The “Land of 10,000 Lakes” gets overrun with spin and ice anglers every year. After the six month polar vortex, ice houses are replaced with boats and the search for large bass and walleye begins. Stuck between popular places like Red Lake and Mille Lacs are a large amount of streams/rivers filled with trout, pike and bass that are more than willing to hit a fly. There are over 3,800 miles of designated trout streams in the state, but you’ll have to work hard to reach them all.
The beauty of the Lake Superior landscape in Northern Minnesota and tight wooded streams in the southeast provide great opportunities for hiking and exploring in the midst of wetting a line.
Best Places to Fly Fish in Minnesota
1. Whitewater River for Trout
The Whitewater River in Southeastern Minnesota is a part of the Driftless Region that can also be found in Western Wisconsin and Northern Iowa. The Whitewater is a tributary of the Mississippi River. The clear water is filled with stocked brown, rainbow and brook trout. The wide variety of access points and large number of fish make it a great spot for anglers to try.
Where to Fly Fish on the Whitewater
The river flows through a large wildlife management area as well as two State Parks. Since there are four different branches of the river, you will have plenty of access. The Main River has the most rainbow trout and the Middle Branch has the majority of the brook trout. Use nymphs and strike indicators because it’s slower moving water. This is a decent river to kayak or canoe. The State Parks provide many access points, but wade fishing is going to be more successful.
Access the Middle Fork of the Whitewater Here:
2. Trout Run Creek
Yes, the name of this creek does make it a popular spot for fly anglers, but don’t fret. It’s estimated to have 2,000 to 4,000 trout per mile and it covers numerous types of landscapes. There are slow, free flowing waters and plenty of fast runs. It holds both wild and stocked brown and brook trout. It’s near the beautiful town of Lanesboro which is perfect for a weekend getaway.
Where to Fish Trout Run Creek
The creek is over 12 miles long, but a stretch between Saratoga and Bucksnort Dam is going to be the highest quality fishing on the stream. This area is the most recent to receive improvements. Be sure to bring along long and light leaders and keep careful watch for Trico hatches. Otherwise, any sort of midge fly will catch fish all year long. Stick to wade fishing, the changes in landscape make it too difficult to canoe.
Access Trout Run Creek Here:
3. St. Croix River
Let’s get away from the trout for a minute. The St. Croix River in Eastern Minnesota is historic. The natural beauty and opportunities it presents fishermen are a few of the things that keep bringing people back. Anglers can find world class smallmouth bass and muskies in the deeper water near structure. Sturgeon and catfish also lurk in the St. Croix waters. Be patient, these fish will bite, but it may take some time. This river provides solid opportunities for float trips. If you don’t have access to a boat, the wide open casting lanes along the banks make for a great place for beginners to learn.
Where to fish on the St. Croix River
The close proximity to Minneapolis makes this river easy to access. It’s large enough that you will rarely feel too close to other anglers. The stretch of river between the Riverside landing to Wild River State Park will give you the most success. Be sure to throw minnow patterns, some bass poppers and a streamer similar to the TeQueeley.
Here is Good Access Point Within Wild River State Park:
4. Badger Creek for Casting a Fly
Badger Creek is another stream within the Minnesota section of the Driftless Region. This stream is tight and compact. Your best bet is wearing waders and standing in the river to get decent casting lanes. It has a large native population of brook and brown trout. The DNR quit stocking the river in the 1970’s and trout have had no problem reproducing ever since.
Bring along the 4 weight with some light leader and tippet. Pay attention to the hatches. The trout will eat Little Black Caddis and any sort of mayfly. Also, beadhead nymphs do surprisingly well right before hatches begin. If you find a deep pool that you can’t resist to fish, tie on a large Woolly Bugger and see what happens. The stream can be accessed just south of the town of Houston on the intersection of Highway 76 and County Road 10.
5. Baptism River
Let’s take our first trip up north. The tributaries off of Lake Superior provide anglers with days of entertainment. The Baptism River is one of the gems. Migratory steelhead and coho salmon visit the river during their spawn. Brook trout as well as rainbow trout are available all throughout it. The river is wide enough to fish from shore, but bringing waders along will help you reach spots that most others aren’t able.
The river is close to Tettegouche State park. Most anglers fish the area between the Highway 1 Bridge and the Cascades. Head further upstream towards the headwaters and you’ll find more success. If you’re searching for steelhead or salmon go ahead and try some pheasant tails or Prince Nymphs. If the water you’re fishing is fast and dirty, try a pink or orange egg pattern. Size 8 Wooly Buggers in darker colors stripped in quickly can work as well.
6. French River for Fly Fishing
Another option for those wanting to venture up north is the French River. It’s located 11 miles north of Duluth on Highway 61. It can be best accessed on Highway 43. Any fish that you find in Superior can be found here. The French River Hatchery also feeds a lot of fish to the river. The most popular fish caught here are rainbow and brown trout. You’ll find the most fish in the stretch between the hatchery and the lake.
