Minnesota’s first official “fishing opener” is Saturday, April 15, 2017, when the stream trout season opens in the central and southern part of the state. Trout fishing along the North Shore of Lake Superior is open all year, and southeastern Minnesota counties have had catch-and-release fishing since January.
You must have a trout stamp added to your regular fishing license to legally fish in a state-designated trout stream, such as Eagle Creek in Savage (at left). There also are trout lakes in the west metro, including a new one in Shakopee, called Quarry Lake. You can learn more about west metro trout fishing on the DNR’s website here: www.dnr.state.mn.us/areas/fisheries/westmetro/troutfish.html
Trout stamp money pays for land along trout streams and lakes for public fishing access, as well as for stocking trout, and or fisheries improvements.
Our volunteers in the six chapters of the nonprofit conservation group Minnesota Trout Unlimited (MNTU) (www.mntu.org) also work on improving trout streams. We’ve restored nearly 50 miles so far, with more work scheduled for this summer. April 8, about 70 volunteers from the Twin Cities Trout Unlimited (TCTU) chapter (www.twincitiestu.org) did stream restoration work on Eagle Creek.
Eagle Creek is a beautiful, but narrow, brushy, spring creek, only about a mile long. It is protected within the DNR-managed Eagle Creek State Aquatic Management Area (AMA). Catch-and-release fishing is required here, to protect the small population of wild, naturally-reproducing brown trout. The creek hasn’t been stocked with trout since 1978.
Though the population is small, there are some big fish.
On our TCTU YouTube Channel, you can watch video of big fish (at left) that were found when TCTU volunteers helped the DNR do a fisheries survey of Eagle Creek in 2014.
Here is the link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=56i_MSVozUo
Our volunteers spearheaded protection of the stream, when Savage was undergoing rapid urban development in 1993. It was the last trout stream in Scott County. It was the first Aquatic Management Area (AMA) in the state. An AMA is similar to Wildlife Management Area (WMA), but it protects land surrounding a high-quality water body. AMAs now protect the Vermillion River and many other rivers and streams across the state.
The Vermillion River is much bigger than Eagle Creek, and its fish are bigger too. Some reach 30 inches and 10 pounds (at left). You can see some other fish we found during our survey with the DNR here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-Bk-EDYNfY
There are 49 miles of state-designated trout water on the Vermillion and its tributaries, most notably the South Branch of the Vermillion River. See map here: www.vermillionriverwatershed.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/DNRtroutstream_20160830.pdf
The South Branch of the Vermillion River AMA has been the focus of our volunteer restoration work during the last three years. We’ve removed more than a mile of invasive, non-native buckthorn there. Before that, we restored nearly three miles of the main stem of the Vermillion in several AMAs.
The South Branch should not be confused with South Creek, another really good trophy trout fishery, which runs from Lakeville to Farmington, along the south side of Highway 50. You must release all brown trout, just like on Eagle Creek, to maintain the big trout fishery.
However, you can keep rainbow trout from the Vermillion, which are stocked every year by the DNR.
How can you tell the difference between a brown, which you must throw back, and a rainbow, which could end up on your plate? Look at these DNR images to help you identify trout.
Brown trout have yellow along their bottom sides, and spots almost everywhere, except their tails. Their tails don’t have much of a notch, either, which is why browns are sometimes called square-tails.
Browns can tolerate warmer water than other trout. Nonetheless, they die when water tops 75 degrees.
Fixed monitoring sites on the main stem of the Vermillion sometimes show water temperatures above 75. However, the trout are hiding out elsewhere: in the cool, spring-fed tributaries, or hiding down on the bottom, in sections of the river where cold groundwater is seeping in, until it’s safe to leave their coldwater refuges and move freely about the cabin, you might say.
They do wander. Trout have been caught down below Vermillion Falls in Hastings, so they are not just staying within the state-designated trout water.
Rainbow trout are silver-colored on the lower sides, without any yellow. They have a pinkish streak along their sides, and lots of spots on their tails. Rainbows don’t naturally reproduce in the Vermillion. They are raised in a DNR hatchery. These fish are migratory. They run up streams to spawn, and do so in Lake Superior, where they are called steelhead, just like their Pacific-coast kin. The DNR stocked 3000 rainbows in the Vermillion the first week of April, to expand opportunities to take home a fish for dinner.
While we’re at it, take a look at Minnesota’s two native trout, the brook trout, and the lake trout. Technically speaking, they are classified as char, rather than trout. You might bump into a brookie or two in the upper reaches of cold tributaries.
Brook trout have spots that include blue. Their sides and lower fins are more orange or red, rather than yellow. Also, unlike the browns and the rainbows, the lower fins on brook trout have white front edges. Brookies require colder water to survive, so they tend to stay in headwater areas.
The more-aggressive, faster-growing brown trout often barge in and force out brookies from the best holding water and spawning areas.
