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Governor's Fishing Opener: Consider fishing Greater St. Cloud

Anglers fish from kayaks for smallmouth bass on the Mississippi River near St. Cloud. Photo be Euls Photography

Anglers who live in the Brainerd area most often cast their fishing thoughts locally or to the north.

And why not?

Famed fisheries abound in these parts. The north holds other gems like Leech, Upper Red and so many others.

Yet the reality is many Brainerd anglers often drive south. That's because they are destined for the St. Cloud area, a regional hub for shopping and medical services.

"If you're coming to the St. Cloud area you might want to pack a rod, tow a boat or bring a canoe or kayak," said Joe Stewig, area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "Some of this area's small lakes hold big sunfish. Also, the highest density of smallmouth bass in the Mississippi River from Brainerd to St. Cloud is in the St. Cloud area—that stretch between the Sartell and St. Cloud dams."

Stewig said this year's Governor's Fishing Opener cast a spotlight on the St. Cloud area, and that's a good thing. "There's a lot of good fishing in the area," said Stewig. "It's got an excellent urban smallmouth bass river fishery. The catfishing in the Sauk River Chain of Lakes is solid. There's a great trout lake near Avon. And there are walleye, crappie and big bluegills to catch, too."

Stewig said visitors to the St. Cloud area may want to consider:

Little Rock Lake

Familiar to State Highway 10 travelers, this 1,450-acre lake south of Rice turns green in early summer. As such, it gets little fishing pressure after that. Yet it is a good early season walleye lake, especially in May. That's when the water quality is good and walleye tend to hold along the first drop-off. Look for walleye as shallow as 4-6 feet in a lake that is mostly 15 feet deep or less. Currently, the lake holds a strong year class of walleye in the 18-inch range. The lake also has a large crappie population. However, these fish are a challenge to catch because they are broadly scattered due to a lack of weedline and other fish-congregating vegetation. The public access is right along State Highway 10.

Mississippi River

Similar to St. Paul, St. Cloud is home to an outstanding urban Mississippi River fishery. Smallmouth bass anglers may catch bigger bass closer to Brainerd or Camp Ripley but there are greater numbers of bass between the Sartell and St. Cloud dams, a distance of about 5 miles.

Bass reproduction is very consistent in this stretch of river, meaning anglers are likely to catch fish in a wide variety of sizes. Anglers can access the river at Wilson Park, which has a nice boat ramp. The river gets very shallow above Wilson Park. Those wanting to test those waters best go slow.

Big Watab Lake

Located 3 miles south of Avon and not far from St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict, Big Watab Lake is stocked annually with 10,000 yearling rainbow trout and 2,000 yearling brown trout. These fish weigh about one-half pound and are easiest to catch in spring when they are closest to the surface rather than later in summer when they move to deeper water due to rising water temperatures. And deep water there is. The lake's maximum depth is 120 feet.

Many stocked trout live from year to the next, so occasionally anglers catch trout up to 6 pounds and 24 inches in length. The lake has a public access on its northeast side. It fills quickly on summer weekends.

Sauk River Chain of Lakes

Also known as the Horseshoe Chain of Lakes, this river system in the Richmond area includes a dozen lakes. It is a good multi-species destination and is known widely for its catfish. Channel catfish were stocked in the chain from 1976 to 1988 and have become very abundant. It's common to catch cats in the 14- to 17-inch range. These fish weigh about a pound.

The DNR has measured catfish nearly 28 inches in length during fish population assessments.

Lake Carnelian

Located 3 miles north of Kimball, this small 164-acre lake contains crappie, bluegill, northern pike, walleye, largemouth bass and perch. It is best known as a bluegill lake. This species has been the focus of bag limit regulations for more than 20 years. As such, the lake holds big bluegills up to 9 and 10 inches in length. The bag limit is five.

Clearwater Lake

Located 2 miles north of Annandale, this 3,158-acre lake is a popular destination for area bass anglers and those seeking crappie up to 15 inches in length. The lake is stocked with walleye every other year, and is locally known as a good walleye lake with a fair amount of structure. The DNR's most recent survey data indicated the average walleye weighs slightly more than 2 pounds. The DNR has netted walleye as large 28 inches.

"St. Cloud also has a kid's fishing pond in the heart of downtown," said Stewig. "We have stocked Lake George with a variety of species in the past, most recently channel catfish. It's a good place for a picnic and chance to catch bass, panfish or channel catfish."