Southeastern Minnesota trout streams

Geology matters

The trout streams of southeastern Minnesota are different that those found along the North Shore of Lake Superior. That's largely a result of things that happened thousands of years ago to shape the area's geology. While most of Minnesota was once covered with glaciers that left behind deposits of rocks and sand and soil known as drift, southeast Minnesota was untouched by those processes. Sometimes referred to as the Driftless Area, this part of the state has numerous streams fed by cold, clean groundwater cutting its way through limestone bedrock. The groundwater that feeds these streams helps maintain stable habitat conditions favored by trout and the insects they feed on:

    A limestone cliff along a southeast Minnesota trout stream.
  • Cool water in summer;
  • Water that's warmer than air temperatures during winter, so trout can continue growing throughout the year;
  • Relatively stable stream flows that provide consistent conditions for adult trout and for eggs developing in the streambed over the winter months.

Because of this combination of conditions, southeast streams are able to support a greater abundance of trout than streams in other parts of the state, and the fish grow more quickly, too.

A product of their environment

Children, it's often said, are a product of their environment. The same is true of trout streams. The environment of a trout stream, though, isn't just the water and the shoreline. It's the sum of all that happens on all the land within the stream's watershed. Sometimes land use practices can present major challenges for the health of streams. In areas where there's significant development, for instance, storm water running off lots of pavement and roofs can carry pollutants and warm the stream beyond what's healthy for trout. In areas where agriculture is the dominant land use, other problems can arise:

  • The lack of perennial vegetation characteristic of row-crop agriculture increases runoff, compromising the stable flows and water temperatures trout prefer;
  • Increased runoff also can deposit large amounts of sediment that may smother trout eggs, and sometimes it can carry manure or pesticides that negatively impact fish and the aquatic insects they eat;
  • Over-grazing by livestock can reduce streambank stability, resulting in erosion.

Management activities

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is working diligently in cooperation with a variety of partners including landowners, nonprofit organizations and other government agencies to conserve and enhance southeast Minnesota's unique coldwater resources.

  • DNR is working with organizations such as Trout Unlimited to put in place a variety of habitat improvement projects on southeast streams, including bank re-grading to re-create floodplain, installing wood and other habitat structures, establishing vegetation to stabilize stream banks;
  • Partner agencies at the local, state and federal levels are working with farmers to encourage adoption of conservation-friendly agricultural practices such as stream buffers, no-till planting, contour filter strips, and managed grazing;
  • DNR continues to identify landowners willing to sell easements and to monitor existing easements for compliance with terms.

Species present

You can find all three of Minnesota's trout species in southeast streams: brook trout, the only native species; brown trout, most abundant, with reports of 30-inch monsters caught each year; and rainbow trout, stocked in catchable sizes where angling pressure is high.

  • Brown trout are the most common coldwater species in southeast streams. More tolerant of temperatures than other trout species, they are found in larger, warmer streams and can grow quite large. Most are from natural reproduction.
  • Brook trout are found in only the smaller, colder streams in the region because they are more sensitive to habitat conditions than other trout species. DNR has reintroduced brook trout into several suitable streams where habitat conditions have improved.
  • Rainbow trout do not reproduce in southeast Minnesota, but they are stocked to supplement trout populations in places such as state parks and within city limits to enhance angling opportunities where fishing pressure is high.

Where to fish

Boasting more than 700 miles of designated trout streams, southeastern Minnesota is an angler's paradise for anyone willing to park the boat and do some walking and wading. With 221 miles of angler easements – land along streams that's privately owned but open for fishing – access to trout streams is readily available. State forests and state parks such as Whitewater, Forestville Mystery Cave and Beaver Creek Valley also provide quality coldwater angling opportunities. The DNR publishes a booklet of maps highlighting where to access streams in the southeast. The maps also are available online.

Seasons & regulations

The DNR has in recent years greatly expanded the seasons for trout fishing in southeast Minnesota. All trout streams in Houston, Fillmore, Dodge, Mower, Olmsted, Winona, Goodue and Wabasha counties are open for catch-and-release fishing from January 1 until the harvest season opener on the Saturday closest to April 15. Once the harvest season ends September 14, catch-and-release fishing is resumes until October 15. For select streams located in state parks (Beaver Creek Valley, Whitewater, and Forestville), as well as within the city limits of Chatfield, Lanesboro, Preston and Spring Valley, catch and release fishing is allowed from October 16 until December 31. Any day of the year there is a place to trout fish in Southeast Minnesota.