They're out there — and they're hungry. Here's where you can find the best fishing that the Hawkeye State has to offer in 2008. (February 2008).
Fine fishing can be found throughout the Hawkeye State. We've listed the top prospects for the entire year and where you can find them!
We all have our favorite hotspots where the bite's been good in the past. Sometimes our favorite waters produce a lot of good fishing over the years; sometimes our stringers show that we've been spending too much time fishing down memory lane. Keeping on top of the upswings and falloffs in fish populations takes a little homework and a willingness to change fishing holes once in a while.
Here's a look at Hawkeye waters in which the fishing should be good this year.
The yellow perch fishing can be fantastic through the ice at Spirit Lake. The perch can be tough to locate because they'll move around the lake's 5,684 acres, but when you find them, you'll be on top of the action.
Use a fish finder to look for schools of perch. You may have to drill several holes and keep moving, but make sure to check the holes you've already made. When you locate a school of perch, drop a wax worm, red worm or a small minnow.
The pockets of slightly deeper water near the Big Stoney Point west of the public boat launch off state Route 327 and straight off Buffalo Run on state Route 276 on the west side of the lake can be productive.
Public access sites are off Route 327 near Big Stoney Point, the Miniwashta State Park on the north side of the lake, near Marble Beach on the west side and the Orleans Beach area off Route 276 to the south.
For more information, contact the Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery at (712) 336-1840.
West Okoboji Lake
West Okoboji is an ice-fisherman's dream come true. Bluegills grow large, and there are a lot of them.
The Miller's, Emerson, North and Smith's bays all are good places to start plying the depths with larval baits, small ice flies and tiny minnows under a float.
Bluegills easily measure up to 8 inches, and many of them top 9 or 10 inches. These bigger fish will probably be deeper than their smaller cousins, so if you're finding little bluegills, try fishing a little deeper.
Green vegetation keeps on producing oxygenated water throughout the winter months and that's where you'll find the fish.
West Okoboji provides some nice ice-fishing opportunities for crappies, walleyes, yellow perch and northern pike as well.
West Okoboji Lake covers 3,847 acres. Access is from the public ramps located off Emerson Road on the northwest corner of the lake and off War Eagle Road on the east side.
For more information, contact the Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery at (712) 336-1840.
Largemouth anglers will go home with a smile from this early spring hotspot.
Lake Ahquabi bass are big. The 18-inch minimum-length limit ensures they're staying in the lake, and many of the fish are pushing that size. The bonus bass are the 20-inch-plus fish.
Anglers are aware of the lake's excellent largemouth bass prospects and regularly ply the water with an arsenal of artificial baits. IDNR studies have shown that at times the lake receives between 130 and 150 angler hours per acre of fishing pressure, which is heavy.
The bass are educated as a result of the pressure and may pass up the standard offerings. Lake Ahquabi is one of those spots where it pays to experiment. Try dancing a floating crankbait along the surface. The action is entirely different from what the bass have seen before.
Most of the structure consists of fishing jetties, rock reefs and rocks that border the shoreline.
The lake covers 108 acres with shoreline access all around it. A boat can be used but it isn't necessary.
Additional information is available by calling the IDNR's southeast management region at (563) 263-5062.
Three Mile Lake
This lake is known for walleyes and largemouth bass, as well as its developing muskie fishery. It's the muskies that rule the lake and are quickly gaining popularity.
Fishing the structure is key. Muskies are ambush hunters and will stay concealed alongside structure until a hapless creature ventures too close.
The lake is loaded with weed edges, fallen timber, earth mounds that were constructed as fish structure and shoreline features including submerged vegetation.
Three Mile Lake has a decent number of fish from 35 inches all the way up to 45 inches. Tempt these fish with 7-inch minnow lures, large spoons, big in-line spinners and the largest soft-plastic lures that you can find on a half-ounce jighead.
The 880-acre lake lies three miles north of Afton in Union County. Contact the IDNR's Mt. Ayr fish management station at (641) 464-3108 for more information.
Crappies, Prairie Rose Lake
Crappie populations are cyclical and Prairie Rose is on the upswing, both for numbers and sizes of papermouths. The lake should be very productive with lots of larger fish. Two years ago, an IDNR survey showed good numbers of fish from 7 to 8 inches, and they're likely to be a lot longer than that in 2008.
Prairie Rose crappies usually spawn in May, and this is the best time to target them. The fish will be shallow and relating to vertical woody or plant cover. Once the spawn is over, they'll disperse into deeper water.
Use the smallest jigs you can find. Hair, feather or plain jigs tipped with a small minnow are deadly on these fish. Riprap or other shoreline cover attracts spawners around the lake but espe
cially in the bays. Move down the lake to deeper dropoffs as spring progresses.
Part of Prairie Rose State Park, Prairie Rose covers 204 acres in Shelby County. For more information, contact the Prairie Rose State Park at (712) 773-2701.
Bullheads, North Twin Lake
Bullheads are often overlooked as a game fish but can be as tasty as a channel cat when they're properly cooked. Some anglers have discovered the excellent fishing on North Twin Lake, but the water is still underexploited.
Lots of 1-pounders swim North Twin Lake, and they're easy to catch. Shoreline fishing with an earthworm on the bottom is as easy as it gets, though anglers can get fancier if they like.
Cut bait, shrimp, stink baits and just about anything else edible will be picked up and swallowed faster than you can set the hook. Chicken livers, night crawlers and insects weighted to lay on the lake bottom are all go-getters when it comes to big bulls, and the supply of these fish never seems to run out. Most of the fish end up with the hook in their throats, so it's a good idea to have a hook disgorger.
Try the shallow shoreline on the northern half of the lake. The bullheads are nocturnal, so arrive just before nightfall to cash in on the action.
