Iowa's Top 3 Bets for Summer Largemouths
October 04, 2010
Pleasant Creek, Three Mile and Big Creek lakes take the honors for this summer's best bets for bass. Follow our experts' advice for more bass this month.
By Larry Brown
August means hot weather in the Hawkeye State, but it can also mean hot fishing for bass if you pick the right spot. We Iowans are fortunate to have quite a few great bass waters, and it can be hard to pick just three top selections. However, we spoke with the experts from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and have come up with what we think are three very good choices for you, spread out across the state so that no one is left out.
PLEASANT CREEK LAKE Pleasant Creek Lake, just over 400 acres in size, lies near Palo in Linn County. This puts it conveniently close to anglers in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area, as well as to those from Waterloo-Cedar Falls.
We spoke with Paul Sleeper, IDNR fisheries biologist at the Lake Macbride Station in Solon about Pleasant Creek.
"Pleasant Creek has been a very stable lake as far as numbers of bass go, for several years," said Sleeper. "The lake has an 18-inch minimum-length limit. That has really helped both with numbers and with the size of bass available."
Sleeper said that although there are quite a few bass in the 3- to 5-pound range in the lake, the really popular size range is about 14 to 16 inches. And it's certain that most Hawkeye State bass anglers will be very pleased with the prospect of catching a lot of bass in that category.
The prevalent type of vegetation at Pleasant Creek tends to emerge fairly late in the year. That's in contrast to many lakes, which have extensive weed growth by early June. But by August, there will be a lot of weeds at Pleasant Creek, as well. Fishing the outside edge of the weedlines is one tactic that can prove very effective.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Pleasant Creek has a relatively small watershed. It's a fairly deep lake, and the water stays clear. This means that on sunny days, the bass can spook easily. Especially during the summer, some of the best fishing at Pleasant Creek will be early in the morning or in the evening.
"Night-fishing for bass is quite popular on the lake," confirmed Sleeper. "They even run some night tournaments there."
Things like fishing tournaments and pleasure boating can mean that an angler looking for a bit more solitude - especially in the summer when boating is popular - might want to focus on early or late hours, or perhaps fish Pleasant Creek on a weekday rather than a weekend. However, it is a large lake, and there is a no-wake requirement, so even pleasure boats shouldn't disturb the angling too much.
Sleeper says that Pleasant Creek is a good lake for those who like to fish topwater baits. Buzzbaits and other topwater offerings can be particularly effective during the lower-light hours of early morning or evening.
The lake does not have a lot of submerged structure. However, there are some brushpiles. Fishing over these, at depths from 8 to 12 feet, can also produce good action.
It is possible to fish from the shore at Pleasant Creek. The IDNR has constructed several jetties. However, shoreline angling can be more difficult in the late summer because of the vegetation. August bank-anglers might want to concentrate on the face of the dam, where there will always be open water.
Sleeper says that the chances of catching bigger bass, especially in late summer, are not nearly as good from the shoreline as from a boat.
In the future, when sufficient funds are available, there are things the IDNR would like to do to improve the angling at Pleasant Creek. Some of the shorelines need to be riprapped, and building mounds and digging trenches on the bottom of the lake would do much to create better subsurface structure.
THREE MILE LAKE Heading to southwest Iowa, Three Mile Lake is our pick. It's almost 900 acres in size, and is sited just north of Afton in Union County.
Unlike the situation at Pleasant Creek, the normal bass regulations apply at Three Mile - there is a 15-inch minimum-length limit, and the daily catch and possession limits are three and six, respectively.
We spoke with Gary Sobotka, IDNR technician at the Mt. Ayr Hatchery, about the bass fishing at Three Mile Lake.
"The great thing about Three Mile is that it has a lot of bass, and it also has some really nice-sized fish," began Sobotka. "You can expect to catch all sizes of fish, up to seven pounds or more.
"The lake isn't that old yet; it was built back in 1996," he continued. "So you're not going to catch any real monsters yet. But 5- to 7-pound bass - you'll definitely have a shot at those."
Sobotka explained that the population in Three Mile is pretty stable. "We do stock a few fish in there, but for the most part it's natural reproduction," he said. "There is a lot of food in the lake for the bass, and they do extremely well as a result."
The structure situation at Three Mile is much different from Pleasant Creek. A lot of timber was flooded when the lake was filled, and those areas still provide some of the best fishing.
"Fishing around the trees is definitely good," confirmed Sobotka. "We also have quite a few rocky shorelines. Those are very good earlier in the season.
"There's a whole lot of submerged structure," he continued. "There are about a dozen really large mounds, some of which are covered with rocks. And then down in the lower part of the lake, there are also some very large underwater brushpiles."
Both the mounds and the brushpiles are indicated on the IDNR map of Three Mile, along with GPS coordinates. You can get the map by calling the IDNR at (515) 281-5918, by writing them at 502 E. 9th Street, Des Moines 50319-0034, or by going online at www.iowadnr.com.
Some of the subsurface structure may be a little deep for good fishing by August, because the lake will have stratified. However, stratification will usually occur at least 15 feet deep - if not deeper - which still leaves a lot of submerged structure available to the summer angler.
