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Wednesday, May 29th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Wednesday, May 29th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Minnesota trout opener creates buzz in the southeast

Minnesota's trout ‘Harvest’ stream opener kicks off this Saturday, April 13. (Stock photo by Richard Tate)

Lanesboro, Minn. — When you live in southeastern Minnesota, it’s common knowledge that the weekend of the stream-trout opener is not the most opportune time to get groceries, let alone have a quiet burger and beer at one of the region’s local restaurants or taverns.

“It’s the one time of year where we can get really busy,” Vaughn Snook, Minnesota DNR assistant area fisheries supervisor in Lanesboro, said of the region’s signature towns, including Preston, Chatfield, and others. “You’ll see plenty of anglers going to get something to eat or drink with their waders on.”

While less ballyhooed than the May walleye opener, Saturday’s traditional stream-trout “harvest” opener comes with a certain buzz and anticipation for the many anglers who plan to explore the southeast’s roughly 700 miles of trout waters. Whether you’re casting flies, chucking lures, or dunking worms, this opener has a certain optimistic, festive feel.

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Fly shops, restaurants, and watering holes are busy. Camping is hard to find, with state parks and private campgrounds abuzz with party-happy campers/anglers.

Various events take place. In Chatfield, for example, Reel Midwest Fishing will hold its 3rd annual Three Rivers Outdoor Expo & Trout Classic on Saturday at Joy Ridge Event Center. It’s a celebration of all things trout, with an emphasis on programming for kids.

“I’m glad we have the opener; it brings people down here and helps showcase the trout resource, which is in good shape right now,” Snook said. “It’s just a fun weekend.”

State trout streams and low water

The DNR manages roughly 200 designated trout streams in the Driftless Area of southeastern Minnesota. Home to browns, native brookies, and stocked rainbows, these trout fisheries – most with self-sustaining populations of naturally producing trout – are some of the Upper Midwest’s best.

The theme entering Saturday’s opener, Snook said, is drought and low water.

“Streams are low, but water temperatures have been good … and were all last summer with similar low-water conditions,” he said. “Recent rains have helped, but let’s hope we get more at a moderate rate.”

The lack of rain – and serious runoff and flood waters – means “natural production will be extremely high.” However, Snook said an abundance of fish – mostly brown trout – will likely make for slower growth rates. Meanwhile, according to DNR assessments, many streams will have nice-sized brown trout.

“Lots of brown trout in the 10- to 11-inch range last year and so those fish will be bigger this year,” Snook said.

With the stream trout harvest season set to begin Saturday, and with stream conditions favorable and trout numbers in great shape, some of the sleepy towns of southeastern Minnesota should be alive and bustling with anglers this weekend. (Stock Photo)
Stocking efforts

While trout stocking overall has decreased throughout the years in the southeast, the DNR does stock hatchery-raised yearling rainbow trout in many streams across the state. DNR managers say these so-called put-and-take fisheries are popular with anglers, according to creel survey findings.

Such stocking efforts are done before the opener and randomly throughout the summer.

In the east metro, for example, reaches of two streams – the Vermillion River in Dakota County and Brown’s Creek near Stillwater – are stocked annually.

The Vermillion River is a designated trout stream 1.1 miles downstream of the U.S. Highway 52 bridge upstream to Highview Avenue in Eureka Township. This stretch harbors a self-sustaining population of brown trout, with many larger, even trophy-sized browns.

Yearling rainbow trout (10,000 total, with each about a pound) will be stocked between Farmington and Highway 52. Three different stockings will take place: one before the opener, one roughly a week later, then another at some point thereafter, said Jim Levitt, Minnesota DNR assistant area fisheries supervisor.

“Fishing pressure on the opener is typically heavy,” said Levitt, especially the stretch of river near Rambling River Park in Farmington. “We get plenty of pressure from metro-area anglers.”

Brown’s Creek has three public accesses, Levitt said, with 750 to 1,000 rainbows in the hopper for stocking this year.

According to Snook, 15 streams and two ponds will be stocked with a total of 43,450 yearling rainbow trout in the southeast this year. Many are in easy-to-access streams near towns. For example, the South Branch of the Root River (5,800 fish) and Beaver Creek (900 fish) will be stocked.

“These areas where we stock are well known to anglers who fish the opener and are popular with anglers or families who want to take fish home,” Snook said. “(The fish are) easy to catch and provide a lot of action.”

Regardless of the stocking effort, he said anglers who fish southeast streams shouldn’t have any qualms about harvesting fish for the table.

“Our streams have a lot of natural reproduction and plenty of fish per mile,” Snook said. “And, besides, you can’t beat fresh trout make for the table.”

Stream conditions

In addition, the region has many ongoing stream habitat improvement projects, many of which are cooperative projects with the DNR and Trout Unlimited. “Please stay away from the heavy equipment,” Snook said. “We don’t want to have any problems, or anyone getting hurt.”

Mel Hayner, guide and owner of the Driftless Fly Fishing Company in Preston, said on Monday that recent rains – about 3 to 4 inches during the past couple of weeks – have helped stream flow in nearby streams.

“We’re still low, but recovering a little bit,” Hayner said. “It’s fluctuating. We need more, but it is fishable … and the fishing has been pretty good during the catch-and-release season.”

“Floatable” is, as he said, another matter. More and more anglers are floating (in kayaks or other vessels) in certain larger southeastern waters, and current stream flows make that an iffy proposition for Saturday.

“Right now, here on Monday morning after getting some rain last night, you probably could. But it’s not guaranteed. We need some more rain,” he said.

Angling advice

Hayner’s advice for the opener is for anglers to get off the beaten path and explore.

“It’s going to be busy at most bridges, like it is every opener, but we have a lot of public water down here with good access, so have at it if you want to get away from crowds. Learning new water is, after all, fun,” he said.

State trout and salmon stamp sales last year (the sale of which ended at the end of February) totaled 118,872, which was down 2.9% from the previous year. Stamp sales spiked to historic highs during the pandemic, with, for example, 137,371 sold in 2021.

Stamp sales help pay for habitat work, trout stocking, and identifying easements for angling access. A stamp is required for anglers 18 to 64 years old who plan to fish designated trout waters or possess trout. The cost is $10.

Visit the DNR website more information about trout fishing in southeastern Minnesota.

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