Mille Lacs PRO-AM Preview

After a quick trip down to Lake Okoboji to kickoff the 2024 Champions Tour, Presented by Skeeter Boats, season, we head back North to the Land of 10,000 lakes. And for this one, we’re heading to one of the biggest, Lake Mille Lacs.

However, this event will be a little different. This is the 2nd Annual Champions Tour Pro/Am Presented by Dakota Lithium Batteries and Hosted by Minn Kota. 

Last year’s Pro/Am event was held on the Whitefish Chain and was won by the team of Evan Blakely and Wyatt Landt with 23lb 2oz. They caught the winning fish in the last few minutes of competition, and it was an electric final hour that can be watched on our YouTube Channel here:

Mille Lacs Pro Am Preview

In this format, our Champions Tour Pro’s will be paired up with their High School Marshals, and instead of the Marshals only recording fish, they will be fishing with their Pro’s to try to accumulate the largest bag of 8 fish that they can throughout the day. This event is still a Catch, Record, Release format and will be using the Reel LiveWell App all day long, so make sure you follow the action. Our Champions Tour Pro’s had the option to sign up for this event, and we also opened up the field to the General Public to fish as a Pro, we had several new anglers sign up, on of them being former Bassmaster Elite Series Pro Josh Douglas.

If you aren’t familiar with Lake Mille Lacs, it’s located in Central Minnesota, and one of the state’s largest lakes, boasting at 132,516 acres. If you’re not an “acreage” guy, know that Mille Lacs covers 207 square miles, it’s big. And because of this, it’s often thought of being divided into 4 sections by the anglers who fish it the most. This lake gained massive popularity after the Bassmaster Elite Series first came to the state for an Angler of the Year Championship on the fishery. Minnesota’s own Seth Feider would go on to win this event weighing 76-5 for his 3 day total. Averaging over 5lb per fish.

The last time the Champions Tour came to Lake Mille Lacs was 2021, and it was the beginning of Noah Schultz’s streak, winning the past 3 Skeeter Boats that have been prizes at the Championship. In 2021 Schultz battled John Figi down to the wire, trading blow for blow with each other. One caught a 4 lber, the other caught a 5lber, so on and so forth. At the end of the day Schultz won with 62lb 12oz. Watch that tournament here:

Mille Lacs Pro Am Preview

Current day brings us to a lake that has changed a lot over the past decade. Much more fishing pressure on the lake has been a breathe of fresh air for the local economy, but has also started to shift some fish around after receiving little to no fishing pressure for a majority of their lives. However, this lake is still pumping them out at an impressive rate.

We caught up with Champions Tour Pro’s Aaron Teal and Joel Willert to get some insight on this lake, and we also caught up with local guide, Josh Douglas, who is also fishing the event.

Immediately when talking about this lake, all of these gentlemen brought up how much wind will be a factor out here. As discussed above, this lakes is typically thought to be divided into 4 sections, because you have to play the wind. Plain and simple, there’s just some days you can’t go to the other side.

“Anything more than that 15 (mph) mark and it’ll start to fish small and push people into a corner or shore,” Douglas elaborated. 

Willert also weighed in on the topic of the wind, “The tournament can literally be won on any of the region of the lake. I try not to focus on one (region of the lake) because you’re at the mercy of the wind out there. I learned that from guiding.”

This makes practice, and making a gameplan for this event essential. Teal explained that he typically would like to practice in all 4 corners of the lake, and ultimately hope to get something good going in 2 of them. That way he can play the wind in his favor. “The big thing about Mille Lacs is it’s a wind driven lake, and not knowing what that wind is going to look like on tournament day, the guy who understands multiple corners will be put in a good position,” Teal further elaborated.

Another big factor for this event is the incredible amount of precipitation that the state of Minnesota has gotten this spring. As of now, we’re dealing with a lot of flooding in regions of the Northern and Southern parts of this state, but this rain has also helped fill Mille Lacs up to a regular level. With this, a surplus amount of “bog water” has entered the system. This is explained as tanic water from the rivers, lakes, and streams nearby that has now entered the lake. And depending on the wind in practice, and on tournament day, it’s getting blown around a lot.

However, the surplus amount of rain fall has also helped keep the water temperatures down, the lake quickly warmed up into the lower 60’s, and has now been hovering in the upper 60’s for a while. So, when anglers are able to get away from the “bog water” and into the clean water, it has yet to have any sort of algae bloom, it’s clear, and the fish are biting.

Mille Lacs Pro Am Preview

“If we can keep this cool rain, and not super hot weather, it’s going to fish phenomenal,” Willert oozed with anticipation.

And with the lake filling back up for the first time in years, Douglas is already noticing how much the fishery is starting to change. If you’ve had a lot of experience the last 1-3 years on the lake, it’s probably not going to equate to what you see out there now. Douglas stated he thinks it’s starting to revert back to fishing the way it did 5-7 years ago, before the drought.

Now, years ago Mille Lacs was largely known for the abundance of Crayfish in it and the pattern he smallmouth held to following them. Not to say there still isn’t a bunch of Crayfish they’re gorging on, but anglers have started to see a trend of more and more baitfish showing up in Mille Lacs over the last several years, and now it’s become a real player. Along with this, you have bug hatches, and Willert stated there had been a Mayfly hatch a few days ago, and he’s already noticing the smallmouth starting to key in on them.

