Want to catch a limit of walleyes to eat, or maybe an 8-pounder to brag about? Hoping to tangle with a world-class muskie or smallmouth bass? Maybe you’re more interested in “volume” than “size,” and looking for a livewell full of fat crappies. Iowa’s waters offer all those angling opportunities, and more. The secret is to know when, where and how to capitalize on the myriad fishing opportunities the Hawkeye State offers. Here’s a rundown of how to be in the right places at the right times to catch fish in Iowa in 2012.
Big Spirit Lake
Yellow perch populations at Big Spirit Lake in northwest Iowa, are still at record highs. Awestruck ice-anglers report “clouds” of perch on their Vexilars. For unknown reasons, the perch bite starts at the north end of the big lake and works toward the south during the winter. For numbers, fish where everybody else is drilling holes. For size, fish on the edges of large groups of ice anglers. Larger perch seem to frequent the edges of feeding areas.
Yellow bass populations at Clear Lake, in north central Iowa have been strong since the 1990s, with no indication of decrease in the near future. Look for them through the ice around the dredge cuts in the “Little Lake” portion of Clear Lake. In eastern Iowa along the Mississippi River, anglers who fish Brown’s Lake and other dredged backwaters that create wintering holes for panfish — including dredged boat harbors — enjoy strong bluegill fishing through the ice.
The Iowa DNR continues to expand its winter put-and-take trout-stocking program that provides anglers a chance to catch trout in parts of the state where trout normally aren’t found. Anglers can fish for trout through the ice at Blue Pit near Mason City, Heritage Pond near Dubuque, Lake Sauganash and Big Lake near Council Bluffs, North Prairie Lake near Cedar Falls, Lake of the Hills near Davenport, Bacon Creek Lake near Sioux City, Banner Lake (at Summerset Park) near Des Moines and Ada Hayden Lake at Ames.
The spillways below Saylorville, Red Rock and Coralville lakes never freeze, and a few arguably insane anglers pursue walleyes from those open waters throughout the winter. Rumors of 5- to 8-pound pigs caught on white twistertails suggest they have good reason to brave nasty windchills. At Clear Lake, in north central Iowa, yellow bass school beneath the ice along the edges of dredge cuts in the Little Lake area until ice-out.
Black Hawk Lake
Ice-out in many lakes in Iowa triggers a one- to two-week feeding binge by channel catfish. Lanny Miller, retired DNR fisheries biologist, said he’s had catfish-on-every-cast success fishing with soured shad, from the windward shore of Blackhawk Lake when, “shards of ice were still tinkling against the shore.” Similar channel catfishing successes have been reported at Lake Rathbun, Coralville Lake and any other lake where gizzard shad and other baitfish suffer winter-kills.
Northern pike spawn soon after ice-out in our northern natural lakes, in backwaters of the Mississippi River, and in shallow areas of artificial lakes in southern Iowa. Anglers who soak a big chub or shiner under a bobber near inlets to marshes in natural lakes or river backwaters, or near weedbeds in shallow bays on artificial lakes, are often rewarded with 2- to 10-pound northerns. In southern Iowa after ice-out, big bass in farm ponds lounge in shallow, south-facing, mud-bottomed bays on sunny afternoons. Target them with a slow-moving rubber worm or jig-and-pig.
Twelve Mile Lake
Twelve Mile Lake in south central Iowa has a significant population of huge, 1- to 2-pound bullheads. “Serious” anglers may turn up their noses at bullheads, but for sheer fun few species fill the bill better. Look for Twelve Mile’s bullheads near the silt dike in the upper end. Bullhead hunters in northern Iowa know April is also traditionally when bullheads turn on along the “North Grade” at Big Spirit Lake and in the spillway between Big Spirit and East Lake Okoboji.
DNR Fisheries Biologist Bryan Hayes says Lake Anita, in southwest Iowa has become his primary focus for crappie fishing in recent years He said crappies move into the lake’s shallower east arm in early April. He expects this year a huge year-class of 9-inchers, with a healthy older year-class in the 10- to 11-inch range. At Storm Lake, in northwest Iowa, walleyes traditionally go on a bite when water temperatures reach the upper 40s in April. Anglers in recent years have set records for filling their three-fish/day limits with 15- to 16-inch walleyes from that lake.
Check out page two for the best bets for Iowa fishing for May, June, July and August