Home to 500 lakes and Rivers, including the mighty Mississippi, and home to legendary anglers such as Babe Winkelman, the Lindner’s, WalleyeDan, the Roach’s and the Nisswa Guide League, the Brainerd Lakes area in central Minnesota attracts fisherman from across the Midwest. The Lakes Area is one of the best multi species freshwater fisheries in the country with an abundance of species ranging from Yellow Perch and Black Crappie to Lake Trout and Muskie. The largest reservoir in the Brainerd area is one that can mistakenly be overlooked by weekend warriors. The Whitefish chain of lakes is home to not only some of the best fishing in Minnesota, but also one of the most beautiful shoreline and scenic views you can find.
The lakes of the Whitefish chain were originally made up of 3 large reservoirs connected by the Pine River and other streams and tributaries. In order to benefit the logging business, which was thriving throughout the area in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, a dam was constructed on the pine river. The dam, built by the US Army Corps of Engineers, raised the water creating channels between the lakes. The dam was reconstructed in 1905 and the area was dramatically changed forever. The flooded lowlands created a wide variety of bottom content, structure, temperature ranges, water color and species of fish.
Consisting of 14 interconnected lakes, 14,000 acres of water and over 110 miles of lake shore, the Whitefish chain provides anglers with a multitude of fishing options. A maze of sunken islands, channels, points, bars and vegetation are made home by trophy walleye, northern pike, bass, crappie and lake trout among others. Due to the size of the body of water, the Whitefish chain does not warm as quickly as many other lakes in the area. But once the water warms, there are few lakes that can match the action that the chain is capable of producing.
The largest lake, and namesake for the chain is Whitefish Lake. Consisting of Upper and Lower Whitefish Lake, and making up over half (7,716) of the total acreage of the chain, the Whitefish lakes are a walleye fisherman’s dream. The Minnesota DNR are well aware of Whitefish’s walleye producing capabilities and have established a walleye egg take site at the mouth of the river entering the lake. Whitefish serves as one of seven take sites around the state and supplies the DNR with around 90 million walleye eggs annually. The DNR returns the favor and annually stock about 5 million walleye fry back into the lake and fingerlings are stocked every other year. The DNR’s efforts seem to have nothing but a positive impact on the lakes population of walleye as fisherman continue to keep their nets busy year after year.
Most anglers that fish the chain will target walleye, and for good reason. Not only are there good numbers of fish, but trophy sized fish as well. A maximum depth of 138 feet and an average depth of 46 feet form a whitefish walleye haven. The clear water has established a weed line at about 18 feet throughout the lake. Foley’s bar, which separates the lower basin from the middle one is a very popular walleye spot. As the water warms, you’ll find walleyes in deeper water off the points and islands. Fish the miscellaneous humps, rock piles and bars in low light periods. Try pitching jigs tipped with red tails or leeches over rock piles and along weed lines or trolling spinners and deep diving rapalas over sand bars and mud flats. When in doubt, there is always a time and place to slip bobber isolated weed pockets and cast crank baits at windblown shorelines.
Cross Lake, on the south eastern side of the chain is the next largest lake after the Whitefish lakes. Full of fish-holding structure from sunken islands and bars to rock reefs and stump-filled bays, Cross holds a variety of species. Walleye fishing can be really good around the steep drop-offs in the northern portion of the lake. There are several sunken islands and mid-lake humps that will hold walleyes in the early morning and late evening. Pitching jigs or live bait rigs on the rip rap on the Crosslake side of the underpass between Cross and Rush lakes around sunset is a proven technique year after year. Northern pike and Crappies also have an established reputation on Cross Lake. Any deep diving crank trolled outside the weeds will provide nonstop action for pike which average over 18 inches. Just above the dam the remaining logs and stumps from the logging industry provide one of the best crappie holes on the chain. Slip bobbers and minnows will provide hours of entertainment for all members of the family.
Fishing is a great outdoor activity that is enjoyed by people of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds. It provides a great chance to get together with friends and family, or the perfect excuse to escape to the beauty that Mother Nature bestowed upon us. For some, fishing is an occasional hobby that they enjoy sporadically, but for others it is a lifelong pursuit. The key to fishing the Whitefish chain is to be on the right piece of structure at the right time. There are other lakes in the area that do hold fish, but the chain is your best bet to catch good numbers as well as bigger fish. Hiring a local fishing guide, like those at WalleyeDan’s Guide Service, can be a great way to learn the special fishing tips and techniques used to help anglers learn this particular lake.
The natural beauty of the Whitefish Chain of lakes leaves visitors speechless and bait buckets empty. The next time you are packing the cooler and loading the boat, remember that few other lakes provide fisherman with the chance at such a vast variety of species as well as a chance to boat the fish of a lifetime. While many lakes around the area can become tougher to fish the further into summer it gets, the action on Whitefish picks up and produces a better walleye bite through the summer and continues to get better as summer moves to fall. If you haven’t fished the Whitefish Chain, you are missing out on an experience to be long remembered.