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Two Inlets & An Island: Downtown Fly Fishing

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Ritual Quest for a Honey-Hole -

No longer concerned with the morning’s chance of rain, I released the rolling curls of my line forward, into the spewing, drenching mist at the base of the waterfall. This once secret , local honey-hole of mine often holds smallmouth bass, feeding on the disoriented smorgasbord of little creatures who tumble down this overflow discharge above the NSP hydroelectric plant. In my two seasons of fishing this backwater I have only encountered one other fisherman. Not to suggest you will find complete seclusion here. Subtle tokers, eloping lovers and the homeless are sometimes there to join you. But if you’re stuck in the area and keen to be on the stream, this will definitely do.


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Pillsbury Park is one of the greatest natural holdouts in Minneapolis. Steep, densely vegetated limestone bluffs cradle a wild little playground of woods, water and structural ruin. Here, the Mississippi reaches back to fill two inlets and the abandoned tailrace tunnels that once discharged diverted river water that ran underneath the flour mills and through their hydroelectric generators. Remaining flows from the NSP plant vary with operations unknown to park-goers, creating some interesting and dynamic fishing conditions. A long, narrow, high spined island splits the inlets. Wooden bridges span various sections of stream, from which you can catch glimpses of walled up and graffitied tailrace exits, the Pillsbury’s Best sign atop the mill, the Romanesque spans of Stone Arch Bridge and the activity of riverine wildlife – herons, waterfowl, muskrats, beavers, snapping turtles and of course, the fish.



Smallmouth bass are the name of the game here. Bullhead, carp and the occasional pike patrol the area as well. But it’s the beefy, urban isolated bass that you’ll likely be catching. In the spring, look for the calm sandier bottomed runs along the shores where the water runs quick, or on the edge of the calmer, upper reach backwaters near the tailraces. The inlet nearest the bluff is a seriously pristine length of water. The need for full waders and a polished technique for tight casts in this overgrown tunnel of trees keeps most urban locals out.


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In the summer, the fish lie in wait below the cascade and become a bit more active in the holes mid-stream, waiting for food. Try flies that mimic minnows, with eyes bright enough to persuade pursuit in the root beer colored water.

End your day tossing surface flies and poppers on the calm pool underneath the final bridge. Perhaps on one of those final casts, you can tempt that long awaited, evening-feeding fish to break the surface with a strike sent four feet high, as the setting sun bathes Stone Arch bridge and sinks behind the city…

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On May 30, 2013
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