Our Finest Trout Fishing
September 30, 2010
From big browns in the southeast to beautiful brookies in the northwoods, Minnesota has some of the best trout fishing in the country.
Minnesota is home to some of the finest — and often most overlooked — trout fishing in the country. Some anglers think you need to fish the Rockies or Appalachians for decent trout, but Minnesota’s trout streams are healthy and easily accessible.
There may not be many traffic jams during the mid-April trout opener, but this relatively uncelebrated weekend has a dedicated following that is growing. Trout anglers who fish our streams from April’s opener until early June usually outfish their counterparts on the lakes.
The Department of Natural Resources and conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited have worked hard to secure public land adjacent to trout streams to ensure public access to these jewels. Where there is private property, they have worked with generous landowners to obtain easements and allow the public to fish portions of water previously untouchable.
Minnesota streams are home to three main species of trout, including browns, rainbows and brookies. The brook trout is the most sensitive of all species and are usually found in the cool, headwater portions of Minnesota’s streams. Brown trout are the most prevalent, with fishable populations found throughout the state. Rainbow trout are stocked in the southeast but naturally reproduce along some streams of the Arrowhead Region. On tributaries to Lake Superior, rainbow trout from the lake can be caught below the first barrier waterfall.
Before fishing a trout stream, consult the 2005 Minnesota Fishing Regulations for season dates, limits and restrictions. Because trout streams have a special designation, they are carefully managed, and regulations can change depending on what part of the river you are fishing.
Minnesota’s trout streams are sensitive ecosystems and need the diligence of anglers if they are going to stay healthy. Everybody consulted for this article urged catch-and-release for all trout except for those bound for the frying pan.
With 680 miles of designated trout water, a third of which is publicly accessible, the southeastern corner of our state offers your best chance of catching a lot of trout, and some good-sized ones, too. Most of the streams originate from springs and stay cool throughout the summer. Frequent hatches of mayflies, caddis flies and midges provide an excellent forage base.
The DNR often implements special regulations in the southeast to protect the fishery, and recently did so in the fall of 2004. Protected slot limits for trout 12 to 16 inches were put on a total of 14 streams with the goal of improving fishing quality for larger trout while maintaining diverse fishing opportunities. Consult the 2005 regulations for the detailed listing of impacted waters.
Jason Moeckel is an assistant fisheries manager for the DNR’s southern region and one of the people responsible for managing these plentiful waters.
“Regulations are a short-term way to improve the resource, but long-term improvements require a commitment to protecting and improving habitat,” he said.
Two of the most productive, and accessible, streams in the southeast are the Whitewater River system and Root River system. They are referred to as “systems” because each has multiple forks and tributaries that contribute to the flow.
Dave Kolbert, a southeastern Minnesota trout enthusiast and long-time fly-fishing instructor, said he likes to explore the lesser-known trout streams in the area. Like most trout enthusiasts, Kolbert was unwilling to give up his favorite secret locations, but most everywhere he fishes is accessible to the public. “Be open to exploring and you can find some tremendous fishing,” he said.
These river systems, along with other trout streams, flow through state-managed land and acres of easements. The DNR publishes a Trout Fishing Access in Southeastern Minnesota guide with maps showing the publicly fishable sections. This guide was last printed in 1998 and another edition is scheduled for publication in 2006. Moeckel encouraged anglers to obtain a free copy of the book and check the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us for the most updated maps and newly acquired easements.
Whitewater River System
There are four major parts of the Whitewater River system known as the North Branch, Middle Branch, South Branch and Main Branch. Brown trout can be found throughout the entire system. Rainbow trout are mostly concentrated in the Main Branch, though they can be caught everywhere but the Middle Branch. Brook trout are found mainly in the headwaters of the Middle Branch in Olmsted County.
The river offers excellent access almost down the entire length because it is straddled by easements, two state parks and a large wildlife management area. Moeckel said the WMA and state parks are heavily fished, and he encouraged anglers to find the easements using the trout guide or DNR’s Web site.
