Published July 31, 2010, 12:00 AM

Minnesota River offers a safe, diverse fishery

OLIVIA — Its reputation as a dirty and polluted waterway seem to be keeping a lot of anglers away from the Minnesota River.

By: Tom Cherveny, West Central Tribune

OLIVIA — Its reputation as a dirty and polluted waterway seem to be keeping a lot of anglers away from the Minnesota River.

“It’s an under-utilized fishery,’’ said Lee Sundmark, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor in Hutchinson.

Sundmark said the DNR is convinced that the public perception of the river is responsible for the relatively light fishing pressure occurring on it. He then set the facts straight for the over 50 participants during the July 21 tour and canoe trip on the river sponsored by the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Fish caught in the Minnesota River are safe to eat. The consumption advisory limits on fish from the river are “fairly minimal,’’ said Sundmark.

The river offers a very diverse and productive fishery. A DNR survey identified 64 species of fish in the river, with 19 different species caught most frequently.

It has the potential to offer world-class trophy fishing for flathead catfish, he said. Each year the size of the largest flathead catfish registered in the Franklin catfish derby moves closer to cracking the 50-pound barrier, he noted.

The river offers lots of action for those seeking channel catfish as well. Channel cats as hefty as 16 pounds have been registered in the derby.

Flathead and channel catfish are the most sought-after game fish in the river, and along with sheepshead, are the species most often caught by anglers. The river is also favored by anglers targeting walleye, white bass, northern pike and panfish.

Know this when fishing the river for any species: “You never know what you are going to get on the line,’’ said Sundmark.

There are subtle, but encouraging signs that the river’s fishery is improving. There are more reports of paddlefish being caught in the Mankato area, suggesting that water quality is better, he noted.

Those who like to fish the river are typically not the types who invest in expensive boats and electronic gadgetry. A DNR survey found that 77 percent of river fishing is done by anglers on its banks.

It shows a need to develop more public access sites for river anglers, he said.

There is also a need for more information on the river’s fishery overall. Sundmark said the DNR is hoping to begin regular, comprehensive surveys on the river to monitor the fishery.

Sundmark said he believes that restoring wetlands in targeted areas could make a “huge difference’’ in improving the fishery. Wetlands provide spawning habitat for fish and help reduce the turbidity and “flashiness’’ or sudden rises and falls in water flows that harm the fishery.

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