Iowa's Urban Trout Options

Iowa's Urban Trout Options

Scattered around the state, the Hawkeye State's urban trout fisheries afford anglers a shot at a species that otherwise would require a trip to northeast Iowa.

Iowa's urban trout fisheries are considered "three-season fisheries" because warm summer water cannot support trout. Stockings throughout the rest of the year ensure a healthy winter fishery.
Photo courtesy of Michael Skinner

Dale Gooding of West Des Moines thinks urban when he thinks trout fishing in Iowa.

"I only have a few hours in any given day to fish," he said. "With urban trout fishing, I can get up in the morning, go fishing and be back at home before anyone knows I'm gone."

Gooding, a member of Central Iowa Anglers, likes the fight trout put up, and he likes the taste of what he calls a "mild" fish. Gooding usually heads to the pond on the campus at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny or Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park between Des Moines and Indianola. This year, he's had to make a slight change to his plans, however, because of a lake improvement project that started at the DMACC pond late last fall when the water level was lowered.

Last fall and this winter, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been stocking trout at Lake Petoka, along U.S. Highway 65 in Bondurant. There will be one more stocking at Lake Petoka this spring. This fall, in October, the trout stocking and fishing will return to the DMACC pond.

Gooding fishes most of the three-season urban trout fishery from the first stocking in October to the last of two or three stockings done anywhere from February through May. He quits fishing for trout when the water warms up as late spring temperatures rise. By that time, most of the trout have been caught anyway, he said.

The fisheries are called "three-season" because the water warms up too much to support trout during the summer, so no stockings are done in the urban ponds and lakes at that time. In northeast Iowa, there are some trout that reproduce naturally, but the fishery is maintained by stockings done by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources year 'round in spring-fed coldwater streams that can sustain trout throughout the summer.

This time of year, Gooding is out on the two water bodies fishing for trout through the ice — if it's thick enough — and waiting for the final trout stocking in the spring.

This time of year, Gooding is fishing for trout through the ice, if it's thick enough, and waiting for the final trout stocking in the spring.

So is David Merical of Ankeny, also a member of Central Iowa Anglers and a friend of Gooding's.

"These urban trout fisheries add a species to my fishing that I would otherwise have to go to northeast Iowa or out of state to fish," Merical said. "It's nice to have that option."

He believes anyone who likes to ice-fish or trout fish should give the urban trout fisheries a try. And while the ice isn't always cooperative in Iowa, there's always the spring stocking, and the fishing can be pretty good right after ice-out, he added.

He has noticed trout like to run along the shore. He'll use a Reef Runner Cicada, which is a blade lure. He just drops it down through the ice hole and shakes the rod a little. Other baits he uses include a jigging lure called the Swedish Pimple, ice jigs and spoons for flash and movement.

"Berkley PowerBait is good to use. You just put it on your hook, drop it in and move it up and down in the water," he said. "In-line spinners, like a Mepps, are good."

The fishing is pretty busy on stocking day, then tapers down as the days and weeks go on. However, Gooding said, trout can be caught throughout the fall, winter and spring. The difference in fishing more than a week after the stocking is that he'll catch perhaps one or two trout in an hour, as opposed to 23. He uses some of the same bait and lures as Merical, including wax worms and minnows.

Usually, Gooding fishes early in the morning or in the evening during cooler or cold weather. As the temperatures begin to warm up in the spring and the trout move deeper in the water, he does well fishing Banner Lake in the early afternoon.

Merical likes the economical aspects of urban trout fishing as well. There is less travel time, so fuel costs less, and the required trout fishing permit is only $11. The permit, which is good until fishing licenses have to be renewed in January, is needed in addition to a regular fishing license whether an angler is planning to catch and release or keep the fish.

Hundreds of anglers in urban areas around Iowa are doing just that because of the expanded urban trout fisheries the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has created over the last few years around the state.

Northeast Iowa will always be the premier trout fishery in the state, but the idea of living in other areas of the state and being able to drive to a spot for trout fishing and back in a day or less is catching on.

"For years we had ponds we stocked closer to the traditional trout-fishing areas, but that was about it," said Mike Mason, director of the IDNR's fish hatchery system. In the early 1980s, the only urban trout areas stocked included Blue Pit in Mason City, Heritage Pond in Dubuque and North Prairie Lake in Cedar Falls.

About five years ago, IDNR officials began looking at ways to make more opportunities available to Iowa anglers. Stocking trout in the fall, winter and spring in more areas of Iowa that didn't have the traditional trout streams, came up as an idea worth pursuing, Mason explained.

The idea was tested as a pilot project at Banner Lakes. That was in 2004. After two years of success in drawing large crowds of anglers during the fall, winter and spring stockings and increasing trout stamp sales in the area by 2,000, the program was expanded. Urban fisheries were added at Lake of the Hills in Davenport, Sauganash and West Big Lake in Council Bluffs and Bacon Creek in Sioux City.

Then, last winter, IDNR officials added the pond on the campus of Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny. During the first stocking of the DMACC pond, there were between 150 and 175 people fishing there, many of them children, said Ben Dodd, IDNR fisheries biologist.

The DMACC pond site makes the ninth three-season winter trout fishery in Iowa.

Most of the nine areas have each been stocked twice since October with 1,500 to 2,000

rainbow trout at each stocking, and most will be stocked one more time in the next couple months.

The best way to find out when trout stockings will happen is to regularly check the IDNR's Web site at While fisheries biologists often post the stocking date in advance, weather conditions make all the difference in the actual stocking day.

It's also a good idea to check the DNR's Web site for special family events where children are encouraged to fish.

Milo Gadow of Cedar Falls, who belongs to the Cedar Valley Walleye Club, takes time to volunteer during the family fishing day at North Prairie Lake based on the trout stocking. "We provide prizes for the kids when they catch a fish. In the January 2009 event, there were 62 youth fishing for trout."

While many people fish Prairie Lake during stocking day, people frequent the lake from October into May, Gadow said.

IDNR officials also hope that introducing Iowans in other areas of the state to trout fishing will encourage them to take that longer trip to Iowa's trout country. That desire, too, is being fulfilled.

Just last summer, he ran into a number of anglers and their families who turned that initial urban trout-fishing experience into a scenic weekend adventure to the clear coldwater streams of northeast Iowa.

"Many of the anglers would not have discovered this special resource or this unique part of Iowa had they not been initially introduced to it through the urban trout program," Siegwarth said. "We brought it to them, which is all it took. In my opinion, the urban trout program is just one small step to a much greater adventure."

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