218-692-3850 • 36624 Co Rd 66, Crosslake, MN 56442 view map
There is limited parking at the Bait Box Marina, however there is ample street parking. Please pull up the the Bait Box to unload your gear and then park your car.
The Whitefish Chain allows you to travel through 16 lakes without setting your feet on dry land. It all starts at the west end, where the Pine River empties into Upper Whitefish and continues east through the chain to the Pine River Dam at the east end of Cross Lake. Before the Pine River Dam was constructed in 1886, these were all separate lakes fed by creeks flowing into the Pine River.
The dam raised the water level, flooded the intervening lowlands and created one continuous body of water. This dramatically changed the area forever and resulted in a myriad of basins with a wide variety of bottom content, structure, temperature ranges, water color, and fish species.
This amazing variety of fishing waters provides unlimited opportunities for the more experienced angler as well as the novice. You can, however, have an exciting fishing experience or a disappointing day on these lakes. It all depends on selecting the proper lake and time of year for the species you prefer. Fish are more prevalent in their preferred habitat and more active in their preferred temperature range.
© Copyright 2012 Sybil Smith, All Rights Reserved.
Here’s an old secret of the fishing guides: give particular attention to the old river channels. Even though the area is now flooded, the current at the bottom of the lakes still follows the old channels. The fish relate to structure at the edge of these channels waiting for the current to bring them food. The secret for finding the river channels is to be on the lookout for contour changes that vary from 1 to 7 feet with the average drop-off being 1 to 3 feet. The channel frequently doesn’t run in a straight line.
Before venturing out on the Whitefish Chain, learn the locations of the shallow rock piles that can raise havoc with your motor. Many of these hazardous areas are marked.
Upper Whitefish is the first of the large lakes in the chain to warm up in the spring and is more productive for walleyes than the other lakes. The current flows from west to east bringing in warm runoff from the four drainage inlets, particularly on warm sunny days. The mouth of the Pine River inlet is the most productive area in the spring.
The numerous inlets and channels between the lakes can be all-season feeding grounds for most species, particularly northerns and walleyes. These areas are especially productive in the spring and fall. As water flows through these narrow openings, an abundance of food is swept along by the increased current and attracts gamefish. Give particular attention to bars, points, and deep-water drop- offs adjacent to both sides of the mouth of any inlet or channel.
Walleye fingerlings are stocked on alternative years in the larger lakes in the chain and test nettings indicate the migration to the smaller lakes is quite successful. There is also a substantial amount of natural reproduction. Although most fish caught are in the 1- to 2-pound range, DNR personnel report numerous 10-pounders in their spring harvesting traps and sometimes an 18-pounder is sighted. The best walleye lakes in the Whitefish Chain are Upper, Middle, and Lower Whitefish. Rush and Lower Hay can also be very good. Big Trout Lake can produce some big walleyes for lake trout anglers in the winter. Although big walleyes are found in all of the large lakes in the chain, Upper Whitefish probably offers the best chance for landing a trophy. It has an abundance of shallow weedy food shelves that lure big fish out of the depths.
Water temperature is a crucial factor in the spring. Don’t plan to fish the Whitefish Chain on opening day unless ice-out is very early or very late. With an early spring, you’ll find walleyes sufficiently recovered from spawning activities and actively feeding. If the spring is very late, the small males are in shallow and provide fast action. Walleyes often relate to channel openings and inlets from streams and small lakes. The Whitefish Chain has an abundance of them and most produce walleyes. You’ll also find walleyes on large flats in front of the channel mouths where the current moves in and out between the lakes.
For successful walleye fishing in the spring, experts suggest starting at the 10-to 15-foot depths. In the summer, move down to the 15- to 25-foot depths and check out the 40-foot depths in mid-summer. In the fall, try the 20- to 50-foot depths. These are the usual seasonal ranges. But if you don’t find walleyes at the expected depths, the rule of thumb is to move deeper.
In the spring, your best bet on these lakes is to use jigs or live-bait rigs with minnows, leeches, or nightcrawlers and fish them slowly. Back-trolling into the wind is the most popular technique.
In the summer, when the wind blows, try trolling over the tops of the weeds with spinners and a lightweight sinker in 12 feet of water. For big fish, use 4-to 6-inch redtail chubs starting about the beginning of August. An effective pattern for those hot, sunny days from mid- July through August (when nothing seems to be working) is to speed-troll on deep weedlines or deep bars and sunken islands with deep-diving crankbaits. In September and October, the best catches are during late evening. Stay in 2 to 4 feet of water and slowly troll a Rapala. You’ll be glad you did.
There are excellent spawning areas for pike in the rice beds and marshy areas in the small lakes and bays. The Whitefish Chain boasts an impressive number of 10- to 15-pound fish, even though the average size is much smaller. A good summer technique for northerns on these lakes is to select a deep-diving crankbait (silver, gold, blue, or chartreuse) that runs 15 to 22 feet down and cast “tight” to the weedlines in 15 to 25 feet. Hang on at the dips and curves in the weedline. The cisco, a high-energy baitfish, is very plentiful in these lakes and is responsible for the large size of the northerns. Upper Whitefish is considered the best lake in the chain but Rush Lake, Middle Whitefish, and Lower Whitefish also yield big fish consistently. Big Trout is the best lake for winter northern pike.
On the small lakes, you can usually find bass on shore- line structures. But for consistent catches on the larger lakes, you’ll need to know the hotspots, which are widely dispersed. In the spring, the most productive areas are shallow bays connected to larger lakes. The key is to find the lakes with good weed growth such as Bertha, Clamshell, Daggett, Little Pine, Loon, Island, and Arrowhead. Rush and Hen Lakes have a good supply of bass, but they can be difficult to locate because of the abundance of good habitat.
Big Trout Lake is the best smallmouth lake on the chain. Impressive catches are recorded every year from this lake. A few smallmouth migrate out to the bars in front of the entrance to Big Trout, but it’s rare to find any fish west of Foley’s Bar, which divides Middle and Lower Whitefish.
This species is stocked annually in Big Trout Lake. Lake trout also tend to fare better than other game fish for the available food supply. Some of these fish are quite large. The high populations of whitefish and cisco, baitfish that are rich in fat and protein, help lakers add pounds quickly.
Don’t expect much of a supply in the large lakes (Upper, Middle, and Lower Whitefish), but the small weedy bays and channels between the lakes offers some terrific action in the spring. The little bays and boat channels in the Pine River are teeming with spring crappies and Arrowhead Lake always produces. Be alert to little pockets and man-made channels around most of the lakes. These spots attract hordes of early-spring crappies. The pockets between Bertha and Lower Hay are good starting points. In mid-summer, fish the early hours and stay on the weedlines. Some of the best crappie lakes are Bertha, Clamshell, Island, Loon, Rush, and Hen.
SUNFISH, ROCK BASS, & PERCH
For sunfish, the small weedy lakes and bays are the first producers. During the summer months, look for the numerous shallow bars (10 to 15 feet) scattered throughout the larger lakes. Good-sized rock bass are also plentiful throughout the chain, but they’re especially easy to catch in the Pine River. Perch are so abundant that many fishing guides will not use nightcrawlers as bait for larger game fish.