Boats and people clog Minnesota lake, but the fish don’t seem to care

Larry Hanson, a guide on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota, fished in the middle of boat traffic last weekend.
Larry Hanson, a guide on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota, fished in the middle of boat traffic last weekend. The Kansas City Star

Larry Hanson was fishing in rush-hour traffic.

It was a beautiful late-summer day, and the boats were out: Pleasure boats towing water-skiers, wake boarders and tubers. Cruisers leaving large waves in their wake. Speed boats and personal watercraft zipping across the surface. Pontoon boats filled with families. Sailboats competing in a regatta.

Lake of the Ozarks?

No, try Lake Minnetonka, a 14,528-acre aquatic playground located just minutes from the Twin Cities.

Hanson, a guide on the lake, was in the middle of all that commotion as he cast a plastic worm to a weed bed on the main lake. But he seemed oblivious to it as he concentrated on getting a bite.

“A lot of people don’t picture this when they think about Minnesota fishing,” Hanson said with a laugh. “They picture some Northwoods lake, peaceful and calm, where there aren’t many other boats around.

“If you want to get off to yourself and just enjoy nature, Minnetonka isn’t for you. But it really is one heck of a fishing lake.”

Hanson was in the process of proving as much. He positioned his boat over a drop-off and cast a plastic worm to a thick weed bed. As his boat rocked in the constant waves from boat traffic, he slowly worked the plastic lure through the vegetation until he felt a slight tap. He set the hook and watched as a healthy largemouth bass raced to the surface and shot out of the water.

Hanson quickly landed the fish and laughed at the irony of his situation.

“Here we are at midday, the sun is beating down, there are boats all over the place, and the fish are biting,” said Hanson, 58, who lives in Brooklyn Park, Minn. “I really think the fish here are conditioned to all of the activity.

“There have always been a gazillion boats out here and it doesn’t bother the fish one bit.”

Maybe that’s why Minnetonka is Hanson’s favorite place to fish. Oh, he loves traveling to the Mississippi River just north of the Twin Cities to fish for smallmouth bass. And he enjoys fishing for walleyes and muskies on the smaller, less-used lakes that dot the region.

But when he wants to catch fish, he heads for Lake Minnetonka. The suburban lake, with its expensive homes and docks filled with high-dollar boats, looks like something out of the television show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

But Hanson will tell you that you don’t have to be a millionaire to catch fish there.

Minnetonka is known as one of the best largemouth bass lakes in Minnesota. And it has some muskies that will absolutely shred a bait.

Hanson’s customers have caught and released muskies as big as 51 inches on buzzbaits. And he remembers the day when he landed one 47 inches long.

“It was great because I got to watch the whole thing,” said Hanson, who is on the field staff for Rapala lures and Leena Lures, which custom-makes colorful spinnerbaits. “I was using a spinnerbaits and I saw that muskie come up behind it and just inhale it.”

The largemouth bass in Minnetonka aren’t quite as theatrical — or as vicious. But there are plenty of them, and some big ones, too. Hanson has caught bass up to almost 22 inches.

With its abundant weeds, Minnetonka has the cover bass need. Add a good mix of shallow and deep water and plenty of food, and you can see why Minnetonka produces such good fishing.

Fishing in the traffic last weekend, Hanson used flashy spinnerbaits, crankbaits and plastic baits to catch a mix of bass and northern pike, all of which were tossed back.

But that’s business as usual for Hanson. He has fished the lake since he was a child and takes pride in what Minnetonka has to offer.

His family has had ties to the popular suburban body of water since 1853. He can take you to the place where his grandparents’ lakefront cottage once stood. And he can tell many stories about the “good old days.”

“I remember how we used to troll with Lazy Ikes for northerns,” Hanson said. “We’d catch lots of fish from 8 to 10 pounds.

“The fishing is tougher now. But it’s still a great spot to fish. You just have to know where to go.”

To reach outdoors editor Brent Frazee, call 816-234-4319 or send email to bfrazee@kcstar.com.

More information

Contact guide Larry Hanson at 612-810-5096 for information on the fishing at Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota.