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Central Iowa's Big-Water Walleyes

Central Iowa's Big-Water Walleyes

Concealed beneath the surface of this region's large lakes and reservoirs lie some of the Hawkeye State's hottest walleye haunts. At these five central Iowa waters, the walleye action promises to be wild! (May 2008)

Perhaps the biggest challenge on larger waters is simply locating large walleyes like this one caught by professional walleye angler Keith Kavajcez.
Photo courtesy of Greg Keefer.

A lot of big waters in central Iowa offer plenty of big 'eyes -- all you have to do is get out there and take 'em!

Anglers have several choices when picking walleye waters in central Iowa. These larger lakes have the best walleye habitat, and are looking good for this spring.

"Iowa's walleye waters are good fishing," said Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Lannie Miller, "due to the Iowa stocking program. Without it, we wouldn't have a walleye fishery anywhere in the state except for the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. We've been stocking 6- to 8-inch fingerlings in most of the interior lakes we target and can almost guarantee a good year-class every year."

Most of central Iowa's bigger lakes and reservoirs offer outstanding walleye opportunities. The real problem lies in deciding on which to try, so check these out: a few of the walleye waters at the heart of the Hawkeye State that should be best for 2008.

Rathbun Lake is one of IDNR fisheries biologist James Wahl's top choices for central Iowa walleyes.

Spawners target the Buck Creek Arm of the lake before returning to the main-lake basin, where they spend the summer. These big-water walleyes will take a variety of jig-and-minnow combinations and jigs with soft-plastic trailers. They can be fussy at times, but a well-placed minnow or tight-wobbling bait can be irresistible.

Perhaps the biggest challenge offered up by Rathbun's 11,000 acres is simply finding the fish. Deeper points, windswept shoreline areas and submerged rocky cover in water as deep as 20 feet are all early-season possibilities. Anglers will have to take the time to pattern the walleyes in this lake, as the fish might be here today and gone tomorrow. Once you find them, get ready for some real action.

Rathbun Lake sprawls across portions of three counties -- Appanoose, Lucas and Wayne -- on the Chariton River about 75 miles southeast of Des Moines. The nearby towns of Corydon, Albia, Centerville and Chariton offer plenty of amenities to the visiting angler. Access is from state routes 2 and 5 and U.S. Route 34. Launch ramps are readily available around the lake.

Contact the IDNR's Rathbun Fish Management Unit in Moravia at (641) 647-2406 for more info and GPS coordinates for old structures placed in the lake by the IDNR.

BRUSHY CREEK<br.As far as lakes go, Brushy Creek is fairly new on the Iowa scene. It still has new-reservoir flooded timber, but shallow structure is otherwise relatively limited.

The IDNR found that walleyes love the clear water at Brushy Creek. Fish approaching 6 or 7 pounds aren't uncommon at Brushy Creek, and a lot of them are heading into that size-range this year.

Steep dropoffs typify the shoreline. Submerged humps covered with rocks and flooded roadways are walleye magnets when the fish are deep. North of the dam is a hump that attracts walleyes and can be explored with jigs tipped with plastic trailers or minnows. The riprap on the shoreline near the dam can also be productive.

"Brushy has proven to be a tough lake to fish, but there have been some very nice walleyes taken," said Chad Kelchen of the Brushy Creek State Recreation Area. "If I were talking to a newcomer to the area, I'd recommend either jigging or using slip-bobbers with live bait over rock structure with a change of depth around it."

Drift-fishing and trolling are mistakes, said Kelchen. If you're moving, you'll be donating a lot of tackle to the bottom of the lake.

Brushy Creek covers 690 acres five miles east of Lehigh in Webster County. Access to the water is on the ramps off Vasse Avenue on the northern end of the lake and from 270th and 280th roads in the southern end. For more information, contact the Black Hawk Fish Management Unit at (712) 657-2638 or Brushy Creek SRA at (515) 543-8298.

"I have a hard time getting away from a pink jighead and a white trailer of some sort when I'm walleye-fishing on Saylorville," said IDNR wildlife fisheries biologist Ben Dodd. "Some anglers prefer to use chartreuse colors, and some are using big 4- to 6-inch plastic shad baits and catching fish. But I still do well on pink and white."

The Des Moines River between Saylorville and Red Rock reservoirs offers phenomenal walleye fishing in some locations, particularly near the Waterworks and Frazier dams. The fish run upstream to Saylorville during the spawn, and anglers plying the deep holes and the gravel beds that surround them are likely to connect with some heavyweight females.

Anglers on the trail of spawning walleyes can find them by either targeting the low-head dams that halt the upstream progress of the fish or working along the face of the main-lake dam near the rocks. At times the dam face is like a walleye magnet where jigs and minnows make the pickings easy; at other times the fish are deeper and less accessible.

According to Dodd, walleye fishing during the last few springs has been great from Fort Dodge upstream. The IDNR hopes to keep it that way by stocking approximately 7 million walleye fry into the reservoir every year.

"In 2006, we stocked extra walleyes into Saylorville to the tune of several tens of thousands of fish," said Dodd. "When we checked to find out how well they were growing, we found walleyes from 5 1/2 to 10 1/2 inches -- and they were fat. The shad apparently had a good spawn as well, and the young walleyes were well fed and growing."

Saylorville lies on the edge of Des Moines. It covers 5,400 acres of prime walleye water. The Boone Fish Management Unit at (515) 432-2823 can provide more information.

"A 10- or 11-pound walleye is a big fish in either Saylorville or Red Rock," said Dodd. "In the Des Moines River system and its reservoirs there is potential for trophy-class fish in the 13- to 14-pound range. I don't know if we'll top the state record any time soon, but these walleyes can get big."

Even though Red Rock's habitat and forage are good, Dodd noted, its numbers seem to have been declining in recent years. He feels that the problem might be related to the fluctuating water levels that are always a problem for fisheries on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers waterways.

According to Professional Walleye Trail angler Jim Muzynoski, walleyes often suspend where the old river channel is closest to the shoreline at Red Rock. The spring feeding is in full swing until the weather drives the fish deeper, and can be a real bonanza for anglers willing to take the time to pattern the 'eyes.

Dodd isn't shy about his stocking efforts at Red Rock. The IDNR sets aside 10 million walleye fry every year to supplement the fish that are already in the system, and angler success is high.

Four miles north of Knoxville, Red Rock covers 19,000 acres, primarily in Marion County. Several modern boat ramps provide good access to the lake. For additional information, contact the IDNR's Boone Fish Management station at (515) 432-2835 or the Elk Rock State Park at (641) 842-6008.

At Big Creek Lake, another of Dodd's star walleye waters, good numbers and sizes are keeping pace with each other.

The places to hit in the spring are the submerged humps and the old roadbed, Dodd reported. Reeling a small spoon over the humps can coax out some nice fish. The old submerged roadbed is another hotspot that holds nice walleyes -- and a lot of them.

Unlike other central Iowa waters, Big Creek's shad population suffered a major die-off several years ago and never recovered. Walleyes zero in on young-of-the-year bluegills, shiners and anything else small enough to swallow. A 10-inch walleye has no problem eating a small panfish, and this affects how shallow the predators are going to have to come to put on the feedbag.

Drift-fishing over cover can be productive with a slip-bobber and a minnow or an earthworm. Tying on a small jig with a plastic trailer and dropping it over cover will also yield results.

Big Creek Lake covers 883 acres two miles north of Polk City in Polk County. For more information, contact the Boone Fish Management Unit at (515) 432-2823.

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