Southeast trout streams offer alternative to ice fishing

If sitting around and staring at a hole in the ice doesn’t fit with your idea of fishing, take heart – there’s an open-water alternative even in the coldest part of the year.

Winter trout fishing opens on Sunday, Jan. 1, and continues through Friday, April 7, on about 750 miles of trout water in southeastern Minnesota.

“Fed by groundwater, many streams there remain relatively ice-free all winter, and the trout living in these streams more often than not cooperate with anglers to provide excellent winter fishing opportunities,” said Vaughn Snook, Lanesboro area assistant fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The winter southeast stream season is catch-and-release only, and it applies to all designated trout streams in Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Wabasha and Winona counties. Dakota County and the Vermillion River are not included in the southeast catch-and-release winter stream trout season.

“Winter trout fishing may require the angler to experiment with different tactics,” Snook said. “As water temperatures drop, so does fish activity. Anglers may want to carry a thermometer with them. Fish are most active at temperatures of 38 degrees and above.”

Other tips that could increase an angler’s success:

Fish slow and deep; trout are most often out of the main current flow.
When fly fishing, effective patterns include scuds, midge pupa/larva, and small pheasant tail nymphs. Fly anglers should watch for midge hatches that can increase trout feeding activity.
For spinning and spincasting equipment, keep your reel cranking by using a Teflon lubricant that’s not affected by cold. Single hooks on spinners help keep fish handling to a minimum.
Clipping one hook off of a treble also helps.

With winter trout waters often crystal clear, trout grow wary, so keep a low profile. It’s often best to stay out of the water.

Look for springs flowing into streams, where the water often is warmer. Ground water is typically around 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the trout are willing to bite, the weather can bite as well this time of the year, so Snook advises people to make safety a priority when fishing open water in the winter. Don’t take any chances with shelf ice that may form along stream banks. If you stay dry, you’ll stay warm. Let someone know what you’re up to and where you are going.

More information on trout fishing is available at