The state's namesake river flows 320 miles from Big Stone Lake on the Minnesota–South Dakota Border to its confluence with the Mississippi River in St. Paul.
Along the way it drains a 17,000 square-mile watershed, which includes large portions of southern Minnesota and small portions of Iowa and South Dakota.
The river is home to more than 80 fish species, including popular game fish such as flathead catfish and walleye; commercially harvested fish such as bigmouth and smallmouth buffalo; and important non-game species such as paddlefish and shovelnose sturgeon.
There are five dams on the upper reaches of the Minnesota River, including one at Granite Falls that acts as a significant barrier to fish passage. As a result, at least 18 fish species including flathead catfish, paddlefish and shovelnose sturgeon are not found upstream of the dam.
The Minnesota River is nationally recognized for its trophy flathead catfish but anglers also regularly target many other species including channel catfish, freshwater drum and walleye.
The river is among the most heavily fished waterbodies in the DNR's southern region but angling effort is dispersed among dozens of accesses and hundreds of miles of river. Although not all portions of the river are easy to navigate with large boats, it has more than 50 boat and canoe accesses in addition to many parks, trails and shore fishing locations.
In addition to angling, many people utilize the Minnesota River and its valley for paddling, hiking, viewing wildlife, camping and hunting.
The Minnesota River is renowned for flathead catfish and channel catfish fishing but also provides excellent fishing for walleye, sauger, freshwater drum and many other species.
Large river fish
The Minnesota River is home to many unique large river fish species including the state threatened paddlefish and black buffalo; species of concern blue sucker and lake sturgeon; shovelnose sturgeon; longnose and shortnose gar; American eel; and native lamprey.
There are many boat and canoe accesses throughout the entire length of the Minnesota River along with many shore fishing areas associated with city, county, state and federal public lands. In fact, approximately half of all fishing effort on the Minnesota River is by shore anglers. See recreation compass for public boat accesses and public lands bordering the river.
The regulations below are listed for convenience and generally apply to river fishing. Check the fishing regulations booklet for complete information and regulations on bait.
- Two lines are allowed during the open water season downstream of the Granite Falls dam on the Minnesota River to Pool 2 on the Mississippi River.
- It is illegal to transport bait in lake or river water over land.
- If you want to keep your live bait after fishing, you must drain all lake or river water and refill the bait container with bottled or tap water.
- In most instances, it is illegal to harvest and transport bait from waters infested with aquatic invasive species.
- Bullhead, sucker, mooneye, goldeye and freshwater drum may be taken by hook and line from infested rivers or streams for personal use as bait for fishing on the same river or stream where the bait was taken. This bait may not be transported live from the river or stream.
- Where a river or stream is divided by barriers such as dams, fish for bait must be caught and used on the same section of the river or stream.
- You can’t use whole or parts of game fish, goldfish, carp or salamanders (including mudpuppies) for bait.
- You can obtain a DNR permit to take gizzard shad by cast net for personal use as bait for fishing from Minnesota portions of the Mississippi River downstream of St. Anthony Falls, the Minnesota River downstream of Granite Falls, and the St. Croix River downstream of Taylors Falls dam.
Suckers for bait
- Suckers 12 inches and shorter are considered minnows and regular bait rules for minnows apply; however, suckers longer than 12 inches may only be transported alive if they are in containers that are not livewells or other parts of a boat and only if bought from a licensed commercial vendor. You must have a valid sales receipt from the vendor on your person.
Bullheads for bait
- Bullheads less than 7 inches in length are considered minnows and may be possessed in any quantity south of Minnesota Highway 210.
- Bullheads must be transported in a container with a locking lid.
- You may take and possess bullheads, 7-10 inches in length, for use as live bait. They are counted as part of your daily and possession limit of 100.
- Legal methods of taking bullhead are dip net, angling or minnow seines.
Handling trophy-sized fish
Many anglers enjoy catching and releasing large trophy sized fish such as catfish and sturgeon with the hopes that the fish will grow, reproduce and survive to be caught again.
- Minimize fish's time out of the water
- Protect the fish's protective slime coat
- Hold large fish horizontally with two hands
- Do not hold large fish by only their jaw, gills or gill plates
Aquatic invasive species
The Minnesota River is designated as infested with zebra mussels and invasive bighead and silver carp. Fortunately, to date, only three invasive carp have been captured from the Minnesota River and there is no evidence of natural reproduction. If you capture an invasive carp please call 651-587-2781 or email [email protected]. Review additional AIS information.
