Saving Trout

Brown’s Creek in late fall

What is it about trout that makes them so alluring? Is it their beauty? Is it the way that they fight? Do people like them just because they taste good? Though walleye may hog the limelight when it comes to Minnesota fishing, talk to any experienced angler and it’s clear that trout are something special. Based on my own experience, I have a hunch that the passion is inspired as much by the places where trout can be found as it is by the fish themselves.Fish can be found in all but the most lifeless and polluted of ponds. Trout, however, only flourish in the most pristine habitats. The majority of trout lakes are located in northeastern Minnesota, not coincidentally, in some of the wildest and most beautiful locations our state has to offer. Trout streams can be found throughout the “driftless area” of northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin, and northwest Illinois where the landscape is comprised of wooded hillsides and craggy valleys, and plentiful cold-water springs team with native brook trout and wild brown trout. Because trout and the insects that they rely on for food – stoneflies, mayflies, and caddisflies – are so sensitive to pollution and increases in water temperature, trout by necessity require pretty places to live.

I recently had the pleasure of joining the Kiap-TU-Wish chapter of Trout Unlimited for their annual banquet and learned a little bit more about this citizen group’s efforts to protect and improve local cold-water resources for trout and other wildlife. Established in 1972, the Kiap-TU-Wish chapter includes nearly 250 members from western Wisconsin and east-central Minnesota that are working to protect the Kinnickinnic, Willow, Apple and Rush Rivers. Through monitoring, the chapter has documented the impacts that stormwater runoff from the River Falls area has had on the Kinnickinnic River, reknown as one of the most beautiful and productive trout streams in the state, and this research has helped to demonstrate the need for development and redevelopment rules to protect the river from further harm. The chapter has also taken the lead on stream habitat restoration projects on the Willow, Kinnickinnic, and Rush Rivers, as well as Parker, Tiffany, Eau Galle and Pine Creeks.

Valley Creek

On the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River, roughly a dozen designated trout streams trace pathways through the hills and bluffs of Washington County. Valley Creek, in Afton, is the only place in the Twin Cities metro area where native brook trout naturally reproduce and several governmental entities, including the Department of Natural Resources, Valley Branch Watershed District and Washington Conservation District, have worked with local landowners to complete habitat restoration projects in the surrounding landscape, as well as in the stream corridor itself.Brown’s Creek, which meets up with the St. Croix just north of Stillwater, supported a healthy population of trout in years past until water quality declined due to excess sediment, spikes in water temperature during rainstorms and, surprisingly, copper from road runoff and nearby pond algae treatments. In recent years, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found only stocked fish in their surveys, which ultimately led to the stream being listed as impaired. Changes are underway, however. In 2010, the Stillwater Country Club collaborated with the Brown’s Creek Watershed District on a project to reduce runoff from the golf course to the stream, resulting in an astounding reduction of 46 tons of sediment per year.  This spring, the Oak Glen Golf Course followed suit with a $300,000 stream improvement project that restored 1300 feet of Brown’s Creek and converted two acres of land adjacent to the stream from turf grass into a buffer of native plants. These projects, both of which were aided by funding from the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment, are helping to lower water temperatures and keep pollution out of Brown’s Creek, changes which will ultimately allow trout in the stream to survive and reproduce.

When I picture an angler fishing for trout, he or she is standing in waders near a bend in the stream someplace wooded and wild. A healthy trout stream or lake is nature at its finest, and that, I think, is the true allure of the trout.