Fly fishing on Vermilion River

Where to Go River Fishing in Minnesota

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Fly fishing on Vermilion River  / Zane Spang
Fishing // Article

Where to Go River Fishing in Minnesota

av Lisa Meyers McClintick

Minnesota boasts more than 6,500 natural rivers and streams — more than 69,000 miles — for paddling and fishing. Here’s a sampling of Minnesota’s better-known rivers, not counting its biggest: the mighty Mississippi....

  1. Cannon River
    Cannon River Wilderness Area

    Cannon River Wilderness Area  / Photo courtesy of Rice County

    Cannon River

    Cannon River flows through the rolling hills and woods south of the Twin Cities, yielding northern pike, black crappies, catfish and smallmouth bass. This rural, family-friendly waterway has a few rapids and an abundance of wildlife, including bald eagles. The stretch below Cannon Falls is particularly pretty as it flows through a broad gorge flanked by 300-foot-tall bluffs. 

  2. Minnesota River
    A man fishing in Fort Snelling State Park

    Fall fishing in Fort Snelling State Park, St. Paul / Jeanne Walseth

    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 Lake, Lac qui Parle and Upper Sioux Agency state parks all offer fishing kits to borrow.

  3. Red River
    A couple fishermen hold up freshly caught Red River catfish

    A couple fishermen hold up freshly caught Red River catfish / Brad Durick

    Red River

    Flowing north along Minnesota’s northwest border, the Red River of the North is a warm and muddy waterway that 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
    Fly fishing on Root River

    Fly fishing on Root River  / Ryan Taylor

    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 Dam in Anoka

    Rum River Dam in Anoka / Andrew Parks

    Rum River

    Running from Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota to the Mississippi River in Anoka — the site of a scenic dam that's worth a quick walk — 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 and surrounding area from Taylors Falls to Stillwater

    The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway encompasses some of the most scenic and least developed country in the Upper Midwest

    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 include AftonSt. Croix and Wild River.

  3. St. Louis River
    A 40-inch muskie caught on the St. Louis River

    A 40-inch muskie caught on the St. Louis River / Houston's Guide Service

    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.

Kayak bass fishing on Mississippi River Saint Cloud

Bass fishing from a kayak on the Mississippi River  / CW Outfitters


The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers fishing classes, and 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 regular updates on access points, wildlife, fish consumption advisories, water levels, and more.

River anglers may also join organizations like the 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.

Don't have a boat or kayak? Cast your line from a fishing pier, or rent equipment from a river outfitter. 

Lisa Meyers McClintick

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