Minnesota River fisheries management activities are outlined in the Minnesota River management plan, which is being updated for 2023 and beyond. Our work includes standardized and targeted fish surveys, fish stocking, regulation evaluation, monitoring of commercial fishing activity and focused research projects.
Regulation and management changes
- 2010: Anglers can use bullheads up to 10 inches for bait
- 2015: Flathead catfish season closed Dec.–March
- 2015: Lake and shovelnose sturgeon catch-and-release season June 16–April 14
- 2015: Began 20-year lake sturgeon re-introduction stocking program in Big Stone Lake
- 2016: The first invasive carp was captured from the Minnesota River by a commercial fisher
- 2016: Zebra mussels were confirmed present in the Minnesota River
- 2019: Cast nets allowed to take gizzard shad for bait downstream of the Granite Falls Dam with a DNR permit
- 2023: Anglers may use two lines when fishing on the Minnesota River downstream of the Granite Falls dam
Reports and surveys
Examples of standardized surveys include annual hoop net surveys for channel catfish and flathead catfish and annual electrofishing surveys for monitoring the entire fish community.
- 1958: Minnesota River survey
- 1985: Biological survey of the Minnesota River
- 1992: Minnesota River survey
- 1998: Minnesota River angler survey
- 1998: Minnesota River population survey
- 2002: Minnesota River flathead catfish assessment
- 2004: Minnesota River population assessment
- 2007: Minnesota River floodplain lake surveys
- 2018 Population dynamics of flathead catfish in the lower Minnesota River
- 2022 Minnesota River Index of Biotic Integrity report
- 2022 Minnesota River catfish assessment report
- 2022 Minnesota River angler survey
Enhancing understanding of the Minnesota River ecosystem
The Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund provided DNR fisheries with funding for a three-year project to gain a better understanding of Minnesota River plankton, physical habitat, backwater fish communities and paddlefish and shovelnose sturgeon populations.
Land use practices, climate change, establishment of invasive species, conservation efforts and other factors continually affect the Minnesota River ecosystem. This project conducted during 2016–2019 accelerated collection of robust baseline datasets that provide a better understanding of plankton communities, physical habitat characteristics, backwater ecosystems and sensitive large river fish populations.
These datasets provide the ability to better predict, measure and understand future ecosystem changes. Specifically, we established a comprehensive understanding of lower trophic ecology in the Minnesota River by collecting 112 water chemistry, phytoplankton and zooplankton samples across seven sites and 16 months. We also quantified habitat features (e.g., longitudinal profiles, bathymetric maps) at 12 reaches along the Minnesota River and characterized fish communities inhabiting 12 unique backwater lakes.
Lastly, we captured and tagged 85 paddlefish and 391 shovelnose sturgeon from the Minnesota River, providing an understanding of population dynamics (e.g., abundance, growth, recruitment, and mortality), habitat use, and movement patterns of these unique and understudied species.
Our enhanced understanding of the Minnesota River ecosystem and information gained during this project will not only inform future monitoring efforts and guide management and restoration efforts, but also provide the critical ability to understand how the Minnesota River ecosystem responds to future changes.
Data collected during this project are publicly available for quantitative and qualitative analyses while accompanying in-depth reports for each project activity provide valuable context, interpretation and comparisons with other aquatic ecosystems.
- Spatial and temporal trends in Minnesota River phytoplankton and zooplankton
- Minnesota River physical habitat study
- Minnesota River backwater fish communities
- Minnesota River shovelnose sturgeon: Population dynamics and movement patterns
- Paddlefish inhabiting the Minnesota River
- Overview: Summary
- Activity 1: Minnesota River plankton
- Activity 2: Minnesota River habitat
- Activity 3: Minnesota River backwater fish communities
- Activity 4a: Minnesota River shovelnose sturgeon
- Activity 4b: Minnesota River paddlefish
Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. The trust fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by the citizens of Minnesota to assist in the protection, conservation, preservation and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife and other natural resources.
Minnesota River fisheries contact
- Tony Sindt, Minnesota River fisheries specialist
- [email protected]