October 04, 2010
With these 36 first-rate fishing alternatives -- three for each month -- you have no excuse for missing out on Iowa's angling action this year. Here's your guide to a year of fantastic fishing!
In Iowa this year, the angling mantra may sound something like, "You want it? We got it!"
Big Spirit Lake, the Missouri River and Iowa's eastern streams like the Maquoketa and Turkey rivers are expected to attract plenty of attention from smallmouth bass enthusiasts this year.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
And that's not without reason. Whether anglers prefer quantities of fish (bullheads filling 5-gallon buckets) or trophy-caliber catches (50-pound muskies), the opportunities abound in Iowa this year.
Here's an overview of the fishing options and opportunities awaiting Iowa's anglers in 2010.
Yellow Perch, Big Spirit Lake
Yellow perch populations are cyclical at Big Spirit Lake, but the current cycle is a barnburner. Creel reports from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources indicate the harvest in 2008 was the second highest since 1958. IDNR fisheries management biologist Mike Hawkins predicted a "phenomenal" population of keeper-sized yellow perch in Big Spirit Lake this winter.
"It's always risky to make predictions in print," said Hawkins, "but based on angler reports and our netting surveys from last summer, ice-fishing for perch this winter could be the best we've ever seen up here."
Saugeyes, Coralville Dam Spillway
A midwinter run by saugeyes is a tradition in the spillway below Coralville Dam. In recent years, the bite has been excellent. Weather isn't as important as outflow through the dam. Bites are hottest when spillway releases have been consistent or slightly increasing.
Trout, Banner Lakes
Put-and-take stocking of trout in selected lakes around Iowa provides trout-fishing opportunities otherwise unavailable to anglers in western, central and north-central Iowa. Trout have been stocked for several winters at Banner Lakes in Summerset Park, off Highway 69 between Des Moines and Indianola. Other put-and-take trout fisheries include Lake Petoka near Bondurant, Blue Pit at Mason City, West Lake and Lake Sauganash at Council Bluffs, Lake of the Hills near Davenport, Heritage Pond near Dubuque, and Bacon Creek Lake at Sioux City.
Walleyes, Mississippi River
Timing and bait presentation are essential to catch walleyes from open water below dams on the Mississippi River in February; insanity is optional but beneficial. Conditions are brutal, but the potential for limits of 4- to 10-pound walleyes encourages anglers to do crazy things. Walleyes will make similar runs below large dams on interior river dams at Saylorville and Red Rock.
Northern Pike, Northern Natural Lakes
Ice-fishing for panfish can slow a bit during midwinter, but tip-up fishing for pike in our northern natural lakes actually seems to improve. Small lakes connected to the Iowa Great Lakes can provide impressive pike for patient anglers who dangle large chubs beneath tip-ups.
Crappies, Lake Anita
Lake Anita was renovated several years ago and rebounded with strong populations of panfish and especially crappies. The lake is famous for water clarity, so figure on fishing deeper than normal if ice is clear, the sun is bright or fish are spooky. Or try dropping a line at night.
Yellow Perch, Big Spirit Lake
We'll send you back to Big Spirit Lake for the second time this winter, simply because the potential to catch a limit of yellow perch (daily possession limit is 25) is so great. John Grosvenor, a professional fishing guide at the Iowa Great Lakes (712-330-5815, email@example.com), notes that the perch bite moves south on the big lake as winter progresses.
"They start (the ice-fishing season) toward the north end, then by midwinter they're in the main basin," said Grosvenor. "The best late-winter fishing always seems to be toward the south end."
Channel Catfish, Lake Black Hawk
Ice-out provides a brief bonanza for channel catfish anglers. Southerly winds blow winter-killed baitfish into south-facing bays; channel cats move in to gorge; savvy anglers take advantage of the opportunity. Timing is critical. The best times are the first week after ice-out, in water as shallow as 2 feet along the rim of south-facing bays.
Largemouth Bass, Southern Farm Ponds
Biologists aren't sure why some of the largest bass in ponds move to south-facing, mud-bottomed areas of farm ponds on sunny afternoons soon after ice-out. Maybe they're simply sunbathing against the dark background after a cold winter. Whatever the reason, anglers who stalk quietly along shorelines of ponds can often cross paths with big bass long before traditional "bass weather" arrives.
