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2012 Iowa Bass Forecast

2012 Iowa Bass Forecast
Many small ponds are located on private property where fishing can be achieved with permission. Approach these opportunities like you would trying to access hunting land. These private stock ponds offer some of the best largemouth bass fishing in the region. Photo by Jason Mitchell.

Largemouth bass fishing in the state of Iowa has increased in popularity over the years as fishing opportunities have become more established. According to David L. Moeller, of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, largemouth bass were the preferred species of fish for nine percent of Iowa anglers ten years ago. Five years later, the percentage of anglers who cited the bucketmouth as their favorite fish jumped to 17 percent. Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are native to Iowa, but habitat change and stocking has forever redistributed these fish.

Historically, largemouth bass were originally sampled in some of the backwater areas and oxbows of the Missouri River watershed. Today, largemouth bass are distributed throughout the state, offering top-notch angling opportunities. Smallmouth bass were native to Iowa, particularly in the Mississippi River watershed and before the impoundment of the Mississippi River for navigation. Smallmouth bass were much more abundant.

Today, abundant populations of smallmouth bass are found throughout central and northeastern Iowa, particularly in swift-flowing, less turbid rivers and small streams that are part of the Mississippi River watershed, including the Cedar, Shell Rock, Winnebago and Upper Iowa rivers. A particularly great success story for smallmouth bass is also the Great Lakes region of northwestern Iowa.

The state-record largemouth bass for Iowa is a respectable 10-pound, 12-ounce fish caught out of Lake Fisher, located in Davis County, in May of 1984. While this record has stood for more than twenty-five years, there are several 7-pound-plus bass that are getting caught out of Iowa farm ponds each season. Really, some of the biggest largemouth bass caught in Iowa each year come out of tiny farm ponds, according to Eric Naig, marketing manager for Northland Fishing Tackle. Naig grew up in the small town of Cylinder, Ia., and spends a considerable amount of time fishing for bass across the state.

Huge bass hidden in private farm ponds is nothing unique to Iowa but, according to Naig, these productive jewels might be more accessible than many anglers might think, and that is why we will include some of this private pond strategy in this years Iowa bass forecast. These ponds produce fish early in the season and are one of the hottest opportunities for bass-heads in the Hawkeye State.

Other great options include the Great Lakes region of northeast Iowa for both smallmouth and largemouth bass. The state also has a handful of man-made reservoirs, which have also created some very respectable opportunities for largemouth bass. The Mississippi River is a respectable largemouth bass fishery that seems to keep getting better each season. The stretch of the Missouri River around Sioux City downstream to Monona County has also quietly developed into a respectable bass fishery, albeit for smallmouth. Some of the top prospects for this upcoming season are highlighted right here.


Finding a place to catch big bass in Iowa is much easier than getting permission to hunt, states Naig, matter of factly. Finding hot farm ponds and gravel pits on private property takes a little bit of sleuth work but this detective effort is worth the time as the biggest largemouth bass caught each season in Iowa typically come from these little ponds. To catch the state's biggest bass, forget about scum frogs and Texas-rigged worms for a second and approach this fishing like you would hunting. That means walking up to a barn or farmhouse with a smile on your face and a warm handshake.

Many of these landowners will let you access their property to fish these private ponds, according to Naig. There might be some stipulations or rules when fishing on private property, much like hunting. Some farmers, for example, want some of the small bass or bluegills removed or they might not let you keep the really big fish as they typically want the anglers fishing their ponds to help in the management. Most of the fishing is done from shore or perhaps there might be situations where there are private accesses or vehicles can get close enough to the pond where kayaks, belly boats and canoes can be used to fish. Finding these hotspots takes a little bit of extra effort, but the end result is some of the best bass fishing Iowa has to offer.

Most of these farm ponds are typically bowls with good weed growth around the outer edges. Many of these farm ponds were created originally for cattle but serve the added bonus of providing a fishery. The sizes can range from less than half an acre to several acres, but this water is typically small and fertile. Hilly regions of the state that have a lot of cattle often have the most farm ponds with high numbers of farm ponds found in the counties of Guthrie, Greene and Carroll. There are, however, great farm pond fisheries scattered throughout the state. There are also some productive county-owned strip ponds and stock ponds so, as with hunting, carrying an atlas or plots map to find who owns the property that you want to fish is often useful. For fishing these farm ponds, top producers include topwater lures that can be worked over the weedbeds. Buzzbaits are productive along with spinnerbaits, depending on the profile of the weed growth. Weedless spoons, like the Jaw Breaker, also work extremely well.



Besides literally thousands of farm ponds full of bass, Iowa offers some reservoir fishing. Because of the distribution of largemouth bass, many of the larger reservoirs have some type of bass population when there is suitable bass habitat. Some of the larger reservoirs are multi-species fisheries perhaps more known for species like catfish, white bass, crappie or even walleye. On these reservoirs, largemouth bass are typically confined to suitable bass habitat.

Red Rock Reservoir, at over 15,250 acres, is one of Iowa's largest. Corallville Reservoir is a 5,280-acre impoundment north of Iowa City that is also noteworthy. Three Mile Lake is an 880-acre impoundment 3 miles northwest of the town of Afton. These reservoirs all have moderate populations of largemouth bass with larger fish present. Saylorville Reservoir, in Polk County, at over 5,950 acres, would be a top pick for numbers of bass with abundant 10- to 18-inch fish. To find bass on these reservoirs, look for structure. Because of fluctuating water levels and turbidity, weed growth on some of these impoundments might be limited to back bays. Any weed growth, flooded timber or channel edges can concentrate bass. Presentations cover the gamut with soft plastics, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jigs all being popular with anglers. Let the structure determine the presentation. For creek channels for example, try working the deep breaks with crankbaits and jigs. For flooded timber, spinnerbaits and jig-and-pig combos are tough to beat. Weeds often call for weedless-rigged soft plastics.

