Inside Iowa's Bullring

Inside Iowa's Bullring

Fancy yourself a picador? Then hit the water on one of Iowa's premier bluegill lakes this month and pick a fight with a waterborne bull! (May 2010)

I'd like to take a moment and encourage all anglers to invest in the next generation. With lots of cool gaming systems available, endless television options and virtual communications at our children's fingertips, it can be quite a task getting today's kids outdoors. The future of our passions rests in their hands, and it is our responsibility to encourage and teach them the quality ethics and skills needed to be successful in Iowa's great outdoors; their children are depending on that.

Big bull 'gills with substantial shoulders are possible on a number of Iowa waters this spring.
Photo by Thomas Allen.

In 2008, a daily limit was placed on bluegills, pumpkinseeds and crappies, allowing Iowa anglers to take home a liberal 25 fish per species, per day, on most public waters. The ruling was implemented on Jan. 21, 2009, and is statewide. However, the bag limit does not apply to private waters, and there is no possession limit.

In over-populated water, bluegills tend to get stunted and rarely exceed 5 to 6 inches. The best way to reduce those populations is through lake renovation or harvest, but it is nearly impossible to catch enough fish to impact the population. Catch and keep what you intend to eat, and release the rest to be caught another day.

Iowa Great Lakes fishing guide John Grosvenor with JTG Expeditions (, 712-330-5815) says fishing a little deeper from where you are catching the bulk of the 5- to 7-inch fish will produce better results for the bigger fish.

"All across the Midwest, May is the peak month for the bluegill spawn," he said. "Look for hard-bottomed areas on your particular body of water, and keep an eye out for spawning beds, as they will be clumped together, generally in large numbers. Back off from those areas a few feet in the deeper water and the larger 'bulls' will often be found close by."

"As with most species of freshwater game fish, larger presentations often produce larger fish, (and) this is absolutely the case with big bluegills," Grosvenor explained.

"There are times when the fish will dictate the presentation. Sometimes a large leech is just not appealing," Grosvenor continued. "I also prefer to put four to five maggots on smaller ice-fishing jigs. Keep the bait tight to the hook so the fish has to consume the entire presentation, thus upping your hooking percentage."

"Artificials are becoming a popular presentation among avid 'gill anglers as well. I prefer Berkley Power Spikes on an ice jig. They are durable and the fish really prefer this bait," he said. "It takes light tackle to adequately fish these baits, but they can be very effective."

Grosvenor says to pay attention to the weather, as an impending front can really put the fish on an aggressive feed, and almost any approach will produce results.

"Stay mobile," he continued. "If you are not having action within a couple minutes, move on. During the spawn, the fish are very aggressive, as they are protecting their beds but still have a need to feed. If the fish have moved off their beds or are deeper, vertical jigging can be a tremendous tactic to employ."

The Okoboji chain of lakes in Dickinson County located in northwest Iowa consists of West and East Okoboji, Big Spirit and Upper Gar lakes. This is, without doubt, the best bluegill fishery in the state. To book a trip with Grosvenor, visit www.

Southwest District Fisheries Supervisor Chris Larson said to keep in mind that water clarity plays a role in where these fish will spawn. In dirty water, they tend to spawn in 3 to 5 feet of water. If the water is clearer, the beds will be deeper.

Larson said Twelve Mile Lake located in Union County near Creston might be the best bluegill fishery in Southwest Iowa. It recovered very well after a 2006 renovation and is a top destination for many of Iowa's anglers. Newly constructed sunken humps and gravel spawning beds offer excellent opportunities.

Lake of Three Fires near Bedford in Taylor County is 93 acres and has a substantial population of sizeable bull 'gills. The southeast corner of the dam has produced excellent bluegill fishing the past few years, as have the pea gravel spawning areas.

Lake Anita sits in Cass County near Anita and is 182 acres. After a renovation in 2003, it was slow to get started but has come on nicely the last couple years, and larger 'gills are abundant. Focus on the underwater rock reefs and old road beds that traverse the lake bottom.

Big Creek Lake just outside of Polk City in Polk County is 883 acres and has a quality population of "eater-size" bluegills. Focus on main-lake points and the shallow bays that have vegetation and standing timber.

Mark Flammang, fisheries management biologist with the Iowa DNR at the Rathbun Hatchery, said to look for lakes with steep banks and adequate vegetation.

"When we renovate or start a new lake, we generally implement 500 bluegills to the acre," he explained. "We have found that in order to produce better numbers of the larger 8- to 10-inch fish, we don't need to stock that many. We just renovated Lake Wapello in Davis County, and this is a place where we are managing for a larger average of bluegills; two years from now, this lake will be a definite destination for 'gill anglers."

Flammang also recommended Red Haw Lake in Lucas County, which is 64 acres and located near Chariton. Red Haw was renovated in 2002 and is coming on strong after a slow start. It is producing 8 1/2- to 9-inch fish on a regular basis.

Lacey Keosauqua Lake just outside of Keosauqua in Van Buren County is only 22 acres but has the steep sides that Flammang focuses on.

Belva Deer Lake is located in Keokuk County, just northeast of Sigourney. This is a relatively new lake that comprises 260 acres of outstanding bluegill fishing. Flammang suggests you focus on the standing timber and the riprap that exists here.

If passing on your passion to a younger person is your objective, or you are just looking for an enjoyable day of spring fishing, Iowa's abundant 'gills will provide the excitement for which you are looking. If you have an opportunity, take a child with you and educate them on proper techniques, but above all else, show them a good time. They are our future!

Get Your Fish On.

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