Smart fishing for trout in waters close to home
Anglers in southwestern Minnesota can discover the sport of trout fishing thanks to put-and-take opportunity
RAMSEY CREEK, REDWOOD COUNTY — “Trout fishing purists are fine but they’re not always smart.”
Fishing guru Ron Schara was speaking about trout fishers who refuse to use natural bait in his book, “Minnesota Fishing Guide,” but he might also have been referring to those who believe trout can only be caught in the cold water streams of southeastern or northeastern Minnesota.
There are plenty of smart trout anglers who pursue rainbow and brown trout in the early spring waters of select streams in southwestern Minnesota. They don’t lack for anything that the purists enjoy in the natural, cold water streams found in southeastern or northeastern Minnesota. They can find quiet, tree-lined locations along the stream banks to toss flies or if they prefer, baited hooks.
Best of all, they can land colorful, adult-sized rainbow and brown trout ready for the frying pan and dinner plate.
“It’s just an opportunity thing,” explained Scott Mackenthun, who helps make it possible. Mackenthun is a fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Hutchinson. He was joined by staff members from the office, Hannah Anema, fisheries technician, and Tony Sindt, river specialist, in stocking rainbow and brown trout in a number of southwestern streams on Thursday, April 13.
Just in time for last Saturday’s trout opener, they stocked 300 adult rainbow and 300 adult brown trout in Ramsey Creek near Redwood Falls. They drove on to offer the same mix to Spring and Fort Ridgely Creeks near and in Fort Ridgely State Park, and later added 300 brown trout to Seven Mile Creek in Nicollet County. Other DNR teams stocked other southwestern streams last week as well, among them the Redwood River in Camden State Park near Marshall.
The trout are raised at the DNR hatchery in Lanesboro. The rainbow are 1½ years old when stocked, and the browns 2½ years old. Stocking these southwestern waters is known as put-grow-and-take, and not entirely unique. Walleye are stocked in many lakes where they do not naturally reproduce, and the DNR stocks plenty of small water bodies with panfish to offer fishing opportunities.
But by bringing trout to southwestern waters, anglers are able to pursue a species they would not otherwise enjoy in this part of the state. No doubt, it introduces many of them to a pursuit that will eventually lead them down the road to the cold water streams of the state.
That’s all right, as Minnesota is blessed with many miles of cold water trout streams. “You can head to southeast Minnesota and never fish the same water in your life,” said Mackenthun. “Or, take the family to the North shore and fish to your heart’s content for brook trout. There are so many cool fishing opportunities in the state.”
Brook trout are Minnesota’s only native trout. Browns were introduced to the U.S. from Germany. Rainbows are native to western states.
Both are hearty species, and manage well during the early season in the free-running streams they are stocked in southwestern Minnesota. “It’s not ideal to be muddy brown and high but they should settle out,” said Mackenthun of the churning, early-season stream waters the fish are stocked. The newly-stocked fish quickly find their way behind rocks and in the bends of the streams where they begin gobbling up aquatic insect and other food.
After all, they arrive hungry. They are not fed at the Lanesboro Hatchery before transport so that they do not foul the water in which they are transported.
Most of the stocked fish are believed to be caught in the first few weeks after their introduction, said Mackenthun. Yet many of these fish will persist well into the summer months, offering a long-lasting fishing opportunity for those who enjoy pursuing them. There are even a few waters, such as Seven Mile Creek, where a few of the stocked trout will sometimes over winter and even naturally reproduce, he said.
Catching the stocked trout is popular with many. Mackenthun and his helpers hear from state park managers and conservation officers who work in the areas where the stocking occurs about how many enjoy people catching the trout. Records of state trout stamp sales also reflect the popularity of the put-and-take fishing in the areas where it occurs, according to the fisheries supervisor.
Mackenthun is not sure when the practice of stocking trout in southwestern streams began, but he knows it goes back a way. He’s seen creel surveys from the 1980s that record it.
It’s all made possible by the infrastructure that supports fishing opportunities in Minnesota, and which many of us do not always think about. The Lanesboro Hatchery is among those that the DNR is seeking funds this legislative session for upgrades.
There are plenty of numbers tossed about as to the economic importance of fishing to Minnesota. There’s no putting a value on the personal enjoyment that comes with wetting a line on the state’s waters.
One of the best things about this early season stocking is that it represents a real opportunity to “shake the cobwebs off and get the long rods out,” in the words of Mackenthun. While some are waiting anxiously for the walleye and northern pike and bass openers, others are already out catching trout in places close to home.