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Clean Water and Trout on the Kinnickinnic

Rehan Nana, Pheasants Forever Public Relations Specialist, with one of the many brown trout he caught and released recently on western Wisconsin’s Kinnickinnic River.

Rehan Nana, Pheasants Forever Public Relations Specialist, with one of the many brown trout he caught and released recently on western Wisconsin’s Kinnickinnic River. Photo by Mark Herwig / Pheasants Forever

What’s fishing got to do with Pheasants Forever? Well, Wisconsin’s Kinnickinnic Pheasants Forever Chapter in St. Croix County has worked to improve upland habitat within a local river’s watershed, which helps the trout just as much as the pheasants.

The chapter has worked with the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust and other partners to protect a jewel, the Kinnickinnic River, which lies only a few miles east of “PF’s” national headquarters in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Development threatens the river’s clear, cool waters and the trout that call it home. But with projects like the 200-acre parcel protected by Pheasants Forever and partners at the Kinnickinnic River headwaters, this river will always run wild.

While it’s too early to sample the area’s pheasant hunting, my Pheasants Forever coworker, Rehan Nana, and I did sample the river’s trout fishing in late June. While not a big angler, I am a paddling enthusiast. I canoe every week in summer, and the “Kinni” is a favorite because of the beautiful valley it flows through, its fast, clean water and challenging paddling.

The Kinni was up from its usual flow, making some of the rapids Class 1. Along one stretch, we came across a huge cottonwood (the redwoods of the Midwest) that had fallen over the river – it was easily 10 feet in circumference. At one point, Nana stopped to wet a line and two irritated osprey quickly began circling overhead, squawking in protest. We must have been close to their nest, so we moved on.

We saw a bald eagle, and on past trips, I’ve spotted otter, beaver, deer and many birds. Twenty and 30-foot sheer rock cliffs enclose the river’s course in places, thick with ultra-green moss and dripping water. Ninety-degree turns into stone cliffs and fast water makes for some tricky paddling.

On this day, the trout were plentiful. Rehan caught and released a dozen brown trout…and lost a few more. The fish ranged from 9-12 inches. No doubt the osprey (known as “fish eagles”) and bald eagles nest on the river because of the abundance of fish to feed their young. Imagine dining on fresh trout every day! Now that’s living!

While the Kinni, a well-known and highly-valued naturally reproducing trout stream, is an example of a regionally high-profile project Pheasants Forever has partnered on, any habitat project benefits water quality as well as wildlife. Any blade of grass we plant in the most humble, obscure Midwest field benefits water quality and habitat.

Yet, few help raise fish that are as fun to catch and tasty to eat as wild trout. So, here’s to the trout of the Kinni and the many conservation partners that help keep them alive and, well, flappin’!

The Nomad is written by Mark Herwig, Editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email Mark at mherwig@pheasantsforever.org.

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5 Responses to “Clean Water and Trout on the Kinnickinnic”

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  1. Nick says:

    Great story! I too fished WI trout streams this summer (my first time) and was amazed by the fish in even the tiniest of flows. Those small ecosystems are so easily impacted by runoff and pollutants. I am pleased that our efforts with PF go beyond traditional grassland efforts that I am used to out here in SW MN! Keep up the great writing Mark!

  2. Mark Herwig says:

    Thanks Nick. Hunters like you and I are not only interested in helping our favorite gamebird, but the entire ecosystem that supports them and a myriad of other creatures. Thanks for supporting PF!

  3. I consider that fishing is related to hunting. It involves many people from different domains to make sure that people are not too intruding in the wild habitat.

  4. Mark Herwig says:

    Agreed. I’ve considered fishing “fish hunting” for years. Just because anglers don’t use guns doesn’t mean they aren’t hunting……they are. Anglers have the same obligation as hunters to give back to the resource and to put the resource first.

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