Robinson said.
Nearby Clear Lake offers a toned-down alternative to Forest Lake. Like its bigger neighbor to the north, Clear Lake is good for walleye and muskie, and anglers can get by with smaller boats.
For a publication promoting angling opportunities for the fisheries office, DeBates recently picked Forest Lake and Clear Lake as the two to highlight.
Clear Lake is stocked with tiger muskie, a hybrid that crosses size similar to a muskie with aggressiveness similar to a northern pike. The result is a muskie that is easier to catch than its pure-strain relative. Tiger muskie are stocked only in the seven-county metro area.
In 2011 a walleye limit went into effect restricting harvesting to fish over 17 inches. Up to three can be kept per day and only one over 30 inches.
Clear Lake’s western shore lies close to Interstate 35 and allows for easy and abundant shore-fishing opportunities. Also, a DNR public access is located on the frontage road, Eureka Avenue.
To the west, Coon Lake covers 1,259 acres in Anoka County. A public access on the eastern shore is operated by Anoka County in Coon Lake County Park.
“It has really good pike – in number and size – and has really come on as a bass fishery,” DeBates said.
Bluegills have replaced crappie as the most abundant species on Coon Lake. The DNR has stocked Coon Lake for walleye annually since 2008 after past attempts were discontinued.
Covering 1,621 acres in southern Scandia and northern May Township, Big Marine Lake is one of the best bass lakes in the area and has a diverse fish population, DeBates said.
North of Forest Lake, more than a dozen lakes follow Highway 8 to the Wisconsin border. Some of the most popular include Comfort, Chisago, North Center, South Center, Lindstrom and Green.
“All these lakes get hit hard,” Robinson said, and “all of them have got everything in it: northern, bass, sunfish, crappies, everything.”
Robinson sees about a 50-50 split in his customer base: About half are visitors traveling here or through on the highway or interstate, and about half are locals.
Though plenty of diehards and professionals go for muskie, walleye and bass, Robinson said it’s the smaller species that attract the most anglers.
“Around here, No. 1 that people fish for would be panfish: sunnies and crappies,” he said. “It’s just a panfish area. People like to eat them.”
Bass and walleye rank next, followed by northern and muskie, Robinson said.
“In northern Anoka County and Washington County we have some good fishing lakes and a diverse fish population,” DeBates said. “You get up here and you kind of feel like you’re up north.”
“It’s close enough to the city where a guy doesn’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get up and go fishing and still catch a decent bag of fish, a meal,” he said. “These lakes do get hit pretty hard just because of the vicinity: close enough to the Cities, but it still feels like you’re getting away.”