Anglers looking for a unique and relaxing fishing experience will be rewarded with the time they spend on the Minnesota River, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“This river supports a large and diverse fish population,” said Chris Domeier, DNR assistant area fisheries supervisor. “We’re seeing species of fish in places we haven’t seen them before.”

Last summer, DNR fisheries sampled 16 stations along the river from Ortonville to Minneapolis and caught 54 species of fish, including walleye, sauger, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, muskellunge, flathead and channel catfish, sunfish, crappies and shovelnose sturgeon.

“We’re also finding sensitive species of fish in the river including paddlefish, blue suckers and black buffalo,” Domeier said. “This is good news, because they reflect river health.”

The health of the river was brought to the forefront in 1992, when it was declared one of the state’s most polluted waters by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). A century of urban and industrial development and intensive farming had contributed to poor water quality due to increased levels of nutrients and sediment. Then-Gov. Arne Carlson announced a plan to make the waterway “swimmable and fishable” in 10 years.

Governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations, citizen activist groups and the agricultural community have worked to better the river. This spring, the Minnesota River is being nominated to the National Blueway System for multi-faceted efforts to maintain the river and watershed as a valuable and useable resource.

River clean-up efforts continue. MPCA testing last August along a 20-mile stretch of the river showed improvements in oxygen, phosphorus and chlorophyll levels.

An important ecological gain for the river occurred last winter when Xcel Energy removed the Minnesota Falls dam near Granite Falls. As a result, 3 miles of high quality rapids habitat that previously were flooded out by the reservoir created by the dam were re-exposed. The project also removed a barrier to seasonal fish migrations and will provide valuable spawning and nursery habitat for numerous species, including walleye, sauger, blue sucker and lake sturgeon.  The rapids will also help increase oxygen levels by aerating the water as it flows through this stretch of the river.

“Better water quality and better habitat create better fish populations,” Domeier said. “Along with that I would expect better fishing.”

The river is becoming well-known for producing trophy flathead catfish that can exceed 40 pounds, Domeier said. It is also one of the few places in the southern part of the state where sauger can be caught.

As the river flows 335 miles from Big Stone Lake in Ortonville, to its confluence with the Mississippi River in St. Paul, it winds through prairie, woodlands, farm land and ancient rock outcroppings. The river is one of 33 designated DNR water trails in the state and portions have been designated as a Wild and Scenic River.

Numerous public accesses along the river accommodate a variety of watercraft and many provide ample parking for groups who want to paddle together. Primitive campsites along the river provide scenic views and quiet places to rest for the night.

“Anglers who pass by the Minnesota River on their way to a lake or the latest hot spot are missing out,” Domeier said.  “If you just like to relax and catch fish, this is a great place to go.”

Logo courtesy Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

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