On a blue-sky summer day, the Mississippi River curves and flows around St. Cloud’s Beaver Islands, where anglers easily find solitude along this scenic stretch in a boat, canoe, fishing kayak, or simply casting from parks along the shore.
“This stretch [of the Mississippi from St. Cloud to Anoka] has become one of the top river smallmouth bass fisheries in the country,” says Dan Meer, owner of Clear Waters Outfitting Co. “Smallmouth bass are known to be the best fighting fish per pound,” which makes them a fun challenge to catch.
The famed Mississippi originates humbly at Itasca State Park and journeys more than 600 miles through Minnesota, including its 1.7-mile-wide Lake Pepin. Commercial boat traffic can go as far as Minneapolis, but even the busier, southern stretches of Mississippi appeal to paddlers and anglers who find the bluff country’s quiet backwaters rich in wildlife and a variety of fish including northern pike, walleye, muskie, largemouth bass, crappies and catfish.
Minnesota boasts more than 6,500 natural rivers and streams comprising more than 69,000 miles. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers fishing classes, maintains more than 30 state water trails, and numerous state parks where you can check out free rods and reels and tackle boxes. Check the DNR fishing page for where to go and updates on access points, fishing piers, river landscapes and wildlife, rapids and water levels, fish consumption advisories and outfitters that can provide shuttles, watercraft and maps.
River anglers also can join organizations such as Minnesota Kayak Fishing Association or team up with someone who can leave a vehicle at the final pullout destination so you can go with the flow on your river of choice. Kayaks generally maneuver shallow waters better than boats, and can be easier to get onto the water. Newer designs include hands-free propulsion and modern electronics for locating fish.
Beyond the Mississippi, here’s a sampling of Minnesota’s better-known rivers:
Flowing through the rolling hills and woods south of the Twin Cities, this rural river yields northern pike, black crappies, catfish and smallmouth bass.
From its confluence with the Mississippi River below historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, this placid river flows 370 miles south to Mankato and west to Big Stone Lake at Ortonville. Known for channel and flathead catfish (including a 50-pounder), it’s also possible to reel in walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass and sauger. Big Stone Lake, Lac qui Parle and Upper Sioux Agency state parks all offer fishing kits to borrow.
Flowing north along Minnesota’s northwest border, this warm, muddy river harbors channel catfish, smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, sauger and lake sturgeon. Campsites can be found along the shore at East Grand Forks’ Red River State Recreation Area.
Smallmouth bass, catfish, rock bass and more can be found in this gentle to moderate flowing river through southeast Minnesota. Some spots may harbor brown trout, which thrives in the region’s smaller streams.
ST. CROIX RIVER
With the Dalles rocky bluffs and glacial potholes at Interstate State Park, this river dividing northern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota delivers dramatic scenery along with smallmouth bass, catfish, walleye, sauger and lake sturgeon among its 60-plus species of fish. Other state parks along its shores: Afton, St. Croixand Wild River.
ST. LOUIS RIVER
This Iron Range river known for dramatic rapids sought by expert paddlers joins Lake Superior at Duluth, where its 12,000-acre sprawl makes it North America’s largest freshwater estuary. Restoration efforts are underway to reclaim the estuary from former industries and improve access for anglers seeking walleye, northern pike, smallmouth and largemouth bass and sturgeon.