Another prominent subsurface feature is the old submerged road that runs between the two boat ramps. The IDNR dumped rock rubble on it, and working the old road can produce great action.
Another difference from Pleasant Creek is that Three Mile is not as good for the topwater angler. Because it's such a large lake, there is often a fair amount of wave action. Sobotka suggests that topwater lures would be most effective early and late, when it's calmer, or in the more protected areas, such as the back ends of coves.
Better bets for general use at Three Mile will be things like crankbaits, various worm rigs and leadheads to get down where the fish are. Leadheads can be especially good around the drowned trees.
Working the outside edge of the weedlines is another good bet. Sobotka says you'll probably be fishing in 6 to 8 feet of water along the weedbeds.
Three Mile won't be quite as clear as Pleasant Creek, but it's still a relatively clear lake by Iowa standards. Thus, once again, you need to be careful in order not to spook the fish.
Three Mile is a popular lake for bass tournaments, which can bring boat traffic on weekends. However, an even bigger consideration can be the pleasure boaters. (Fortunately for anglers, Three Mile is quite some distance from the nearest metropolitan area.) There isn't a no-wake regulation on the lake, nor is there a size restriction on motors. Especially on the lower part of the lake, you may encounter a fair amount of pleasure boat traffic on summer weekends. However, you can escape it by heading for the upper end and the flooded timber.
Three Mile Lake is also unique in that part of the state because it offers smallmouth bass as well as largemouths. You're much more likely to catch largemouths, but, especially if you're fishing rocky areas, don't be surprised if you hook into a smallie. The IDNR stocked them, and Sobotka says that sampling they've done since the stocking seems to indicate that the fish are reproducing. That bodes well for the future of bass angling at Three Mile Lake.
BIG CREEK LAKE Des Moines-area anglers are fortunate, in that they do not have far to travel for their quality largemouth fishing. Actually, there are several pretty good choices, but, especially in recent years, Big Creek Lake stands out as one of the best. It's an 880-acre impoundment located just north of the Des Moines metro area in Polk County.
Like Pleasant Creek, Big Creek also has an 18-inch minimum-size limit. The length limit on largemouths was raised there several years ago (along with that on wipers and walleyes) to deal with an overpopulation of shad that was hurting fishing in the lake.
I spoke with Marion Conover, chief of the IDNR's fisheries bureau, about what's happened at Big Creek. He told me that the shad seem to be gone, thanks mostly to the harsh winter of 2000-01. However, he said that the IDNR had no plans to lower the limit back to the standard 15 inches.
"We've been getting excellent growth rates on the bass in Big Creek over the last couple of years," he explained. "The forage base is very strong, with lots of shiners and minnows. As long as that good growth rate continues and the bass population remains in good shape, we're not going to lower the length limit."
Conover commented that anglers could expect to take bass of all sizes from Big Creek. However, he said that they should expect to catch especially good numbers in the 12- to 16-inch range. Top weight for a Big Creek bass will probably be about 7 1/2 pounds. "The bass up there are really fat - almost like little footballs!" said Conover. This is another indication of a healthy population with good forage available.
Because of its close proximity to Des Moines, Big Creek receives a lot of angling pressure. But the 18-inch limit leaves a lot of nice fish in the lake. Also, although it is a large lake, anglers don't have to worry about high speed boat traffic. There is a no-wake regulation in effect.
Conover explained that there are basically two popular methods for taking Big Creek bass in the late summer. "'There are those anglers who like to work the weedlines in shallower water," he said. "Their best opportunities will come early in the morning and again in the evening. Big Creek is a pretty clear lake, and between the clarity and hot temperatures, you're not likely to have much luck fishing shallow in the middle of an August day."
On calm days, or in protected areas, some anglers have good success fishing topwaters. Plastic worms are also effective for working the shallows early and late.
There are two parts of Big Creek where the shallow water tactics are likely to work best. One is at the upper (or north) end of the lake. That's where Big Creek (from which the lake gets its name) and the lake's other main tributary, Little Creek, feed in. Working the creek arms on either side of the peninsula that separates the two is a good bet for shallow water anglers.
The other area is at the opposite end of the lake, just west of the dam. That's the so-called "lost lake" area, where there's some flooded timber to work.
The other solution for late-summer bassing at Big Creek is to go deeper. However, Conover reminds us, the lake stratifies at about 16 feet, so there's no point fishing any deeper than that.
Fortunately, the IDNR has put a fair amount of submerged cover into the take. This consists mostly of cedar trees and stakebeds. Fishing over the tops of these spots will produce well. For the most part, you'll be working in 12 to 15 feet of water.
The best area for deeper water fishing lies between the handicapped fishing pier and the swimming beach. The stake beds are marked on the IDNR's map of Big Creek (but without GPS coordinates).
In addition to the handicapped access pier, there are also a number of fishing jetties for shoreline anglers. In general, however, opportunities will not be great for catching largemouths from the shore.
The IDNR has also stocked smallmouth bass in Big Creek, and the fact that the jetties have been riprapped with rock makes them very attractive to the bronzebacks. Bank-fishermen may want to adapt their tactics and lures to attract smallies. Other rocky areas of the lake are also prime spots to try for smallmouths.
There you have it: three sizzling lakes for August bassing in Iowa. Give them all a try this summer.
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