Get those Vocelka Customs “The Hair Rod” ready folks, we’re gonna have guys slingin’ the fluff in this one!

But even with that; Douglas, Willert, and Teal all expected the whole depth range to play in this one. “It majorly depends on what kind of baitfish, crawfish, and bug hatches we have,” Douglas started to explain. Willert also stated that he’s already caught tournament caliber fish in ranges all the way from 5ft out to 25ft. There’s a lot of fish that spawned around Opener this year, and that means we’ve got a large group of fish that spawned a long time ago, they’ve been eating, and they’re already fattening up. Big time.

“Definitely all depth ranges are going to play, I think one depth range is going to be key on gameday for the bigger fish, but you will be able to catch them at any depth range,” Willert added.

Another cool factor of Mille Lacs, that Teal explained, was that it’s one of those Smallmouth fisheries that you can catch them power fishing. So you can string up some 16lb fluorocarbon on a bait caster and start getting to work. This fact had Teal giggling, as expected, he’s excited to get up to the big pond.

Mille Lacs Pro Am Preview

Or, as he explained,  you can toss some glorified dental floss on a Ned Rig and also do well.

Now, the big question, what is it going to take to win this event? All of these guys agreed, it’s for sure going to take somewhere around 38-39 lbs.

“A 32 lb bag (for 8 fish) is going to be very common out there right now, and easy to get,” Willert explained. 4 lbers are not hard to come by in Mille Lacs right now, the key is finding the really big ones, the 5+ lbers. “The goal is 40 lbs but will it take that? Probably not. But it’ll be close,” Douglas also chimed in.

It sounds like everyone is going to be shooting for 40 lbs for this one. Now, will it take that? We will have to see!

As explained earlier in this article, this is a Pro/Am style event with our Pro’s fishing with a randomly pair High School Am. This unique format is a way for the Champions Tour to give back to the Marshals that help the tour run all season, while also providing the Pro’s (and Am’s) some very real opportunities to make big money.

“I just hope the kids understand how good they have it right now,” Douglas weighed in. “They get to learn a ton, and that’s something we never had (when I was younger). Fishing for a prize, learning, and seeing invaluable lessons in a high pressure tournament.”

Teal immediately oozed with excitement about this event, thinking back to his childhood. “As a kid I would have been stoked to fish this. I fished the Silverado’s as a Am and the people I met, and the experience I got was so beneficial to me as an angler. It’s so exciting for these kids who’ve marshaled (to now get to fish).”

This format opens up a window for learning for these Am’s, and the Pro’s are excited to work as a team in this one.

Mille Lacs Pro Am Preview

Now, that brings us to the HellaBass Forecast. Our friend, and Bass Fishing Pundit, Rich Lindgren gives his insight into what anglers you should be watching at Lake Mille Lacs for this Pro-Am event.

HellaBass Forecast

Late June is a really interesting time for a big event on Mille Lacs and it being a Pro-Am with best 8 fish over the course of the day will add a twist.  While there probably will be some later spawners, most of the easy shallow visual spawners should be mostly done and most of the fish will be at their lightest body weight all year.  Some of this field of talented anglers might have some experience this time of year, others may not.  Often Mille Lacs gets a lot of pressure by anglers early and then once we get past middle of June it starts to taper off.

This time of year could actually be a really fun time to have an every fish counts event, but the eight best will be the benchmark.  I think we will see anglers fishing from fairly shallow out to mid depths and we will see super finesse hair jigs to power fishing with topwaters and spinnerbaits, possibly as many of these fish will be ready to eat after finishing up with spawning.  There is also the potential for some deeper later spawning fish to be targeted with electronics.

5 Anglers to Watch. Remember it’s your 8 biggest bass.

Long time Mille Lacs guide and former touring bass pro Josh Douglas has spent the past several years putting clients on 20lbs a day for their best five from spring through the fall, so he should be well suited to put himself and his AM partner on a quality bag in the post spawn.

John Figi has shown he can catch smallmouth all across the upper midwest and has plenty of experience on Mille Lacs.  He has shown success on Mille Lacs in the every fish counts format and should be well suited for the best 8 format as well.  Figi is versatile and can finesse or power fish them, whatever the conditions call for. Just missing a check at Okoboji, Figi will be chomping to get after the smallies at Mille Lacs.

Mille Lacs Pro Am Preview

Aaron Daegas has quietly logged hundreds and hundreds of hours on Mille Lacs over the last decade and he is one of the rare anglers that loves the late June bite and has spent plenty of time on the big pond this time of year. Don’t be surprised to see him be on the fish early and often during this event.

This time of year screams tiny small maribou hair jigs and when hair jigs get mentioned, you have to think about the highly touted Vocelka Customs Hair Jig Rod.  No surprise here, but Dane Vocelka should be on your watch list for this tournament and if not him, his running mate Aaron Teal, they have had team success out on Mille Lacs, we will see how they do as competitors.  Both of these anglers will be looking to continue the momentum they started at Okoboji.

Tyler Bahr has been staying close to the pulse of Mille Lacs since his high school fishing tournament days where he saw success. Fully integrated into the Mille Lacs community and fishing scene through Tutt’s Bait & Tackle and being a young gun solid with his electronics, look for Tyler to bounce back after a tough Okoboji event.