This article was originally published in the Minnesota DNR Hinckley Area Fisheries Office‘s newsletter and is reprinted with permission.
The Hinckley area has some of the best redhorse fishing in the entire Midwestern region. It boasts one of the world’s most pristine redhorse rivers: the Upper St. Croix, along with its two major tributaries, the Kettle and the Snake. These rivers attract a lot of attention from serious redhorse anglers — but the smaller rivers and creeks of the area often have untapped populations as well. If you live in the Hinckley area, you can probably find some great redhorse fishing very near your home.
The upper St. Croix is one of the most ecologically intact rivers in the upper Midwest. Native clams that have declined or become extirpated in more disturbed regions, thrive in the upper St. Croix. Along with them, the big-mouthed, large-bodied redhorse species that like to feed on these mollusks thrive as well.
Overall, there are five different types of redhorse in the area. The River and Greater Redhorse are both big, red-tailed suckers that feed and live in the heavy current of the St. Croix — and these fish are a thrill to catch on any tackle. Specimens weighing ten pounds or heavier are possible.
The fight of these fish is memorable in the fast, shallow water — you might think you’ve tied into a salmon or a steelhead! In addition to River and Greater Redhorse, there are Golden, Silver, and Shorthead Redhorse. While the Silver Redhorse gets nearly as big as the Greater and River, the Shorthead and Golden are smaller fish, topping out at about four pounds – still not a small fish in the grand scheme of things! If you’re lucky, you might catch all five species in one day – a feat called the “Redhorse Super-Slam.”
All of these fish are beneficial native species — they’re not only great sportfishing targets, but they also provide crucial food for game fish like walleyes, trout, and muskies. Redhorse are an important part of our native fish community.
Worms are the order of the day for redhorse baits — although storebought clams, shrimp, and canned spam can also work for them, most redhorse anglers fish nightcrawlers almost exclusively. These are usually fished on the bottom, either stationary or with a bottom-bouncing presentation. Float-fishing can work extremely well if the bait just brushes the bottom as the float drifts downstream with the current. The “Centerpin” float fishing method works great for redhorse and makes for a thrilling fight.
In the clear water of the Upper St. Croix, it’s often possible to fish for them by sight in shallow runs and riffles. When looking for a good redhorse spot, look for places with a good steady current and a clean bottom of sand, rock, or gravel. Use small, sharp hooks and enough weight to make good contact with the bottom. Bites can be light, so if you’re fishing stationary be sure to prop your rod up on a bank stick to allow for easier bite detection.
While many anglers prefer to practice catch-and-release after battling a thrilling redhorse, others like to keep a few for a nice meal of fresh fish. Redhorse are delicious eating — but the flesh has many fine bones in it that make them difficult to eat. You can, however, smoke, grind, or score the fish, and the extra effort is well worth it as they have a sweet, white, flaky meat, much like a sunfish. Every spring, I cook up a batch of redhorse patties made by grinding the fillets and mixing them with cracker crumbs, egg, and seasoning. There are rarely any leftovers!
Corey Geving is an IT specialist at the DNR Central Office in St. Paul. His work includes developing and maintaining DNR Fisheries databases and applications. Geving also operates roughfish.com. He has a background in native fish research.