Simply casting a worm on a hook into the Mississippi River in the scenic Lake Pepin area gives anglers a great chance of catching a wide variety of fish, all while experiencing the fun and intrigue of river fishing.
“Lots of variety — that’s the name of the game for Lake Pepin. There are dozens of species to catch,” said Nick Schlesser, Lake Pepin large lake specialist. “These waters provide an enormous amount of connection for fish that move up and down the river.”
Lake Pepin is a wide area of the Mississippi River on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. The lake is more than two miles across at its widest and about 22 miles long, with Lake City along the Minnesota shore, Red Wing upriver and Wabasha downriver.
The lake harbors a lot of fish and an especially wide variety of fish species. Walleye and sauger are present in near record numbers according to recent fisheries assessments, with several strong year classes of walleye present. Perch and black crappie are also abundant.
One unique aspect of the area is the fishing season: unlike other areas of the state, fishing remains open year-round from the mouth of the St. Croix River to Iowa for all fish species except flathead catfish and lake sturgeon. Plus, the waters of Pool 4 stay ice-free and open all year near Lock and Dam #3, upriver from Lake Pepin, because of the warm water discharging from a nearby power plant. Anglers can be seen fishing there by boat even in the middle of winter, and especially in March before walleyes spawn.
Walleye and other species migrate upriver and downriver at different times of the year. By early May, walleye that were spawning upriver in flooded terrestrial vegetation and backwater areas above the lake make their way back toward Lake Pepin to replenish their energy supplies. This also coincides with the pre-fishing-opener enthusiasm of many anglers.
“We get some additional pressure because people can’t fish inland waters yet and people are itching to get their boats out,” Schlesser said.
Popular Minnesota boat access points with parking lots include Roschen Park and Hok-Si-La Municipal Park and Campground, both in Lake City. Boaters need to be aware of potential debris in the water and of other boat traffic including barges and tow boats. Sailboats are numerous on the lake and power boaters must be prepared to yield the right of way to sailboats.
The big river provides a waterway connection to the ocean. Schlesser, out fishing last year with his son, watched in awe over the span of a half hour when his son caught a shovelnosed sturgeon, lake sturgeon, flathead catfish and an American eel.
“It’s one of the only spots you’re going to catch an eel. My son caught an eel last year. That fish spawned in the Sargasso Sea and swam up the Mississippi River to here,” Schlesser said. “That’s the beauty of the river. If you know what you’re doing, you can really raise your odds on some species of fish. But use a worm and a hook — the lowest common denominator of fishing — and you open the floodgates for what you might catch.”
More information about the Lake City fisheries area is available on the DNR Lake City area fisheries page.