If the water is flowing slower and clarity is decent, use a Copper John or Zebra Midge. Otherwise tie on the Wooly Bugger and get to work. Ripping it through the current will anger those bigger trout. Water level and temperature can be a bit tricky to predict. Since many of the North Shore rivers aren’t spring fed, the further you get from the lake, the worse the trout habitat is. Stay close to the headwaters and check water temperatures. A few days after a rain will give you good water flow rate.
7. Root River Quality Trout Through-Out
The Root River system in Southeast Minnesota is another quality trout fishery. Brook, brown and rainbow trout are all plentiful throughout it. If you want diversity, be sure to fish the South Branch. The upper and lower sections of the South Branch are divided by the town of Preston. The Upper South Branch near Forestville has more wild trout than the lower branch. It’s an easier section of the stream to wade as well.
Park at Forestville Park and start your day. Fish this section mid-week because it fills up quickly on the weekends. If you follow County Road 12 below Forestville, the Root flows through pastures and small wooded areas. There are a few public easements along the way. The Lower South Branch is suitable for a canoe. Deep pools hold some large trout. You can access the stream in the town of Preston.
Parachute BWO’s, Trico’s and Caddis patterns size 18-20 will all be successful. Wait until late fall and you can throw streamers. They’ll anger a few of the big browns.
8. Stony Brook – Easy Access for the Fly Fisher
This body of water is a bit more of a manageable drive for those who live in the Twin Cities. Located in Brainerd, this stream is home to large brook trout. The trout naturally reproduce and can be upwards of five pounds. Crappies and bass are also easy to find near the mouth. It flows into to Upper Gull Lake, a popular fishery in Central Minnesota. Access can be found at Fritz Loven Park on Ridge Road.
There is quite a bit of brush and overhanging trees along the river so you may have to wade to fully cast. It’s a stream that requires a bit more experience to fish. If you want a warm up, go ahead and cast along the shores of Gull Lake and see what you can find. There are Hex hatches that occur throughout the summer so pay close attention to the spider webs and see if any are soon to be spider food. Also, any sort of beadhead nymph will get the browns more active.
9. Cannon River – Great Access
A recent fish count done by the Minnesota DNR showed a wide-variety of fish thriving in the Cannon River. The river flows right through Cannon Falls which is an hour south of Minneapolis. You never know what you’re going to catch, so don’t hesitate to try all sorts of different patterns. Also, the wide and slower waters on this river allow for you to slip your canoe in and drift. It’s easy to pull off to the side and wade in to see what type of fish you can find. Launch from Riverside Park carry-in access and paddle the seven miles to Miesville Ravine County Park. This will take you about two hours without any stops. Fly options depend on what you’re targeting. If you’re searching for bass, any sort of popper will suffice. The browns can be caught on Wooly Buggers and pheasant tails.
10. Boundary Waters – Fly Fishing From a Canoe
Now, I know this it a little vague, but a canoe trip through the Boundary Waters is a must. This group of lakes is filled with smallmouth bass, walleye, pike and lake trout. Visit this area in June, but beware of rain. Chances are you’ll get poured on a few times during your visit. Also, you’ll need a permit when entering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. There are several local guides near the Boundary Waters that can offer you some tips. Listen to this podcast for some valuable information regarding fly fishing in the Boundary Waters.
11. Cloquet River
This is the final recommendation on this list. The Cloquet River can be accessed 10 miles north of Duluth on County Road 48 near Fredenburg. It’s easy to fish from the bank as well as a boat. The brown trout are stocked, but wild brook trout can be found off of some of the tributaries. It’s a great stream for a beginner due to the castable areas off of the bank. Nymphs are going to be your best option on the Cloquet. If you want some smallmouth bass, try tying on a popper or a minnow pattern.
Recommended Gear For Fly Fishing Minnesota
Many of the streams on this list are easily fishable with a 4 to 6 wt. rod. Use a 9-12 foot leader with 4 to 5x tippet. However, if you plan on fishing the St. Croix or the Boundary Waters bring your more heavy duty equipment. An 8 or 10 wt. rod with an 8 foot leader and 2x tippet will work just fine. Nymphs and streamers are going to be more successful than dries. However, if you’re fishing the streams in the driftless (Badger, Trout Run, Whitewater) go ahead and tie on some BWO’s or Trico flies.
Official References for Fly Fishing in Minnesota
- Minnesota State Fishery: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fisheries/index.html
- Minnesota Trout Stocking Report: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/trout_streams/stocking.html
- Lew Jewett Fly Fishers Club: http://lewjewett.org
- Fly Fishing Women of Minnesota: http://flyfishingwomenmn.com
- Arrowhead Fly Fishers: http://arrowheadflyfishers.com