Brookies are the little guys living in a small stream that starts across the street from the Mall of America. It runs through the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington. Twin Cities Trout Unlimited volunteers helped the DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) restore brookies to this stream in 2007.
Don’t fish here. It’s a tiny stream with few trout. The USFWS uses the stream as an educational resource, showing the types of brook trout streams that have disappeared in the Minnesota River valley, as stormwater and erosion from development warmed and silted-in streams. History might repeat itself here. There is a serious erosion problem on the upper reaches of the stream, which threatens the trout.
Trout Unlimited volunteers have just taken the first steps this year to restore a similar small brook trout stream in Burnsville, called Naas Creek—but officially known in state records as Unnamed #4. The stream was the home of the Cedar Hills Trout Farm in the 1950s and 1960s. You can watch some video of the creek here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNt193lTKU0
Lake trout have the same kind of lower, white-edged fins, but they have gray or white markings on their sides, unlike the brightly-colored spots of the brookies. They don’t live in streams. Instead you’ll find them in the deep, cold lakes of Northern Minnesota, including Lake Superior.
Now, back to the Vermillion River, which is where you should be fishing on Opening Day.
The river’s fishable area runs through Lakeville, Farmington, and several townships, before running through the City of Hastings, and over Vermillion Falls (at left).
By the way, the falls are beautiful, and less crowded than Minnehaha Falls. You can see the falls in Vermillion Falls Park, just east of U.S. Highway 61, on 21st Street East. MAP
The falls and other beautiful shots are included in a new watershed-education documentary that has just been released, called, “The Valuable Vermillion River.” It features Lakeville South High School students learning about the Vermillion River watershed and how to protect it.
A watershed is all the land surrounding a wetland, river or lake, that drains rain or melting snow into the water.
The Lakeville students shown are participating in a new outdoor education program designed to connect kids with watersheds through hands-on learning. The program is run by Minnesota Trout Unlimited (MNTU), with the help of local volunteers, and the State of Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
The documentary is a teaching tool for science classes, and is available nationwide on YouTube at this link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKYorFTDbjo&spfreload=10
18 Minnesota schools are participating this year. Students raise trout from eggs. Local students will release their trout into the Vermillion River in May.
Schools can learn more about enrolling in MNTU’s outdoor education program at this link: http://mntu.org/trout-in-the-classroom/
Where can you fish the Vermillion River? There are more than three miles of the river in DNR-owned AMAs and WMAs, that are open to the public for fishing. Watch “A Vermillion Flyover” by Scott Miron, showing the stream restoration area in the Vermillion Highlands AMA: www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaDmCMFyYPE
The best way to find that state land is by going online to the State of Minnesota’s Recreation Compass.
Just zoom in and pan around to see all the state-owned AMA land. Here’s the link for your desktop computer: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/compass.html?map=COMPASS_MAPFILE&zoomsize=3
Even better, here’s the link you can use on your phone, when you are out driving around, looking for a spot that doesn’t have so many cars parked at it: https://maps1.dnr.state.mn.us/compass/mobile/
If you want links to all of the trout maps and trout fishing information resources of the DNR, statewide, here is your “mother link”: www.dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/trout_streams/index.html?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=
The best advice I can give you: on opening day, avoid Rambling River Park on the west end of Farmington, where Highway 50 comes into town. The parking lot will be full, and fishing will be nearly elbow-to-elbow.
There are other places to fish in Farmington parks. Go to the city’s website and investigate. You can find public parks and trails along the river in the City of Lakeville, and in Empire Township, too. We also hand out our own map of public fishing areas, at our meetings and events.
Our next event is a free introduction to fly fishing, Tuesday, April 25, from 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Mend Provisions Fly Shop, 2719 East 42nd St, in South Minneapolis.
In May, join us to watch the International Fly Fishing Film Festival (the IF4), at a special event at the Surly Destination Brewery, May 22 in Minneapolis. These are all new films, and better than the Fly Fishing Film Tour last March.
Eat dinner on your own downstairs. After that, when the doors open at 6 p.m., come upstairs to the Scheid Hall Special Events Room to view our silent auction items, and check out the art displays by Jake Keeler and Bob White, both of whom have been generous donors to the Twin Cities Trout Unlimited chapter. Films start at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $20, and AVAILABLE ONLINE ONLY. We’re limiting it to 100 people, so get your ticket now. All proceeds fund our work in Minnesota. Order tickets online by clicking on the button or go here: www.showclix.com/event/minneapolismn2017/tag/widget.
Keep looking for more trout fishing stories on www.twincitiestu.org, and Like us on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Twin-Cities-Trout-Unlimited-TCTU-503634533028835/
To get on our email list of events, contact communications coordinator Dan Callahan: (651) 238-2111, or email him: email@example.com