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Hot Time -- Fishing Time! -- In Iowa

Hot Time -- Fishing Time! -- In Iowa

Cash in on Iowa's best summertime fishing opportunities by visiting these great hot-weather hotspots.(July 2010)

If you stay indoors during July and August you're missing some of Iowa's best fishing of the year! Anglers willing to endure fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk heat and can't-catch-my-breath humidity can frequently limit out on walleyes, fill their livewells with white bass, catch dozens of smallmouths per day and land channel catfish until their arms get tired!

All this action is waiting for you on Iowa's hottest days because the consistently hot and usually dry weather patterns of late summer create stable water conditions. Stable water conditions encourage fish to develop consistent activity patterns that make it easier for well-hydrated and sun-blocked anglers to find and catch them. Warmer water temperatures also increase the metabolism of fish, making them more active, more aggressive and more inclined to take baits and lures.

You can cash in on Iowa's best summertime fishing opportunities by visiting these great hot-weather hotspots!

The hot-weather walleye bite at Lake Rathbun baffles fisheries biologists.

"We don't really know why, but it's a pretty consistent pattern for walleyes at Rathbun to be shallow during the middle of the day in July, even when temperatures are in the 90s," says fisheries management biologist Mark Flammang of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "Traditionally, you expect walleyes to move deeper into cooler water when it gets hot — and walleyes are supposed to avoid sunshine — but at Rathbun the guys hammer them at noon in as little as 2 feet of water."

Flammang says high and turbid water conditions disrupted that shallow-and-hot weather pattern for Rathbun's walleyes last summer, but "if water conditions are anywhere near normal," he predicts, "they should be back shallow when the weather gets hot this year."


Fishing guide Ron Boylan of Moravia — phone: (641) 724-3501 — catches midsummer walleyes at Rathbun by casting 1/4-ounce auger-tail jigs, tipped with 2- to 3-inch minnows, over shallow points and humps during the hottest parts of bright, sunny days. Fowler's Point, where the Ham Creek and Honey Creek arms meet in the main lake, holds the features he and walleyes seek on blistering hot days.

Look for Rathbun's summertime walleyes to take those jig-and-minnow rigs, too, on the midlake humps dotted with rock piles (marked with warning buoys), as well as an old quarry on the big flat near the Island View area.

If jigs and minnows don't draw the attention of walleyes, Boylan throws crankbaits over shallow points and humps. He favors Wally Divers, Reef Runners and Rapala Shad Raps in shad or crawdad color patterns.

Jeff Rowland retired from guiding anglers in the Lake Red Rock area to take a job with the new Bass Pro Shop in Altoona, but he still spends plenty of time on the big lake. He says he can't wait to get off work on blazing hot days when the lake is calm.

"Those are the days to absolutely clobber white bass at Red Rock," he laughs. "Watch for gulls or signs of shad busting the surface, then get ready for some serious fun."

Among Rowland's top lures for working these schools of feeding white bass are Kastmaster spoons, Lil' George drop-baits and other lures that cast easily and far, and are "counted down" while sinking to repeat the process at the same depth when the fish are located.

"Stay off to the side (of the school) so you don't spook them, then cast to the far side and bring the lure back through the middle of the school," he advises. "It's a no-brainer to drag lures shallow when whites are tearing up the surface, but I always try to let a few casts sink down underneath the feeding frenzy. I've learned that walleyes, largemouth bass, channel catfish and even flathead catfish follow white bass around and feed on the leftovers that drift down (below the feeding school)."

Rowland says white bass can be found anywhere in July and August on Lake Red Rock, but some areas are almost always better than others. For example, white bass congregate along the face of the dam, he says, if water discharge rates through the spillway are high enough to create subtle currents.

A large submerged hump between the marina and the Roberts Creek Spillway is another focus point for midsummer white bass.

"Back when the lake was new and the (conservation) pool level was around 725 (feet above sea level), there was a sand island out there, maybe a football field long and 20 yards wide," Rowland reveals. "They've raised the lake's pool level several times to compensate for siltation. Normal pool is now around 742 feet, and that island is submerged all the time. Waves and currents have worked on it, so it's not the famous hump it once was but it's still a good place to look for white bass."

While he spends a lot of time on Lake Red Rock, Rowland says his favorite fishing territory in July and August is the Des Moines River, 20 miles downstream from the reservoir's dam to Eveland Access.

While he catches a lot of 1- to 1 1/2-pound white bass near logs, rocks and bridge abutments that create current in the riverway, he reluctantly confesses to catching, "good numbers" of 7- to 11-pound wiper bass (hybrid striped bass) in deeper water associated with those areas of current.

"I can target those larger wipers by throwing bigger baits," he says "If I throw Rapala Skitter Pops, a No. 9 or No. 11 Rapala X-Rap, or a 6-inch Berkley Gulp! on a jig, it's more than the white bass can handle. But the wipers really hammer them!"

Rowland never passes up a chance to play with 1-pound white bass or battle 10-pound wipers, but he admits his primary and beloved targets below Lake Red Rock in late summer are smallmouth bass. Discharge from the big lake helps cool and clear the traditionally muddy Des Moines River for 20 or more miles downstream, and smallmouths flourish.

For many years Rowland told few people about his "pet fishery" for fear catch-and-keep anglers would damage the delicately balanced fishery.

"I've come to realize that there aren't many public accesses below the dam; it's all private property on both sides without any roads running near it, and it's an isolated, scary and potentially dangerous stretch of river that's not an easy area to fish," he warns. "It's a great place for smallmouths once the water levels mellow out in late summer, but you have to earn them."

When Rowland decides to chase largemouth bass in south-central Iowa, he says late afternoon is the time to target big fish in small waters.

