Stocked trout fishing at the Cuyuna mine pit lakes is outstanding. The region also provides a unique recreational experience for anglers, bikers, boaters and divers, despite being nothing but a big hole in the ground just a little over a half-century ago.
The iron ore mining operations in the pits fizzled off in the 1950’s and 1960’s. After the companies abandoned the pits, they began filling up with water in the 1960’s and 1970’s. By the 1980’s there was enough water to begin a trout stocking program that has thrived until today.
Many of the mine pit lakes throughout the Crosby area receive annual stocking of rainbow trout, brook trout and/or brown trout. These stocking programs provide angling opportunities for species that wouldn’t otherwise be available.
Anglers need a trout stamp to fish for trout in Minnesota. These stamps provide extra money for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to raise and stock trout for various trout fisheries across the state. The trout stamp money goes directly toward Minnesota’s trout fisheries.
While trout fishing in the Crosby, MN area has become quite popular, many outdoor enthusiasts come from far and wide to enjoy the Cuyuna area’s impressive mountain biking opportunities. The mine pit lakes provide some excellent scenery for a number of the local bike trails. The “pits” have also become quite popular for scuba diving thanks to their crystal clear water.
An area that was once delegated to mining iron ore has been turned into a true recreational opportunity for fishing, boating, diving and mountain biking. It’s a great way to take advantage of the previous industrial use of the landscape.
Many of these mine pit lakes are not only home to stocked trout species, but also large predator fish that prey on the nutrient rich trout. It’s a unique angling experience smack-dab in the middle of Minnesota.
So, what else do you do with a big hole in the ground besides letting it fill with water and stocking it with fish?
Well, back on August 19th 1957, the Portsmouth Mine near Crosby, MN was the launch site for Man-High II, the second of three top-secret manned flights in a US Air Force balloon project that preceded the “Space Race” between the United States and Russia.
The goals were to see if a manned, helium-filled balloon could reach the outer edge of the stratosphere and to study the effects of cosmic rays and zero gravity on humans. A fragile balloon was filled at the bottom of a deep mine where it was protected by the wall-like surroundings from being buffeted by winds. Piloted by Doctor David Simons inside a telephone booth-sized gondola, the balloon rose to record height of 20 miles above the earth, with the flight lasting a total of 32 hours.
Barely one month later, the Russians launched Sputnik and the Space Race was on. Even though the Russians were first into space with rocket propelled manned spacecraft, the earlier balloon flights proved that pressured suits worked in space, giving the fledgling NASA space program a leg up on their Russian competition.
And it all began at the bottom of a big hole in the ground, which is today 400 foot deep Portsmouth Mine Pit Lake, the deepest lake in Minnesota other than Lake Superior.