Highway 74 runs from State Highway 61 at Weaver all the way to Whitewater State Park just south of Elba and parallels the river the entire way. The town of Elba is where the North, South and Middle branches come together to form the Main Branch. Stop by town to find out how the fishing is, but don’t count on finding somebody willing to talk if the fishing is really good.
The North Branch flows through Carley State Park located south of Plainview on County Road 4. Other points of the North Branch can be accessed along several roads that break off the county roads linking Plainview and Elba.
Root River System
All three major trout species are found throughout the Root River system but the key is to concentrate on the tributaries, most of which are lined with easements or state forest.
The town of Preston is a good central location because it is easily accessed from State Highway 52. From Preston, you can drive west on Highway 16 toward Spring Valley and stop at Forestville State Park, home to some of the best, and most accessible, fishing along the Root River system. You can also drive northeast from Preston along Highway 16 to Lanesboro and Rushford, stopping along the way where numerous tributaries flow into the R
Numerous rivers and streams flow into Lake Superior from Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region, and thousands of vehicles cross over them daily oblivious to the trout beneath them. Most of these rivers and streams are not as productive as those in the rest of the state, but any trout angler worth their weight in gold would be foolish to pass up the opportunities found on these scenic waterways.
Shawn Perich is no stranger to these North Shore streams, having fished the area extensively throughout his life. Only a handful of anglers have fished more miles than Perich along the streams of Superior.
Perich said the best fishing on most North Shore streams is found either close to the lake or near the headwaters. The middle portions of many rivers are too warm to consistently hold high numbers of trout. The near-lake areas tend to hold rainbow trout, brown trout as well as the occasional lake trout. Upstream areas almost exclusively hold brook trout.
For those stream sections near the big lake, Perich said the spring steelhead run begins when water temperatures reach 40 degrees, which is usually in mid-April to the end of May. The sections upstream are good for brook trout once the water has warmed in late May and continues through the summer.
Perich likes the big lake and adjacent river sections, but still has a soft spot for brook trout fishing.
“That’s the kind of fishing people did up here in my Dad’s generation, and some still do, but most are pretty long in the tooth,” Perich said.
Fishing pressure for brook trout has declined over time, mostly because there are numerous other opportunities for trout anglers, Perich added.
The best brook trout areas are those you have to hike to and usually feature deeper water levels, approximately knee high. Brook trout can be tough to find and always seem to prefer the most unreachable sections of river.
The French River Hatchery is home to many of Lake Superior’s fish, and the river is very popular with anglers as well.
Rainbow trout and brown trout are caught downstream from the hatchery to the lake. Perich said most anglers never go upstream from the hatchery where brook trout action is decent.
The French River is located 11 miles northeast of Duluth on Highway 61. The upstream portion is best accessed from Highway 43.
Located 13 miles northeast of Duluth along Highway 61, the Sucker River is the only North Shore trout stream managed for brown trout. Found throughout the river system, browns are accompanied by brook trout near the headwaters of the river and rainbow trout near the mouth.
Numerous easements along the river provide a great deal of fishable water all along its length. Most anglers tend to work the portion of the river between the expressway and the scenic highway because it is accessible to lake-originating rainbow trout and brown trout. Less pressured brown trout and brook trout can be found upstream from Highway 61 or either side of the river where County Road 43 crosses.
The Baptism River is a popular fishing destination because it offers a lot of accessible water thanks to its proximity to Tettegouche State Park, the town of Finland and State Highway 1.
Well-traveled trails line the river, providing anglers with numerous opportunities along the way. Most of the fishing pressure is found between the highway bridge and waterfall about a half-mile upstream known as “the Cascades.” Farther upstream to the headwaters, anglers can find brook trout and a stray brown trout.
Located two miles southwest of Tofte in the heart of Temperance River State Park, the Temperance River has limited fishing near the lake because several obstacles prevent trout from moving inland. Park trails offer fishing opportunities farther upstream, but watch your step.
Perich recommended approaching the Temperance River from the paralleling Sawbill Trail off Highway 61 in Tofte. The farther upstream you go, the better the brook trout fishing.
