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Where to Go River Fishing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

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Bass fishing from a kayak on the Mississippi River is one of many ways you can cast your line in Minnesota / CW Outfitters
Fishing // Article

Where to Go River Fishing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

By Lisa Meyers McClintick

Anglers in boats, canoes, fishing kayaks and shoreline parks embrace the solitude and challenge of casting along the curving, scenic stretch of the Mississippi River that flows around St. Cloud's Beaver Islands.

“This stretch [of the Mississippi from St. Cloud to Anoka] has become one of the top river smallmouth bass fisheries in the country,” says Dan Meer, owner of Clear Waters Outfitting Co. “Smallmouth bass are known to be the best fighting fish per pound,” which makes them a fun challenge to catch.

The famed Mississippi originates humbly at Itasca State Park and journeys more than 600 miles through Minnesota, including its 1.7-mile-wide Lake Pepin. Commercial boat traffic can go as far as Minneapolis, but even the busier, southern stretches of the Mississippi appeal to paddlers and anglers who find the bluff country’s quiet backwaters rich in wildlife and a variety of fish including northern pike, walleye, muskie, largemouth bass, crappies and catfish.

River fly fishing near Grand Marais

River fly fishing near Grand Marais / David Brandt

Popular Fishing Rivers & Streams in Minnesota

Minnesota boasts more than 6,500 natural rivers and streams comprising more than 69,000 miles. Beyond the Mississippi, here’s a sampling of Minnesota’s better-known rivers:

  1. Cannon River
    Cannon River

    Flowing through the rolling hills and woods south of the Twin Cities, this rural river yields northern pike, black crappies, catfish and smallmouth bass.

  2. Minnesota River
    Minnesota River

    From its confluence with the Mississippi River below historic Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, this placid river flows 370 miles south to Mankato and west to Big Stone Lake at Ortonville. Known for channel and flathead catfish (including a 50-pounder), it’s also possible to reel in walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass and sauger. Big Stone LakeLac qui Parle and Upper Sioux Agency state parks all offer fishing kits to borrow.

  3. Red River
    Red River

    Flowing north along Minnesota’s northwest border, this warm, muddy river harbors channel catfish, smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, sauger and lake sturgeon. Campsites can be found along the shore at East Grand Forks’ Red River State Recreation Area.

  4. Root River
    Root River

    Smallmouth bass, catfish, rock bass and more can be found in this gentle- to moderate river that flows through southeast Minnesota. Some spots may harbor brown trout, which thrives in the region’s smaller streams.

  1. Rum River
    Rum River

    Running from Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota to the Mississippi River in Anoka, the Rum River offers numerous shore fishing sites and boat accesses for catching walleye, smallmouth bass, bluegill, crappies and northern pike.

  2. St. Croix River
    St. Croix River

    With the Dalles rocky bluffs and glacial potholes at Interstate State Park, this river dividing northern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota delivers dramatic scenery along with smallmouth bass, catfish, walleye, sauger and lake sturgeon among its 60-plus species of fish. Other state parks along its shores: AftonSt. Croix and Wild River.

  3. St. Louis River
    St. Louis River

    This Iron Range river known for dramatic rapids sought by expert paddlers joins Lake Superior at Duluth, where its 12,000-acre sprawl makes it North America’s largest freshwater estuary. Restoration efforts are underway to reclaim the estuary from former industries and improve access for anglers seeking walleye, northern pike, smallmouth and largemouth bass and sturgeon.

Woman holds a catfish during a Catfish Tournament on the Red River

Catfish tournament on the Red River / Greater Grand Forks CVB

Resources & Support for Minnesota River Fishing

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers fishing classes, maintains more than 30 state water trails, and numerous state parks where you can check out free rods and reels and tackle boxes. Check the DNR fishing page for where to go and updates on access points, fishing piers, river landscapes and wildlife, rapids and water levels, fish consumption advisories and outfitters that can provide shuttles, watercraft and maps.

River anglers also can join organizations such as Minnesota Kayak Fishing Association or team up with someone who can leave a vehicle at the final pullout destination so you can go with the flow on your river of choice. Kayaks generally maneuver shallow waters better than boats, and can be easier to get onto the water. Newer designs include hands-free propulsion and modern electronics for locating fish.

Additional Resources

Lisa Meyers McClintick

Lisa Meyers McClintick is a prolific travel writer for outlets including USA Today, Midwest Living, the Star Tribune and her website lisamcclintick.com. A mom of three, she especially enjoys family travel, hands-on learning vacations, local food and farms, living history and outdoor adventures.