Whether you're a casual weekend angler or a hardcore tournament fisherman, here's what 2011 holds in store on Iowa bass waters.
Iowa residents know the secrets existing in our fisheries, and we often keep quiet about it. Whether you are a weekend warrior, dedicated "fun" angler, bank fisherman or a passionate tournament angler, Iowa has your fix. It's a safe bet that you can find quality bass fishing requiring only a short drive from wherever you live.
The Iowa DNR has done a tremendous job managing for a quality bass fishery that will accommodate shore and boat anglers alike. Since a vast majority of our lakes are impoundments, or manmade, there are quality cement boat ramps and substantial numbers of fishing docks, jetties and shorelines, allowing everyone a chance at the excellent bass fishing resource.
Successful tournament angling, regardless of the species, requires dedication, substantial knowledge of the fish and of the body of water they reside in. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are not difficult fish to catch, but to consistently catch a limit of keeper fish is as big of a challenge as you will find anywhere in the fishing world. In the tournament series I compete in, the same eight to ten anglers seem to dominate, which fairly illustrates their abilities on the water.
I am not an advocate of luck, and I'd rather be good than lucky any day. The common thread that makes these guys good is time on the water, a sound understanding of the species and how they relate to the structure that exists in these systems. As each lake differs greatly, the same basic concepts apply, but doing your research and pre-fishing are invaluable tools to loading the boat and cashing a check.
A new tournament series was introduced in Iowa during the 2010 season and is bound to be the most popular bass series in the state. Iowa Premier Bass (IPB) is affiliated with the National Bass Anglers Association (NBAA), which has had a reputation for hosting exciting and competitive events for quite a while, (www.nbaa-bass.com). Scott Steinkritz and Lance Baker initiated the Iowa Premiere Bass series to provide Iowa anglers with larger payouts, better competition, assorted prizes, and a good show at each weigh-in. Both anglers are life-long competitive bass anglers and have a zeal for providing other Iowans with the chance to live their passion for competitive angling. (www.ipbass.com)
"During our first year we decided to take a BIG risk and stay away from the popular fisheries," Steinkritz explained. "We wanted to really challenge our anglers by hitting lakes like Saylorville, Red Rock, and Rathbun. Lets face it, if you can figure out those lakes when the water level is up, you've really done something. Next, we increased our entry fee and payout as much as possible, providing the anglers with as much incentive as possible. We put on a show like no other series; I've been told we're like a mini-Bassmaster event, which is a huge compliment."
"The NBAA provides us with the opportunity to leverage a national fishing association with great sponsors, structure and a fantastic national championship which draws well over 100 boats annually," he continues. "Every IPB/NBAA member is entered in weekly and monthly drawings as a result of our affiliation. We've had guys win rods, reels, batteries, Humminbird units, ATV's and hopefully at the championship one of the eight groups that Iowa is sending will win a new boat and a bunch of cash! There are many more reasons to participate in addition to the quality fishing."
"We are really excited about our 2011 schedule," Steinkritz says. "We're positive anglers will like the schedule because we asked for their input. We start off in April at the legendary Three-Mile Lake. In May, we head to Okoboji in hopes of getting the smallies when they're really fired up. Rathbun in June is going to be perfect where we had big bags brought to the scales last year. July takes us to Icaria, which we feel is turning into a fantastic tournament lake. In August we head to Twelve-Mile, and finally in September we wrap up our series on the Mississippi at Prarie du Chien, Wisconsin. We feel the IPB 2011 schedule is one of the most exciting you will find across the state offering a series with notable lakes that will challenge any angler."
I suggest you consider getting involved with IPB in 2011. They provide challenging venues, great payouts and exciting weigh-ins. What more could you ask for?
With lots of additional options out there, I personally have competed in tournaments with the following organizations and suggest you look into them also. Iowa Bass Stalkers, (www.iowabassstalkers.com), Iowa Bass Anglers, (www.iowabassanglers.com), or you can check for others on www.iabass.com. The great thing is you don't have to fish a series, you can fish open tournaments, or just try a few out with different organizations to find what works best for you! Invest in the resource you have online and conduct searches for tournaments in your area.
As with any sport, it is essential to be as prepared as possible before you take to the water. Nothing is as frustrating as paying over a hundred dollars for a tournament and having equipment failures while in the midst of competition that could cost you a quality finish. While you are preparing the boat for this season, here are a few things to look at prior to checking in at your first tournament:
Livewells -- If you can't keep your fish alive, there is no sense in even fishing bass tournaments. On top of that, it is your duty to keep the fish you are going to weight-in as healthy as possible. Keeping fresh water and oxygen on your fish is crucial, therefore a recirculator is critical. Conservation is essential to the future of the fishery.
Scale -- If you already have your limit and you are in the process of culling, visually determining which fish is larger when they are very close in size is a difficult task. I have seen tournaments won by mere ounces, so it is imperative to have your boat filled up with the largest fish possible.
Net -- This goes without saying, but a quality net that allows you or your partner to quickly scoop up a keeper bass can be the difference between him making it into your boat or not. Keep it on the ready because if you get into a school of feeding fish, the action can be fast and loading the boat can happen quickly.
