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About Leech Lake

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About Leech Lake in Northern Minnesota

The Leech Lake area was originally settled by the Sioux Indians, who were driven out of the territory by the Chippewa (Ojibwe) in the 1700’s. The first Europeans to settle in the area were French fur traders. The Northwest Company established trading posts on Ottertail Point and Oak Point in 1785 and started an influx of settlers to the area in the 1800’s.

The Army Corps of Engineers built the Federal Dam on the Leech River in 1882. It was originally built to control river flows at the lumber and flour mills in Minneapolis. The dam was only the second one built in the federal system and is also has the longest span in the system at 3,500 feet bank to bank. The dam raised the water level on the lake approximately four feet and made for easier navigation into Walker Bay. This was also beneficial for floating logs to the railroad in Walker.

The Battle of Sugar Point in 1898 between U.S. Federal troops and the resident Chippewa (Ojibwe) Indians was the last true Indian battle in the United States. This is largely ignored in history, quite likely because the Indians won the battle. The battle began a chain of events that eventually led to government control of national forest lands and the creation of the Chippewa National Forest.

The town of Walker was founded in 1896 after the railroad came to Leech Lake from Brainerd. Along with the railroad came hotels, camping facilities, and  public launching area’s were provided in 1909. The early 1900’s saw the beginning of tourism in the area. The early resorts and cabins that were built laid the foundation for the tourism industry that still flourishes today, with many generations of visitors continuing to make Leech Lake an annual destination.

Leech Lake’s prominence as a premier vacation destination was highlighted in its hosting of the annual Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener in 1968 and 2007.

In 1855, the Leech Lake Indian Reservation was established on the south shore of Leech Lake, along with two other Indian Reservations in the area, which along with two additional Indian Reservations, the five Indian Reservations were amalgamated in 1936 to form the current “Greater” Leech Lake Indian Reservation which encompasses most all of Leech Lake.


Leech Lake hosts eleven islands that cover a total of 1,617 acres of land. The following list is in order from largest to smallest.

  • Bear Island

  • Minnesota Island

  • Pelican Island

  • Headquarters Bay Island

  • Big Pipe Island

  • Goose Island

  • Bog (Duck) Island

  • Narrows Island

  • Little Bear Island

  • Little Pelican Island

  • Gull Island

  • Shingobee Island

The long, narrow Shingobee Bay is part of Leech Lake, and is located on its southern end. Shingobee Bay, and the adjacent Walker Bay, boast some of the deepest parts in the entire lake.


Grows in the shallow depths of Leech Lake, emerging through over 4,000 acres of water. Wild Rice is a valuable crop for the Leech Lake community.

Grass like plants that grow in water, they can reach lengths of around ten feet. These plants are an important food resources for aquatic life in Leech Lake.


Two mature bald eagles nesting on the shores of Oak Point

Leech Lake and the surrounding national forest is home to a large population of bald eagles. They are known to return to their same nests when mature. Populations have risen over the last few decades.


Leech Lake is the third largest lake in Minnesota – it covers 111,527 acres, has 230 miles of shoreline and reaches a maximum depth of 150 feet, although over 80% of the lake is less than 35 feet deep.  On the shores of Leech Lake are the towns of Walker, Federal Dam, Onigum, and Whipholt.  Several rivers feed into the lake, such as the Shingobee, Kabekona, Steamboat, Sucker and Boy, while the only major outlet is the Leech River. The lake is surrounded by the Chippewa National Forest and features many large and diverse bays. Most of Leech Lake also lies within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.

Fishing Facts

Walleyes:  They continue to be the most sought after fish on Leech Lake and after several years of extensive stocking and management practices, the fishery is presently at peak levels with strong populations of fish from 13 inches to over 25 inches. The lake has a 4-fish limit with a protected slot of 20″ to 26″, which assures protection for the large fish as well as providing for limits of eating-size fish.

Northern Pike: This exciting fish will put up a big fight and is always fun to catch.  They are located throughout the lake and are typically willing to bite.  They are the “bread-n-butter” fast-action fish for many anglers.

Muskie:  Leech Lake was crowned the “Muskie Capital of the World” after the famous muskie rampage during a hot spell in July 1955.  Due to a strong catch and release ethic, the lake now actually produces more big fish over 50 inches than it ever has.  Break out the big baits and don’t forget your camera!  We can hardly wait to hear your muskie story!

Bass:  Leech Lake has quality largemouth bass fishing unmatched in the Midwest – and they are overlooked by most anglers.  Look for them in shallow water with heavy cover – you won’t be disappointed.

Perch:  Fun to catch all season – and many people say they are the best eating fish in the lake.  Look for the large perch to be particularly aggressive in the fall.

Bluegill/Sunfish:  Panfish are readily available in Leech Lake and willing to bite all season long.  The whole family will have fun catching them!

Crappie:  A popular fish to catch, but more elusive than the bluegill and sunfish.  Find these on warm spring days and again in the fall, with a few in midsummer also. When you do get into them, they can be big!

Eelpout:  This fish is a freshwater cod that stays deep during open water season, but is relatively easy to catch through the ice.  We even dedicate a weekend in February celebrating this species of fish.  You don’t want to miss this adventurous weekend!

Prey Species:  The primary prey for gamefish in Leech are perch, crayfish and minnows, including spottail shiners. Larger gamefish will also key on ciscos (tullibee or lake herring). Insects and invertebrates are also important components of the food chain.

Recreational/leisure use

Every February, Leech Lake is home to the International Eelpout Festival. The eel pout, also known as the Burbot, is rarely seen in Leech Lake, except in the winter when it is very plentiful. Events include a black-tie dinner, ice bowling, and a contest to see who can catch the largest eel pout.

BlueWater Lodge Guests can enjoy all of the amenities of Leech Lake has to offer including, dockside restaurants, happy hour cruises, water recreation sports, and championship fishing!


Walker, facing east down Main Street