Walleyes, Interior Rivers
There is often a window of opportunity after ice-out but before spring rains begin, when the Des Moines, Raccoon, Iowa and Cedar rivers flow relatively clear and steady. If consistent river flows coincide with spawn-related movements on these rivers, walleye fishing can be tremendous. An ongoing program of stocking interior rivers with fingerlings has created a substantial population of walleyes that cluster below low-head dams this time of year. Most fish are in the 2- to 3-pound range, but netting and creel surveys show significant numbers of 'eyes that range from 5 to even 10 pounds.
Trout, Northeast Trout Streams
The IDNR's trout stocking program begins in early April. Most trout streams in northeast Iowa get regular stockings of trout until early fall, providing consistent fishing.
Bullheads, Southern Reservoirs
Bullheads are present in many reservoirs in southern Iowa and go on a feeding spree as waters warm. Twelve Mile Lake and Lake Icaria produced lots of fat 9-inch and larger bullheads in 2009; that year-class will be back and hungry this spring.
Crappies, Lake Rathbun
Crappie fishing at Iowa's traditional crappie capital, Lake Rathbun, suffered from high water levels and poor water quality last spring. The crappies that weren't caught last year will be back, a year larger, and accompanied by another fast-growing year-class.
Lake McBride was renovated several years ago and as a result developed a strong crappie fishery. Anglers have learned to focus on shallow brushpiles during the spawn. If water levels at nearby Coralville Reservoir are within reason, don't overlook the rocky shelves in that flood control reservoir's lower reaches during the spawn and even later in
the year.Yellow Bass, Clear Lake
Yellow bass fishing at Clear Lake has been outstanding in recent years. The cycle must eventually wane, but 2010 may still see strong catches of exceptionally large yellow bass from that lake. Look for them around the island on Clear Lake's south shore.
Largemouth Bass, West Lake Osceola
"West Lake" has for years been one of our state's most consistent bass lakes. During the spawn, anglers find success fishing in flooded or submerged timber that is the result of an increase in the lake's pool depth more than 10 years ago. Many of the trees that stood along the former shallower shoreline have fallen into the water and aren't visible to anglers -- but the bass know where they are and use them heavily.
Smallmouth Bass, Big Spirit Lake
Look for 4-pound and larger smallies over the rocks at Big Stoney and Cottonwood Points on Big Spirit Lake. Concerns that fishing over smallmouth spawning beds could harm smallmouth numbers are minimized by fisheries biologist Mike Hawkins. "We understand the concern," said Hawkins, "but our research shows the potential for (smallmouth) reproduction far exceeds (damage caused by fishing over spawning beds) at this time."
Dark-colored hair jigs are local favorites. Drop-shot rigs with tube jigs can be deadly when fished over the edges of rockpiles or along submerged weedbeds. If you find a small rockpile surrounded by weeds, you've found smallmouth nirvana.
Flathead Catfish, Interior Rivers
Flatheads spawn when water temperatures warm in late June. They're cavity spawners, so riprapped shorelines, root balls in logjams and beaver dens are prime locations to find concentrations of these normally solitary top dogs of Iowa's rivers. Anglers searching for larger flatheads need to envision habitat with cavities large enough to accommodate fish 4 feet long and up to 2 feet wide at their pectoral fins.
Crappies, Mississippi Backwaters
The secret to crappies in backwaters is "shallow." Three feet is deep in many backwaters. Look for brushy cover or weeds to hold crappies up to 13 inches.
Channel Catfish, Gray's Lake
It's tough to beat the channel catfishing opportunities of Iowa's rivers, but many small lakes in the state are up to the challenge. IDNR fisheries biologist Ben Dodd points to Gray's Lake near downtown Des Moines as an example. "That lake has the most catfish we've seen in our surveys," he said.
Largemouth Bass, Farm Ponds
Farm ponds rimmed with thick mats of emergent water vegetation are the best places to catch nonstop bucketmouths -- if you use the right approach. A belly boat, inflatable kick boat or lightweight kayak allows anglers to fish the inside edges of weedlines and tangle with bass lurking beneath the floating salad.
Yellow Bass, East Lake Okoboji
Yellow bass are making a big impact at East Lake Okoboji. During the heat of summer, target yellow bass by drifting dropoffs and flats, but be sure to check areas with lots of boat docks. Yellow bass will be among the piers feeding on baitfish and small invertebrates. Yellows average 3/4 pound and top out at 1 pound but provide scrappy fights and excellent table fare.