Tools/Tackle -- Even if you are well prepared and your boat is in fine working order, things can occasionally go wrong. If they are mild, usually they can be mended on the water in short
order, especially if you have the necessary tools. Having an adequate collection of tackle is important so you can cover several presentations under numerous water and weather conditions.
Weigh Bags -- It is essential to get your fish weighed and released as quickly as possible, especially if it is hot. Having an interior mesh bag and an exterior water-holding bag on hand will make the process much quicker and less stressful on the fish.
Safety -- This goes without saying, but be sure your boat is rigged with all the correct safety equipment such as a fire extinguisher, life vests, a throwable cushion and a noisemaker like an air horn or whistle. Most tournaments begin at safe light, therefore requiring the use of navigation lights. Be sure all this stuff is working effectively; it's the law.
Courtesy -- Remember to respect your fellow competitors. Many of the lakes in Iowa are not that big and when you get 30-50 boats on the lake, things tend to get congested. That is the nature of the beast in this game, so keeping a polite distance when fishing near other anglers is the appropriate way to play. Most organizations and clubs have this issue outlined in their rules, but I think keeping a 75-100 yard distance is a good rule of thumb. Remember they paid as much as you did to fish.
Regardless of where you choose to fish, the time you put in during practice, or what is often referred to as pre-fishing, will make the difference in how you finish. Luck rarely plays a role in consistent anglers' gameplans, so knowing the lake and how the fish relate to the structure is vital to the outcome of your day on the water. When practicing, I suggest not overfishing a particular stretch of water or structural element, as that could have a negative impact on how those fish respond come tournament day.
One of the premier competitive bass angling destinations in the Midwest is on Pools 9 and 10 of the Mississippi River, more specifically out of the Lansing launch. This is one of the finest bass fisheries you will find, and bags over 20 pounds are not an uncommon occurrence. Both largemouth and smallmouth can be caught here. Spend your time working the obvious structure on the main channel, but don't overlook the emergent vegetation that exists in the backwaters. Many of the traditional presentations will work here. There are tournaments nearly every weekend of the fishing season on this stretch of river and it typically takes a limit of good fish to do well here.
This 574-acre lake in Van Buren County is one of southeast Iowa's jewels. Much of this lake is flooded timber offering some of the best bass fishing habitat you will find. There is an 18-inch length limit on largemouth, making the average size substantial. Gizzard shad have been illegally introduced and talks are under way as to how to address the issue.
Lake Belva Deer
This 260-acre impoundment is located in Keokuk County, three miles northeast of Sigourney. This newer lake (2001) is really coming into its own and bass anglers are finding this out. Look for more tournaments to be scheduled on this lake in upcoming years.
This 187-acre lake is not the largest, but it is known for healthy bass in abundant numbers, and heavy bags being weighed in. Geode is located in Henry County, about 4 miles south of Danville.
This 812-acre lake is located just outside of Solon, in Johnson County. There is a 10-hp motor restriction beginning May 21 and ending September 7, but before and after those dates tournaments often take place and provide anglers with ample opportunities for quality-sized bass. Kentucky spotted bass have also been stocked here, which is the only location in Iowa where spots are available.
Located in Union County just north of Afton, this 880-acre lake is one of the finest largemouth bass producers in Iowa. Fish up to 8 pounds are regularly reported and bags of over 25 pounds are a good possibility! This is a very competitive tournament bass lake and will challenge any angler.
This 635-acre lake is located in Union County, just east of Creston, and is shaping up to be as competitive as its neighbor, Three-Mile. This lake was recently renovated, and a strong year-class is coming on. Twenty-pound bags are not uncommon.
This 670-acre impoundment is often overlooked, but recent tournaments have shown what is possible. Icaria is located in Adams County, just north of Corning. Fifteen- to sixteen- pound bags are likely.
East and West Okoboji
This series of lakes in Dickinson County is known for being a tremendous fishery for both smallies and largemouth. There are tournaments on these lakes every weekend, but the savvy anglers can and do put together bags over 20 pounds. In fact, 20-pound bags of smallies are not uncommon!
Brushy Creek Lake
Located in Webster County, about 15 minutes southeast of Fort Dodge, is an extremely popular bass lake, and for good reason. Brushy Creek sees tournaments every week and has been known to put out bags over 20 pounds. During the 2010 season, several fish exceeding 7 pounds were produced during tournaments. Flooded timber is the primary structure on this deep-water lake, but quality bass are numerous.
Tournament fishing is not for everyone, but if you have a competitive itch that needs scratched and you think your bass angling skills can measure up, I suggest getting involved with an organization and begining your competitive fishing career. There is just something about smelling the lake mixed with outboard exhaust in the predawn darkness of an Iowa summer morning that can't be compared to much else in the outdoors. There is no better way to better yourself as an angler than to put your abilities to the test.
The camaraderie that exists at these events overshadows the competition, and there are always opportunities to learn from veteran anglers, which will make you a better fisherman. As you are respooling reels and prepping the boat for your first outing of the season, ask yourself if you have what it takes to be considered one of the best bass angler around. You have to start somewhere.