How to catch a trout

Illustration of a brook trout

Click the image to enlarge

A brook trout

Trout fishing in southeast Minnesota streams is a special experience. A landscape of forested hills, picturesque farmlands and enchanting trout streams, the southeast is chock-full of flowing waters where you can stalk riffles and pools for brook, brown and rainbow trout. If you have never tried trout fishing you should. Trout are regarded as the most elegant of all Minnesota fish, and few would argue otherwise.

When to fish

A catch-and-release trout fishing season opens Jan. 1 for the following southeast counties: Houston, Fillmore, Mower, Dodge, Olmstead, Winona, Wabasha and Goodhue. Catch-and-release fishing continues in these counties until mid-April, when a harvest season opens not only in the southeast but throughout the state. Closing dates are in September but vary. So browse through each section of the trout fishing regulations.

Where to fish

Trout streams are abundant but these thin ribbons of water are not always easy to find. Thankfully, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources publishes maps to help anglers locate trout fishing opportunities and angler access points. These maps use different colors to show angling regulations and identify areas with public fishing in state parks, state forests, wildlife management areas, and streamside-fishing easements. On each map is a list of streams that indicates the trout species present and whether it is a "wild" population or if management recommendation include trout stocking.

Underwater photo of a brook trout

A brook trout

How to fish

A spin-cast rod and reelEveryone has a different idea as to which bait or method is the best for catching trout. That said, an acceptable trout fishing outfit starts with an ultra-light, fast action spinning rod between 4 and 5 feet long. Add to the rod a light duty spinning or spin-casting reel outfitted with 4- to 6-pound test line. Closed-face reels are seated on top of the rod and are operated with your thumb, which is different than open-faced reels that hang underneath the rod and are operated with your finger.

Many trout anglers use No. 10 to No. 14 regular shank bronze hooks. You may need to a few small split shot to your line to get your bait down in swift water.

It is hard to beat the nightcrawler for baitfishing trout. It has just the right heft for a long cast and they are easy to come by. Veteran brown trout anglers often use a chunk of chub or sucker meat when angling for the big ones. This also keeps other chubs and suckers from biting when fishing in poorer quality water.

A spinner baitSpinners, jigs and other minnow imitators also work well for trout. Any color or style is apt to work, but match these colors and species for starters: Gold color for brown trout, silver color for rainbow trout and copper color for brook trout.

A night crawler hookWhen fishing with a nightcrawler, use just half of it and hook it just once at either end. Approach the pool quietly from downstream keeping well hidden from the fish. Cast upstream over the pool allowing your crawler to drift naturally back towards you. Your line will float so watch it and you can tell when you have a bite. If you are careful, you might catch more than one fish from the same pool. Be patient and fish carefully. Learn to cast with accuracy. If you have disturbed the pool, move on to another. Stay out of the water when fishing.


A creel basketHandy things to have when trout fishing are a small knife, creel, wading boots and trout-sized landing net.

What’s important to know
  • First, you need a fishing license if you're 16 or older. A trout stamp may be required if you are ages 18 to 64. Visit the online tout fishing regulations page to determine if you need a stamp.
  • When casting lures you don't have to worry about an unnatural drift. Minnows swim in all directions.
Basic biology

There are three species of trout that live in southeast Minnesota trout streams.

Brook trout: A brook troutBrook trout (the only native of the three) thrive in smaller streams of good water quality, occupying pools and riffles that seem quite shallow when compared to the pools brown trout frequent. In-stream vegetation provides adequate cover for the brookie. They are very aggressive and relatively easy to catch. They normally are smaller than browns and rainbows, a 14 inch brook trout is a trophy. In large and medium sized streams you will find them near the headwaters and in major springs.

Brown trout: A brown troutBrown trout (from Europe) are the most abundant and most sought after trout in southeast Minnesota streams. They are wary and must be stalked with patience. Your shadow on the water will "put them down" for an hour or two. They require overhanging cover like undercut banks or fallen trees. They will be found in the deepest pools, moving into the shallows (riffles) to feed in early morning and late afternoon. They feed actively on emergent insects like caddis flies and mayflies. Brown trout get larger than rainbows and brookies; 14 to 18 inch fish are common and browns over 25 inches have been taken in the southeast.

Rainbow trout: A rainbow troutRainbow trout (a west coast native) do not commonly reproduce in southeast Minnesota streams and must be maintained by stocking. They occupy the fast, big water of the Whitewater streams (and others), utilizing different habitat than the brown trout. Famous for their acrobatics (tail-walking), rainbows will give any angler quite a thrill.