Smallmouth Bass, Missouri River
Thanks to upstream dams, the Missouri River below Sioux City flows relatively clear. And thanks to smallmouth bass stocked in those reservoirs, an impressive smallmouth fishery has developed in the Missouri River below those dams. "In electro-fishing surveys we conducted in 2007 on the Missouri River near Sioux City, we rolled up as many as 156 smallmouths per hour," said Van Sterner, an Iowa DNR biologist.
Once river flows stabilize in late summer, local anglers find the riprap-armored outside shoreline of major bends to be prime smallmouth habitat.
White Bass, Lake Red Rock
If water levels and weather patterns are consistent, white bass often go on feeding sprees in Iowa's largest lake. Schools of whites follow gizzard shad around the lake, so the bite moves frequently but is most often in the main basin, and often associated with a major hump between the marina and the dam.
Carp, Any River Or Lake
European anglers who consider carp a trophy species now fly to the United States and pay big money to fish with guides for the chance to catch a 10- or 20-pound carp. To experience "world-class" fishing right here in Iowa, use sweet corn or dough baits in the shallows of any river or lake in Iowa during August.
"Based on angler reports and our netting surveys from last summer, ice-fishing for perch this winter could be the best we've ever seen (on Big Spirit Lake)." --IDNR biologist Mike Hawkins
Blue Catfish, Missouri River
Changes in commercial fishing regulations have allowed a trophy-caliber population of blue catfish to develop in the Missouri River, from Onawa down into Missouri. The first cool weather of fall prompts blues to go on the feed. Use live bait or fresh cut bait to take blues from the tips of wing dams or deep holes where currents are strong. Use heavy tackle -- blues larger than 50 pounds are becoming increasingly common.
Muskellunge, Big Spirit Lake
Muskies are another predator species that responds hungrily to cooler weather. IDNR survey workers report that there is "more than one" muskie in Big Spirit Lake that would easily top the current state record of 50 pounds, 2 ounces.
Smallmouth Bass, Northeast Rivers
The Yellow River, Upper Iowa River, Wapsipinicon River, the Maquoketa River -- visit any river in northeast Iowa, find a rock bar or rocky shoreline, and you'll find smallmouths in September.
Crappies, Southern Reservoirs
The majority of anglers give up on fishing after October. The minority that stays on the water through early October knows that crappies congregate on flats adjacent to dropoffs, in 10 to 15 feet of water and feed aggressively. Once located, the schools stay in those locations for days at a time, providing what many consider the best crappie fishing of the year.
Walleyes, North Raccoon River
The North Raccoon and other rivers tend to be clear and shallow in October. Anglers who locate holes adjacent to rock bars or rocky shorelines have a good chance of hooking 2- to 4-pound walleyes, with potential for walleyes up to 10 pounds.
Wiper Bass, Des Moines River
Cool October mornings find wipers up to 15 pounds slashing and crashing through the white water of the Saylorville Dam spillway, feeding on baitfish.
Trout, Northeast Trout Streams
Weekly stockings are finished for the year, but there are plenty of left-over trout available throughout fall and winter in our trout streams. Late insect hatches still provide fly-casters opportunity to practice their passion. Otherwise, spinning tackle rigged with live bait, spinners or jigs will fill a creel with fresh trout.
Panfish, Mississippi Backwaters
Studies of crappies and bluegills in the Mississippi River system in eastern Iowa show that while panfish are spread throughout myriad backwaters through spring and summer, in late fall they migrate to the deepest backwaters they can find. Dredged backwaters like Brown's Slough are prime places to catch the final open-water panfish of the year.
Walleyes, Twelve Mile Lake
Lake walleyes tend to move to specific areas of deeper water as winter approaches. Experts say the bridge cuts through submerged roadbeds and deeper water behind any farm ponds that were submerged when the lake filled are prime places to look.
Panfish, Mississippi Backwaters
Anglers who identified deep or dredged backwaters that held panfish before freeze-up can capitalize on that knowledge as soon as safe ice forms. The hottest ice-fishing of the year is often immediately after freeze-up.
Yellow Perch, Big Spirit Lake
The year-class of perch that has fueled so much excitement over the past year will continue to keep anglers drilling holes in Big Spirit Lake this winter. The numbers of jumbo perch may drop slightly as that year-class begins to fade, but size should make up for any decrease in numbers.
Trout, Put-And-Take Ponds
The IDNR will stock its put-and-take trout ponds around Thanksgiving, and may top off those populations around Christmastime to ensure plenty of fish for eager anglers.