"The pond at Marion County Park is a good spot, and so is Roberts Creek Lake (on the north side of Lake Red Rock)," he says. "I don't even put my boat in the water 'til about an hour before sunset, and then I work the west shorelines. I look for a shoreline, with a lot of trees, that's been in the shade all afternoon. A shady shoreline with a steep bank or a cut bank is even better. The last hour of the day the bass get really active in that shade. I love to throw a chartreuse buzzbait 'til dark, then I switch to a black buzzbait. I don't know why, but a black bait works better after the sun sets."

Tackling with big-bass in south- central Iowa is also fun at abandoned strip mines. A few of these holes are open to public access, while many are located on private properties. Just about all of them hold largemouth bass.

"If you can get permission to get into one of those strip pits, you can get into some amazing bass," Rowland points out about the fishing in the deep cool water of the pits that don't see a lot of fishing pressure. "There are some real hawgs in those pits."

Few fisheries in Iowa offer more late- summer fishing opportunities than the Mississippi River. By mid-July the big river's water levels have stabilized and anglers are able to pinpoint uncounted hotspots for everything from catfish to northern pike!

"Up here in northeast Iowa, there are some guys who do really well for pike in the (Mississippi) River through the hottest part of summer," says IDNR fisheries technician Kevin Hanson in Guttenberg. "We've got unique situations, where our cool-water trout streams empty into the river. When the river (temperature) gets up into the low 80-degree range, pike will migrate to the mouths of those cool-water streams. Some of those streams stay in the 60-degree range all through summer, and pike like that cooler water."

Depending on the condition of the vegetation on the deltas at the mouths of these streams, there may be enough grass, Hanson points out, for anglers to throw topwater lures — things like a Moss Mouse or Bass Rat — and do real well. Without the grass mats, many anglers throw big spinners around the mouths of those streams and catch nice pike all summer long, he adds.

Pike in the Mississippi River along northeast Iowa range up to 20 pounds. Anglers can expect to see a lot of 10- to 12-pound, 25- to 30-inch northerns lurking around the mouths of these cool-water streams.

Commercial fishing in the past decade for catfish has declined along the Mississippi River in the past decade — a condition fisheries managers say places the big river's catfish under a lot less pressure.

"Plus, we're in the unique situation here in northeast Iowa that there is so much good fishing in the river for walleyes, smallmouths, largemouths, crappies and other species," Hanson says, "that anglers don't work the catfish as hard as they do in rivers in other parts of the state. There are tons of 15- to 20-inch channel cats in the river. Anybody who knows anything about catching catfish should be able to pull up to a logjam, drop-off, wingdam or any kind of current break and catch catfish all summer long."

Among the variety of catfish species found in the river, Hanson says, Iowa anglers seem to ignore the flatheads throughout late summer.

"Some guys work them hard below dams during the pre-spawn period in late May and June, but I just don't see a lot of guys targeting flatheads through July and August up here. There are definitely a lot of them in there, and some of them are huge!" Hanson says. "The Wisconsin state-record (flathead catfish) came from below a dam just north of the Iowa border — a 75-pounder! There have to be flatheads as big, or bigger than that, in our stretch of the river."

While logjams and riprapped shorelines are natural magnets for both species of catfish, Hanson also points anglers toward riverway islands, which are potentially the best place, he says, to look for cats during Iowa's hot-weather months. Logjams along the sides are prime spots for channel cats, as are drop-offs associated with sandbars on the downstream end of islands.

"If there's active head-cutting on the upstream end of an island, where the current is chewing away the bank and dropping trees into deep water, that's a prime spot for flatheads," he explains. "They like those deep holes and log piles with strong current nearby."

As water levels in the Mississippi River drop and stabilize in mid- to late summer, largemouth bass that spent the spring growing fat and sassy in the river's backwaters move toward the main river.

"The backwaters are silted in, not very deep and get low on oxygen; so, by midsummer the largemouth bass are pulling out of the backwaters and concentrating in deeper areas," Hanson explains. "The quality of those bass is amazing. They're footballs! Conditions keep them from getting much longer than 20 inches, but if you catch a bass that's more than 15-inches, it will be as thick as any bass you've ever caught."

Hanson says largemouth bass associated with the Mississippi River's main channel are often found near wingdams and closing dams. However, not every wingdam is "good" for fishing, he says — some are silted in, some hold too much current, and some wingdams for unknown reasons just don't hold fish.

"If you experiment, try different dams, it doesn't take long before you get a feel for what a good dam looks like — how the water hits it, where the holes are," he says. "Smallmouth bass are more likely found on the rocky backside of the dam, while largemouth bass prefer both the backside of the dam and along the shoreline between wingdams.

"€¦ The nice thing about a good wingdam, too," Hanson adds, "is that it can offer other major species of fish in the river. You'll get walleyes in the current on the upper face of the wing dam, flathead catfish in the scour hole on the tip, and channel cats on the edges of that hole and on the backside."

Just as a "good" wingdam is the universal fishing hotspot on the Mississippi River in late summer, night crawlers are the universal bait.

"On the Mississippi River, when in doubt, put a night crawler on the bottom and you'll catch something," Hanson admits. "Walleyes, catfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass €¦ they'll all take night crawlers.

"You'll probably catch freshwater drum, too. There is an incredible population of drum in the river," Hanson reveals. "I'm surprised more people don't go after drum. They get to 5 or 10 pounds, put up a good fight, and if you fillet them and cook them fresh, I think they're as good as walleyes to eat. They're another fish that bites right through the hottest part of summer."

Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, wipers, walleyes, catfish, northern pike €¦ even freshwater drum!. That's quite a list for targeting late-summer, hot-weather fishing opportunities. Stay indoors and cling to your air conditioner if you must, but you'll miss some of Iowa's hottest fishing of the year in July and August.

Good fishing!

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