It comes as no surprise that Minnesota ranks #1 in fishing license sales per capita nationwide. The land of over 10,000 lakes is home to some of the best sport fishing in the country; it is a billion dollar industry, attracting experts and novices alike. But, while most of us automatically think of our lakes full of bass, pike and the illusive walleye, it might surprise you to know that the trout streams of Southeastern Minnesota are among the best in the world.
Home to brown, brook and even rainbow trout, the Whitewater, Zumbro and Root river systems are ideal for these beautiful (and delicious!) fish. The spring-fed streams keep the waters cold in the summer and make it possible for the DNR to stock over 2 million young trout or fry, per year. Approximately 83,000 trout stamps are sold annually. They are an add-on to our standard fishing licenses and cover the costs of maintaining and improving the populations and their habitat. In certain ideal stretches of the nearly 1,000 miles of trout stream in SE Minnesota, there can be as much as 300lbs of trout and the DNR, Trout Unlimited and other local groups are committed to continuing to improve banks and water quality to grow these populations.
I’m an avid angler, but my experience until a couple of years ago had largely been lake fishing and some river bass fishing—I wasn’t prepared for the simultaneous serenity and excitement of trout fishing. Finding the right pool, listening to the water flow by while casting over and over, and finally snagging one of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever caught, made me a convert. It also changed forever the lens through which I view the real and imminent threat that agricultural runoff poses to this unique and fragile ecosystem.
See, the fish don’t get a water treatment plant between them and the high levels of nitrates they consume. For them, the only filtration system is the natural one that grasses and native vegetation provide that were at the heart of Governor Dayton’s buffer proposal this legislative session. Recently, the Zumbro Watershed Partnership conducted a study of the entire Zumbro watershed and identified over 100 impaired sites, some critically. They then set about securing a large portion of the funding necessary to address these sites. But, without a firm mandate, they are still relying on voluntary compliance from farmers and landowners and that can be hard to come by. In the meantime, water quality continues to deteriorate and a treasured fish population and a major tourism economy is threatened in Southeastern Minnesota.
Research has shown that even minor improvements to prevent runoff and shoreline erosion have made a major difference in trout populations and the insects that sustain them. Maybe you are like I was until a couple years ago—unaware of how amazing this resource and species is. But, I hope our legislators will consider the great loss to future generations of anglers if they let this opportunity to protect our rivers and streams pass without action. I hope they will come back to the table and decide to support the trout, support the economy and support the buffers.