Skip to main content

Summer Walleyes

Summer Walleyes

Iowa has a much-deserved reputation for high-quality walleye fishing -- and a number of destinations in the southern portion of the state make it easy to see why that's so.

Photo by Tom Evans

The time has come for walleye anglers in Iowa to be honest. When they make their annual pilgrimage to northern Iowa's natural lakes, or the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, do they head north simply because that's where they find good walleye fishing? Or do they head north simply because they want to get away from it all, like the household chores, the job, the cornfields? Either way, going north isn't just a convenient thing to do -- it's a smart choice.

If their goal is simply to catch walleyes, they really don't have to head north. Several lakes south of Interstate 80 in southern Iowa offer walleye fishing on par with the best northerly lakes.


"I've fished walleye tournaments in over a dozen states," said Des Moines angler Mike Heller, "and there aren't many lakes in Minnesota, Wisconsin or the Dakotas, even Canada, that can beat the walleye fishing in Rathbun, Little River and, especially, the pool below Davenport on the Mississippi River.


"On Rathbun, it's reasonable to expect to catch your limit just about every time you fish there, and I've caught as many as 50 in a day. As far as the Mississippi below Davenport, it's got a lot of lakes in Minnesota and Canada beat for size and numbers; I caught a 34-incher in downtown Davenport, and the overall population of walleyes is really, really strong."

As an alternative for anglers interested in catching fish rather than spending their time driving north, Heller and several other walleye fanatics offered a run-down on how, when and where to catch walleyes in the bottom half of Iowa:


LAKE RATHBUN

A guide at Lake Rathbun, Ron Boylan of Moravia -- (641) 724-3501 -- says that unlike their cousins up north, who favor cloudy, rainy weather, walleyes at Rathbun like things bright and sunny.


"Clear blue skies in June and July in the middle of the afternoon is some of the best walleye fishing of the year at Rathbun," said Boylan, who riffled through his fishing journal to find random examples of his midsummer success at Rathbun. "Last year on the 10th of July, I caught 24 walleyes €¦ on the 20th I caught 16. Those were just average days. They bite like that right through the end of July."

Boylan's preference is to cast 1/4-ounce chartreuse auger-tail jigs tipped with 2- to 2 1/2-inch minnows over shallow points and humps. Fowler's Point, where the Ham Creek and Honey Creek arms meet the main lake, has the features that walleyes seek out. An old creek channel swings near the point, and packs of walleyes prey on schools of shad that frequent the abrupt changes in bottom contour. Midlake humps dotted with rockpiles (often marked with buoys) and an old rock quarry on the big flat near the Island View area are also prime hunting grounds.

"One of the keys is to keep moving," said Boylan. "I'll fish a spot for 10 or 15 minutes, then move on. I'm after feeding fish -- fish that are aggressive. And after 10 or 15 minutes, you've taken the aggressive fish from an area, and it's better to move on, rather than sit and wait for other fish to get hungry."

Sometimes Boylan casts crankbaits to points and humps. He favors Wally Divers, Reef Runners and Rapala Shad Raps, all in shad or crawdad colors. He occasionally trolls to locate walleyes. The bluff shoreline from Ranger Point to Ballard Point, he reports, is one of his most productive areas to drag crankbaits for walleyes.

While trolling is second or third choice for Boylan, it's the first choice for Heller. "Rathbun has trolling written all over it," he said. "It has got big, wide flats with 5 to 10 feet of water, underwater humps, big long points -- it's a great lake to troll."

Heller trolls Rapala Shad Raps in shad colors -- white/black, chrome, chrome/black -- and uses Bombers in similar colors. "I always work the windward shore, and up to a point, the windier it is, the better," he said. "The more waves there are, the shallower they will be. But if it gets too windy, it's hard to control the boat when you're working that close to shore or really shallow areas."

Another walleye tournament angler who frequents Lake Rathbun, Joel Shaw of Fairfield likes to pull Wally Divers, Reef Runners and crawdad-colored crankbaits at Rathbun. "I troll crankbaits to find fish on the big flats at Island View, Southfork, maybe Rolling Cove," he offered. "Rolling Cove is good when the water level in that area is around 8 to 16 feet. It's not as good if the lake is high and there's 26 feet of water over it.

"Everybody is used to fishing up north along breaklines and dropoffs in 8, 10 or 12 feet of water," said Shaw. "At Rathbun, you have to think shallow for walleyes in the summer. There are times when you'll take them in only 2 feet of water on a bright, sunny day. It's an odd pattern, but it makes for great walleye fishing in midsummer."

LITTLE RIVER LAKE

Shaw calls Little River Lake, near Leon in far south-central Iowa, one of the state's best-kept secrets for walleyes. "It's only an hour from Des Moines, just a few miles east of Interstate 35 (on Highway 2), but it seems to be under everybody's radar when it comes to walleyes," he said. "We've caught 8- and 9-pounders there during tournaments, and there's a nice population of 2- to 4-pounders. In fact, bass guys complain that during bass tournaments, they waste a lot of time catching walleyes when they want to be catching bass."

