By Roland Sigurdson
As I sit here on a day approaching 90 degrees (F), my mind drifts to something cool and refreshing. A tall, cold glass of water…ah…just the kind of water where one might find a beautiful, sleek brook trout. But where to go in this big state? Perhaps near a natural spring with ground water bubbling up that hasn’t seen the sun in a thousand years. Or to a prairie meadow where you suddenly see a ribbon of clear, cold water that you hadn’t noticed before, almost hidden by the grasses bent over its narrow width. Yet another adventure might find you carefully picking your way through shards of basalt torn from the bedrock along Lake Superior by the power of ice and waves, creating a spectacular waterfall that adds oxygen and life for a newly hatched salmon or steelhead.
The trout streams of Minnesota are as varied as the landscape through which they flow. While most of us are tempted to think of trout streams as only existing in the Southeast or Northeast corners of the state, truth be known, you can find one almost anywhere in Minnesota. They may not all be ‘blue ribbon waters,’ but they have what it takes to support these clean water-loving, oxygen-rich-water dependent animals.
North Shore creeks are great scenery but are only fair trout streams because they depend on runoff. Their flows are unstable, surging after a rain, dwindling to a trickle during drought and the winter season. In the summer, some stretches get warmer than is best for trout. Despite these shortcomings, North Shore streams have two things in their favor. First is their cool, northern, Lake Superior-moderated climate. Second is the deep-forest bank cover, which shades the streams and keeps them cool. These influences keep these streams just cool enough to support trout.
The streams of southeastern Minnesota are very different from North Shore streams. Most rise from springs and so are cold all year long. The limestone and alluvial soils make the streams very productive. Whereas the North Shore streams have relatively few aquatic insects, the southeast streams produce frequent hatches of mayflies, caddis flies and midges-all providing food for trout. Nonetheless, southeast trout streams do have problems, most related to agriculture. Fence-to-fence grain farming on the uplands and pasturing of the river bottoms contribute land erosion and sedimentation of the streambeds. This fine sediment covers the gravel runs and riffles that trout need to spawn and invertebrates need to survive.
So what can you catch on a trout stream? The species of trout and salmon that occur across Minnesota are a blend of native and introduced species. The streams of the state were historically populated with the native brook trout, a species that is inclined to waters of the most pristine nature, while its bigger cousin, the lake trout, was king in the icy waters of Lake Superior.
Over time, fisheries managers have worked to provide high quality trout fisheries in systems that are being impacted by increased human activity on the landscape. In order to meet this need, DNR turned to some additional species of trout that were better adapted to survive in streams that were not as pristine as they had been historically. Rainbow trout and brown trout were introduced to most streams that had become too marginal for the sensitive brook trout to survive. Additionally, salmon species were introduced to Lake Superior when the native lake trout populations spiraled downward as a result of over harvest by commercial anglers and parasitism by the invasive sea lamprey.
Minnesota also has many lakes that support trout populations. The best place to locate one near you is on the MN DNR website at: http://www.mndnr.gov/fishing/trout_lakes/index.html
But are these places to take kids fishing? Absolutely!! You no longer have to wear tweed jackets and dapper hats to fish for trout! Most of these streams and lakes are very kid-friendly and accessible to the public. There are tremendous resources available on trout streams and lakes to be found at:
Catching trout can be a challenge, but kids have been doing it for centuries. Should yours be any different? I don’t think so.