Naig's top pick would be Brushy Creek Reservoir, near Fort Dodge in central Iowa, where anglers can find some nice bass by fishing some traditionally flooded timber patterns. This no wake lake is quietly kicking out some great bass fishing for anglers focusing on the creek channels and steep breaks around flooded timber. Top presentations include slow-rolling spinner-baits through the timber and working Jungle Jig-and-Pigs through the deeper stumps.


The Iowa Great Lakes Region, located in the northwestern corner of the state, is basically a cluster of glacially formed natural lakes that typically have good water visibility and good weed growth. Two of the top lakes for bass in this particular region include Big Sprit Lake and West Okoboji. This water is some of the best in the state for smallmouth bass up to 20 inches. The state-record smallmouth bass of 7 pounds, 12 ounces was caught from West Okoboji Lake in 1990 by Rick Gray from Dickinson. Big Spirit Lake is 5,684 acres and West Okoboji Lake is 3,847 acres. Both of these popular lakes are located in Dickinson County.

Typically, there is a good, established weedbed down to 15-20 feet of water on these lakes and anglers can often sight-fish for the bass until the water warms up in June when algae greens up the water and cuts down visibility. The key details for locating smallmouth bass are finding good rockpiles and rock ledges that serve as ambush points in the weedbeds. The bass feed primarily on both young-of-the-year bluegills and perch. When the primary forage is perch, the fish seem to focus more on cabbage. When bluegills are more abundant, the coontail seems to be more attractive. The bass are never far from their next meal.

Early in the season, bucktail or hair jigs like the Buck A Roo are popular with bass anglers. As the season progresses, 4-inch soft plastic fluke, minnow and tube bodies are effective on an open-hook jig. Seven-inch jig worms are also popular, with anglers using Impulse, YUM, PowerBaits and Trigger X with great success. These lakes also have pike and muskie present so there are situations where bass get pushed into heavy weed cover off the rocks and anglers have to Carolina-rig these same soft plastics.

While these lakes are home to some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in Iowa, these waters are also excellent largemouth bass lakes. These natural lakes are also heavily developed with cabins and lake homes, so a top location for largemouth bass is docks. These lakes are a dock fishermen's dream. There are several lake homes and no shortage of docks, so a shortcut to big bass would be to focus your efforts on wood docks, if possible. According to Naig, wood docks are often the most productive but another tip is to focus on docks with wheels. Flipping Dip-Sticks (a soft-plastic stickbait made by Northland Tackle) and Senkos (Gary Yamamoto) under these docks is a top tactic that busts big bass each season. Where you know there are fish or under prime docks, try letting a wacky-rigged Dip-Stick fall slowly under the dock; this is a high percentage tactic that typically unnerves any bass.

Several guides can be found in this region of Iowa. Jim McDonnell, known as the Fish Professor, can be reached at (712) 260-2688. Ryan Hale operates a guide service and resort and can be reached at (712) 441-5334. Another good pick as a guide in the region is Kevan Paul, (641) 529-2359.


Historically, before the channelization, construction of dams and impact of navigation, the Mississippi River was home to most of the state's smallmouth bass. Smallmouth bass can still be found on this river but the river and habitat have changed. Today, the Mississippi River is quietly growing in reputation as a top largemouth bass fishery. The state of Iowa claims about 300 miles of the Mississippi River as its eastern border. Backwater sloughs and oxbows that have good weed growth and no current offer some pretty impressive fishing for largemouth bass. Because the river has cleared up in recent years, weed growth is also rapidly expanding on the main river channel and largemouth bass are becoming more common on the river itself.

The Missouri River is typically a faster moving and more turbid river, but bass are present. The region from Sioux City downstream to Monona County provides respectable fishing for smallmouth bass when the flows are normal or low. Top locations for smallmouth bass include rock eddies, wing dams and current breaks close to some type of rock structure or riprap. Largemouth bass are also present, particularly in the backwater oxbows and channel stabilization structures.


Bass anglers in Iowa enjoy a wide range of opportunities that really encompass the entire gamut of bass fishing patterns in the Midwest. Weed and vegetation patterns exist on both farm ponds and river backwater areas for largemouth bass, in particular. Traditional flooded-timber options can be found on some of the reservoir and river impoundments. Classic rock structure for smallmouth bass can be targeted in the larger natural lakes of northwest Iowa. There is even pretty respectable wader- or stream-fishing opportunities for basse in the northeast region of the state. A great resource for researching Iowa fishing opportunities is the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Web site,

For a great opportunity to introduce yourself to tournament bass angling in the state of Iowa or just meet other avid bass anglers, find the Iowa Bass Federation online at Students attending the University of Iowa can also join the University of Iowa Bass Fishing Club,

Another great opportunity for finding out presentation and tactical details is to visit local sporting good stores where you can tap into a lot of local knowledge and insight. The communities of Sioux City, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Des Moines and Coralville all have a Scheels Sporting Goods Store where several really knowledgeable anglers work in the fishing pro shops.

The 2012 season should offer bass fanatics plenty of excellent upcoming prospects in the Hawkeye State.

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