North Twin Lake covers 453 acres in Calhoun County four miles north of Rockwell City. For more information, contact the Twin Lakes State Park at (712) 657-8712.
Badger Creek Lake
Badger Creek Lake has some of the biggest channel cats found anywhere in the Hawkeye State. Fish up to 30 inches have been taken that weigh between 12 and 14 pounds. It's true that smaller fish dominate the lake, and they're just the right size for the table.
Midsummer anglers will do well on the point near the cove that is close to the bridge. This area is the route channel cats take to the shallow flats to feed in the evening. After dark, move up onto the flats with stink baits, chicken livers, cut fish and shrimp to tag a few cats as they roam in search of food.
One trick involves setting a scent trail. Lob the bait as far from the shoreline as you can and then instead of letting it sit in one place, reel it in several yards, let it sit for 15 minutes and then reel it in some more.
The upper end of the lake is productive through the early summer. During the daytime, try drifting across the deeper holes.
The 270-acre lake, a short distance from Des Moines, lies five miles southeast of Van Meter in Madison County. For more info, contact the IDNR's Mt. Ayr fish management office at (641) 464-3108.
Des Moines River
The Des Moines River is one of Iowa's better overall fisheries, and its endless supply of big flatheads is no exception. Fishermen can tangle with a big cat just about anywhere in the river, especially near the low-head dams near Red Rock and the series of dams in Des Moines upriver to Fort Dodge.
Look for them to be buried in the thickest tangle of fallen trees and logjams that you can find. In moving water, dissolved oxygen and thermoclines aren't an issue, which means you can find these fish at any depth.
Downtown Des Moines is an under-fished section of the river offering ideal riverine habitat. Where there is sidewalk bordering the river near the ballpark the water has washed soil out from underneath the concrete.
Fish approaching 50 pounds are rare, but anglers occasionally catch them.
A big, lightly hooked chub under a float or kept in the flow with an egg sinker is the best bait you can use on the Des Moines.
The West Fork of the Des Moines as far north as Palo Alto and Emmet counties and down through Humboldt and Pocahontas counties is good fishing. Contact Casey's Bait & Tackle at (515) 262-2760 for more information.
Saylorville can be an excellent bucketmouth lake, but it does become challenging when the water levels are fluctuating.
The lake undergoes drastic flooding and drawdowns that keep submerged vegetation from becoming established. The bass relate to rock structure, dropoffs, points and rock piles rather than weeds, so it's definitely not a traditional bass lake. At times it takes a little imagination and experimentation to find the fish.
Cast to the rocks and retrieve away from the shoreline when the bass are up along it. Anglers in the know can also find largemouths weighing up to 6 pounds on the inside edges of the two large breakwater jetties, especially near the Cherry Glen access. Riprap, ledges and points can all produce autumn bass. During high-water periods the face of the dam can be a great spot. The breakwaters are good spots to try if the other areas aren't yielding fish.
Saylorville Lake covers 5,400 acres north of Des Moines. For additional information, contact the IDNR's Boone fish management station at (515) 432-2823.
Fall fishing for river smallies is a thrill. It's not cold enough to shut things down, and the bass are trying to put on weight before winter sets in.
There are several year-classes available in the Turkey River with some nice fish available for the taking. Bass can be several pounds, but smaller fish are the norm.
Cast small in-line spinners with light line along rocks, wood and other cover. Cast upstream and then bring the bait back to you on the current for the most natural approach. These fish can be skittish.
Decent numbers of fish can be found south of Cresco in Howard County in the Vernon Springs Park area to the Howard-Winneshiek county line. Once the river crosses into Winneshiek County the bottom becomes sandy and the number of bass drops off. The river changes back to a gravel bottom between Fort Atkinson and Elgin and bass numbers are much better. The bottom becomes sandy once again up until the low-head dam at Elkader, and that's where the action picks up again.
Contact the Decorah fish management office, (563) 382-8324, for more information.
Black Hawk Lake
Many walleye anglers hang up the fishing pole long before the weather cools down in the late fall. What they don't know is that walleyes will keep right on feeding heavily when the water temperatures dip down into the 40s.
Walleyes prefer larger baits in the fall. Among the reasons are that young-of-year prey fish are larger, female walleyes are producing most of their eggs and the fish are bulking up for the winter.
On warm, sunny days, the walleyes will move up into the warmer water near the top of the water column. Try larger baits like Reef Runners and Rapalas in less than 10 feet of water.
The fish will measure up to 22 inches, and there are a lot of them. Black Hawk walleyes have one of the fastest growth rates in the state.
Black Hawk Lake covers 987 acres. The lake is located on the east edge of Lake View in Sac County. For additional information contact the Black Hawk fish management station at (712) 657-2638.
Belva Deer Lake
Belva Deer Lake is relatively new on the ice-fishing scene and is a gangbuster place to go. The lake covers 264 acres in southeastern Iowa near Sigourney and is loaded with bluegills.
The lake is going through the boom phase that new impoundments experience. The water still has plenty of flooded structure and is fertile enough to support a healthy food chain, all of which benefits the 'gills. Fish in the 7- to 9-inch range are common and some 10-inchers have been taken.
Crappies and redear sunfish are also making a good showing, and there's no reason for anglers not to catch a few. These fish will be right in along with the bluegills and can be taken on small minnows. Larval baits typically are better for the bluegills.
The lake bottom includes a lot of old roadways, standing trees, earth mounds and trenches to enhance fish habitat in the western section of the lake. Depths average 12 feet with a maximum of 34 feet.
Access is from the Keokuk County Conservation Board's eight miles of shoreline. Contact the Lake Darling fish management station for more information at (319) 694-2430.
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