After the opening weekend and recent discussions with other anglers I wanted to post what I use as “guidelines” to practice the responsible harvest of trout on our southeast Minnesota trout streams. Some anglers are turned off by the idea of harvesting trout but I believe that some of our streams need anglers to practice responsible harvest more regularly for some streams to thrive and for the angler to connect with the resource on a higher level. We all enjoy catching larger trout and on stream (especially those with HI work) we have an abundance of small adult trout that compete for resources. If anglers were to harvest more of the smaller trout from those streams it would give other trout an opportunity to grow larger. I live by some simple harvest rules and ethics, I try to pass them on to other anglers and the students I speak to in the area when I speak about trout fishing. It is important to me that people stay engaged with the resource and one way to do that is through the intimate act of harvest.

Responsible Harvest Practices I adhere to:

  • All brook trout get returned to the stream.
  • Rainbows are kept whenever found.
  • Brown trout on streams supporting larger numbers of trout are kept in the 10″-12″ range.

The rational behind these guidelines are simple. Brook trout compete with browns for the same resources, they are often out competed by browns and require higher water quality than brown trout to sustain them. Browns often spawn after brook trout and root up brook trout eggs when they do contributing to brown trout proliferation and stressing the brook trout population. For these reasons I put every brook trout I catch back period. The vast majority of rainbow trout you come across in southeast Minnesota are stocked by the DNR to promote a catch and keep fishery. These trout are stocked so that families and individuals can visit higher traffic streams and be assured that fishing will be fruitful. Trout stamp dollars go to raising rainbows for people to catch and keep and when they are in the streams they compete with natural reproducing browns and brook trout for resources. For these reasons I keep almost every rainbow when I come across them. I should note here that I have come across very small rainbows on streams where they are typically not released (most likely trout fry released during flooding of private hatchery ponds) and in these instances when the fish just isn’t of size to eat I will release it. Finally I keep brown trout on streams that have an abundance of trout under 12 inches. You know these locations, they are often improved streams with plenty of cover to help trout populations. It is exactly these streams that people should target during the catch and keep season for a full creel if they are so inclined. I carry a retractable tape measure and only ever use it to make sure a trout that’s going to meet my knife is smaller than 12 inches. I almost never tape the larger trout simply because I know it’s going back to the stream. I believe that responsible harvest of 10″-12″ sized brown trout on streams that can sustain the practice should be done to allow other trout to grow larger. We all love to catch a larger trout, with the amount of eased areas that are seeing habitat improvement it’s important to use the resource and keep a few trout. If you don’t like trout find someone who does and offer to bring them home some fish and keep a full creel when you can. This goes to the core of what it means to be a critically thinking ethical angler.

A couple of final notes regarding regulations in Minnesota. If you keep five trout you have met your limit and as such you must stop fishing and head home. Your bag limit includes trout you may have at home in your freezer so if you have five at home you’re not allowed to go trout fishing. You can’t release a fish you’ve kept in exchange of another trout, seems obvious but… All stream trout must have head, tail, fins, and skin intact when being transported. If you are going to give fish away take note of the requirements per the MN Fishing Regulation Manual:

If you have kept a fish and want to transfer it as a gift, it must be accompanied by a
receipt that must remain with the gift. The person receiving the gift can’t possess
more than the statewide limit including your gift. The receipt must contain all of the
following information:
•Name and address of the owner.
•Name and address of recipient.
•Date of transfer.
•Description of the gift (number and species).
•License number (DNR number or transaction number) under which the fish
were taken.
Finally, I do not fish Wisconsin and I would imagine that the regulations are similar but I haven’t researched them and it’s your responsibility as an angler to know the regulations before you go fishing. Be a responsible angler any place you go be it the driftless area or further away so that my daughter and everyone else has a strong resource to enjoy in the future.


  1. Love what you’ve said here! I don’t live nearly as close to the Driftless region as you do. But yet still I’m very protective of it and it’s resources. I completely believe and support having a couple of Trout for the fry pan here and there thru out the season.It nourishes the soul in more ways than one. Responsible harvest is the key terminology here. Be respectful of the resource and it’s future. Society in my opinion has gotten to far removed from “What is truly organic in the most sense of the word” Connect more with Mother Nature in this way! From a simple garden to foraging in the wild for edibles. Or fishing and hunting. I urge all to get involved and to involve there children.

    avatar J.D

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *