Stunning Streams Lure Trout Anglers

By C. B. Bylander

fly fisherman with steelhead trout on north shore_davin brandt
Steelhead trout on Lake Superior North Shore, photo by Davin Brandt

Anglers drawn by the lure of stunning streams have plenty of places to fish for trout in Minnesota.

Southeast Minnesota, a land of forested hills and shaded valleys, is laced with high-quality streams that harbor brook, brown and rainbow trout. The state’s premier trout fishing destination, the region’s many streams—hundreds of miles of them—are among the best in the Midwest.

Northeast Minnesota, home to Lake Superior and pristine lakes near the Canadian border, is the state’s primary destination for lake trout fishing. Streams along the North Shore hold steelhead and brook trout. The Knife River is the state’s top steelhead stream.

The Twin Cities metro area also has excellent trout fishing. The area’s Vermillion River has benefited from intensive management and now contains brown and rainbow trout of many sizes. Anglers commonly catch brown trout 20 inches and longer. Cenaiko Lake in Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park is a family-friendly destination that is stocked in spring and fall. This lake, primarily used by local residents, is among the state’s many designated stream trout lakes managed for trout.

Central Minnesota even offers a trout fishing rarity: mine pit fishing. These waters—the state’s newest lakes—were formed when former iron ore excavation sites filled with water, creating exceptionally clear and cool conditions for trout and other species. Mine pit lakes are usually stocked with rainbow trout. The mine pit lakes within the Cuyuna State Recreation Area northeast of Brainerd evoke the feeling of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, with their tree-lined shores devoid of docks and cabins.  

Where to Fish

Statewide, there are more than 3,800 miles of trout streams, with more than700 miles in southeastern Minnesota. Access to trout fishing opportunities is ample with more than 1,740 miles of trout streams statewide flowing through public lands or property with an angling easement.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a variety of online resources to help you find a place to fish. These include detailed stream maps of the most popular destinations in southeast, northeast and central Minnesota. Maps for select streams in other parts of the state are also available online, plus maps that show locations of trout lakes in northeastern Minnesota.

Fly fishing at Whitewater State parkSeveral Minnesota state parks are located on scenic and popular trout streams. These include Whitewater, Beaver Creek Valley and Forestville state parks in southeastern Minnesota, and Tettegouche, George H Crosby-Manitou and Cascade River state parks in northeastern Minnesota.    

The streams of southeast Minnesota differ significantly from northeast streams. Southeast streams flow through picturesque deciduous woodlands and farmlands, and are known for their mix of brown and brook trout. Brook trout in southeast streams grow to a larger size than they do in streams along the North Shore, which hold only brook trout and migratory steelhead.

Trout Fishing Basics

The great thing about stream fishing is you don’t need a boat, motor, depth finder or expensive tackle. In most instances, all you need is a spin-casting outfit rigged with six-pound test line or less, a few hooks in the No. 10 to 14 range, bait (a nightcrawler is hard to beat), a few small split shot to get your bait down in swift water, and perhaps a pair of hip boots to keep your feet and legs warm and dry. Other options include casting small spinners or crank baits, or fishing with a flyrod and artificial fly.  

Most bait anglers prefer to approach pools from downstream, then cast their bait upstream, letting it naturally drift back. It's important to keep a close eye on your line as it will often move this way or that before your rod even signals a bite. Those casting spinners have more flexibility when it comes to casting. They can pitch lures from any direction—upstream, downstream or laterally—as minnows swim in all directions, unlike a nightcrawler that simply goes with the flow.

Trout fishing Stream_Credit DNR
Photo courtesy the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

No matter what you cast, stealth is important. Trout are very wary. Once you have disturbed a pool or made your presence known, move on, as you are unlikely to catch a fish.

Three types of trout inhabit southeast Minnesota: brook, brown and rainbow. Brook trout thrive in smaller streams with good water quality. They inhabit pools and shallow riffles, and are aggressive and relatively easy to catch. They are smaller than brown trout—a 14-inch brook trout is a dandy.

Brown trout are the most abundant and sought-after trout. They are found in the deepest pools, moving to riffles in early morning and late afternoon to feed. Browns over 25 inches in length have been caught in southeastern Minnesota streams. Rainbow trout are stocked in some streams to provide additional angling opportunity. They tend to occupy habitat not used by brown trout, often fast and big water.

As always, refer to Minnesota DNR fishing regulations for season dates, limits, special regulations and license requirements.