With apologies to colleges and universities across this great country, many of which offer excellent fishing close to campus, there’s no place on the planet for multi-species mayhem like Bemidji State. Let me explain.
BSU sits on the southwest shore of northern Minnesota’s Lake Bemidji, a picturesque 6,580-acre lake with a maximum depth of 76 feet. You can see bottom in 5 feet of water, but the water isn’t so crystal clear as to shut down the bite on bluebird days.
Fisheries Biology 101: Minnesota’s state fish is the walleye (above), and Lake Bemidji is loaded with them. (Note: The angler in the photo above is a buddy of mine; he played baseball for BSU in the mid 1980s.) Local guide Jeff Andersen and other diehard anglers, however, hit the Bemidji boat ramp with their minds on a bigger prize—muskies!
Known as the “fish of 10,000 casts,” muskies can be found throughout Lake Bemidji’s cabbage flats and shallow-water reeds (see Jeff Andersen’s video below). While smaller neighboring lakes boast higher numbers of muskies per acre, the ones in Lake Bemidji have the potential to top 40 and even 50 pounds. Perhaps students at BSU are tossing them hotdogs during halftime of the team’s home football games?
If walleyes or muskies aren’t biting, students who wish to skip class don’t have far to travel to experience epic angling for largemouth, smallmouth, northern pike and panfish. North American Fisherman Editor-in-Chief Kurt Beckstrom caught the bass below from one such lake.
Geography 101: The Bemidji area is surrounded by pine forests and was founded as a logging community on the Mississippi River. Bemidji is near Itasca State Park (headwaters of the Mississippi) and has 400 fishing lakes within 25 miles. You read that right: 400!
Many of these lakes are small (less than 200 acres), so you don’t need a 20-foot fiberglass bass boat with a 300-hp outboard to get in the game. In fact, because many of the boat ramps on these hidey-holes are shallow and contain (at most) a narrow concrete slab, you’d do better with a 14-foot semi-V with a short-shaft 15-hp.
Economics 101: The town of Bemidji is home to Northland Fishing Tackle . Started in the mid 1970s by a young local guide named John Peterson, his company now sells lures in its familiar red-and-yellow packaging across the USA and Canada. (Sidebar: I have several buddies who graduated from BSU, and at least three of them worked at Northland Fishing Tackle while they were students.)
Of course, when most people hear the word “Minnesota,” they think winter. While it’s true the state endures 4-5 months of cold temps each year, the fishing doesn’t stop simply because lakes are blanketed by ice and snow. And if ice fishing isn’t your thing, you can still get outside and take advantage of more than 400 miles of snowmobile trails and 100 miles of cross-country ski trails located in close proximity to campus.
Finally, everyone knows that parking on a college campus can often be a nightmare. But thanks to cold winters in Minnesota, those BSU students who understand ice thickness as it relates to supporting a vehicle, are able to park close to their classes—for free!—by driving onto Lake Bemidji and leaving their rigs on the ice (below).
Given the amazing number of nearby lakes, coupled with an amazing fishery adjacent to campus, Bemidji State ranks as my No. 1 fishing school in the country. Go Beavers!