About 100 miles northeast of Duluth and just shy of Grand Marais is the Cascade River and Cascade River State Park.
Rainbow trout fishing can be good near the lake during the spring run, as can brook trout fishing upstream. A network of roads including Bally Creek Road and Cascade River Road cross or parallel sections of the Cascade’s headwaters. Most of the land around the Cascade is state forest.
Most anglers associate the Arrowhead Region with Lake Superior, but to do so is to neglect some of the better trout streams in the Duluth area.
Deserae Hendrickson is the regional fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Duluth, and she recommended fishing the Cloquet River and the Blackhoof River.
Part of the Nemadji River system, the Blackhoof River is known as one of the better brook trout streams, while also producing a few brown trout. Hendrickson said the best fishing begins seven miles north of the Nemadji and continues on until the confluence of the two rivers. “There is a more consistent flow in that portion and better conditions for consistent populations of trout,” she said.
One of the easiest ways to access the Blackhoof River is by visiting the Blackhoof Wildlife Management Area surrounding a portion of the river. The WMA is located on County Road 6 east of Barnum and west of State Highway 23. The Blackhoof crosses Highway 23 and continues on to its confluence with the Nemadji River.
The Cloquet River is one of the only trout streams in our state that can be fished either from the bank or from a boat. The river flows from the Island Lake dam down to the St. Louis River.
DNR-stocked brown trout are most prevalent just below the dam and downstream in the main channel. Brook trout and the occasional brown trout can be found in the many tributaries.
There is a public access ne
ar the Island Lake dam 10 miles north of Duluth on Lavaque Road (County Road 48) near the town of Fredenburg. Other access points to the river can be found off County Road 48 west of the dam and off County Road 15 north of State Highway 53 near the town of Bartlett. A portion of this area is in the Cloquet Valley State Forest.
To most anglers, Brainerd is the center of the walleye fishing world as well as the gateway to the big waters of north-central Minnesota. But two trout streams in the area receive low fishing pressure despite boasting healthy populations of brook trout and brown trout.
This is my favorite trout fishing stream in the state and I hesitate even mentioning it.
The waters of Stony Brook flow into the well-known Gull Lake Chain. The best trout fishing on Stony Brook’s sprawling 19 miles is found on the last two miles, most of which wind through public land.
“There is one section of private land where the stream makes an elbow, but the property owner allows anglers to walk in the stream and fish,” said Tim Brastrup, fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Brainerd.
A naturally reproducing population of brown trout and brook trout swim the numerous riffles and pools in numbers rivaling some southeastern streams. There is tremendous trophy potential, and Brastrup said brown trout in the 3- to 5-pound range are catchable. The brook trout tend to be relatively small, possibly due to overharvest of fish over 10 inches. “We’ve batted around the idea of putting special regulations on the stream for brookies but nothing is finalized just yet,” he said.
Stony Brook is best accessed through a Lake Shore city park known as Fritz Loven Park. The park has picnic and restroom facilities along with parking for several vehicles. It is located on Ridge Road, which runs between Highway 77 on the south and County Road 29 on the north (both connect to State Highway 371).
Located just west of Stony Brook, Cory Brook is a trout stream that has been rehabilitated and will be ready to fish in 2005.
The DNR stocked the stream in 2002 and 2003 with first-generation brook trout from southeastern Minnesota. A trout survey taken by Brastrup in the fall of 2004 showed a healthy supply of 8-inch brook trout that will only continue to grow.
Cory Brook had trophy potential in the past, and with the rehabilitation effort going strong, should have trophies in the future, Brastrup said. Practicing catch-and-release during these sensitive years is not being required but will certainly help the stream continue to develop into a quality trout brook once again.
Except for a small portion of the headwaters, Cory Brook is accessible by public land and private land easements. Cory Brook can be accessed from Highway 1 north of Pillager off State Highway 210 or from County Road 29. The best way to find Cory Brook is at the intersection of Highway 1 and County Road 29. From there, Cory Brook parallels Highway 1 on the west, eventually crossing it near the point where it meets Home Brook.