Walleye anglers should take a cue from those frustrated bass anglers. While there are plenty of walleyes on Little River's traditional walleye structure -- riprap jetties, the face of the dam, rock piles on major points -- some of the biggest walleyes lurk in areas usually associated with largemouth bass.

"They're in the standing timber in deep water," said Shaw. "Look for trees in 8 to 25 feet of water. The walleyes will be right in close to the trunk of the tree, or close to major branches out away from the trunk. Guys do real well jigging right down in the trees or casting a stick bait past the tree and working it back at a certain depth."

According to Shaw, shore-anglers too have a good chance at Little River's walleyes, because the fish move shallow during low-light conditions. Jigs, spinners or crankbaits cast from the face of the dam, or from the jetties early in the morning, late in the day, or just after dark, can be very productive.

"Don't overlook just hanging a minnow, or leech or night crawlers under a bobber, either," he said. "A walleye will rarely turn down a chance to take

a live bait. That's a great way to fish from shore at Little River."

MISSISSIPPI RIVER'S POOL 16

Heller, the walleye tournament angler from Des Moines, is almost reverent when he talks about the walleye potential of the Mississippi River downstream from Davenport.

"The next Iowa state-record walleye is going to come from that area," he offered by way of prediction. "There are some huge fish in that pool. And the number of 'eaters' is phenomenal."

While many walleye hunters on the big river focus on areas immediately below the locks and dams, Heller and Robbie Roush, his tournament partner, troll areas littered with rock along the bottom, mussel beds, or along riprap shorelines.

"Look for 6 to 12 feet of water along railroad grades, or other riprap shorelines," he suggested. "If you see a lot of whitish-looking small rocks on the shore when the river is low, they're actually clam shells, and clam beds are really good places to troll."

Trolling downriver at up to 4 mph allows Heller and Roush to get their crankbaits down to the bottom more easily than when they back-troll slowly upstream against the current. Heller warns that while getting on the bottom over clam beds is deadly for walleyes, it can be expensive.

"We've had days when we've lost 50 crankbaits getting them cut off on the clamshells," he said. "Zebra mussels are really bad for that. But most of the time, if you use floating crankbaits, they'll eventually pop up to the surface. You can usually recover most of the ones that get cut off." For trolling the pair mainly fish Rapala baits -- Originals Floating Minnow, Shad Raps, Fat Raps.

Heller says that, ultimately, no matter what lure he uses in Lake Rathbun, Little River Lake, or the Mississippi River below Davenport, the potential for walleyes is as good as or better than in many others of the northern lakes he has fished.

So how about it, walleye anglers? If it's walleyes you want, there's no need to point your vehicle north. Iowa has plenty of quality walleye fishing -- and some of the best spots are south of Interstate 80.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Strike King Ned Rage Craw

Strike King Ned Rage Craw

In-Fisherman's Todd Ceisner sits down with Mark Zona to discuss the new Ned Rage Craw to hear all about how this little finesse bait, is going to get you those extra couple bites when times get tough.

Safely Transport Kayak, Canoe with Malone Auto Racks

Safely Transport Kayak, Canoe with Malone Auto Racks

Mike Carney highlights three products deigned to get you there and back; ICAST Fishing Gear Guide.

New Gloves from Fish Monkey

New Gloves from Fish Monkey

Quick look at Stealth, Half-Fingered & Stubby gloves; 2020 ICAST New Fishing Gear Guide.

Abu Garcia Zenon Spinning Reels

Abu Garcia Zenon Spinning Reels

New to the North American market comes the 'world's lightest spinning reel.'

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some great bass pond fishing.Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You Bass

Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You

Dan Anderson

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some...

Starting opening day, there's a small window to tag out before pressure impacts buck movement. Make the most of it.Quick-Strike Tips for Early Archery Deer Success Whitetail

Quick-Strike Tips for Early Archery Deer Success

Tony Peterson - August 18, 2020

Starting opening day, there's a small window to tag out before pressure impacts buck movement....

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to the expectations demanded at ranges up to and beyond 500, 600 or even 1,000 yards. Try these different loads until you find the one that thumps steel at long ranges consistently.10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to...

Field Skills: Want to be a better shooter? The first step is perfecting your release.6 Steps to the Perfect Trigger Pull on Your Compound Bow Hunting How-To

6 Steps to the Perfect Trigger Pull on Your Compound Bow

Jace Bauserman - August 27, 2020

Field Skills: Want to be a better shooter? The first step is perfecting your release.

See More Trending Articles

More Walleye

Lake of the Woods offers fantastic action, from early ice until late in the hardwater season.Hardwater Handbook: Northern Ice Fishing Heats Up Walleye

Hardwater Handbook: Northern Ice Fishing Heats Up

Joel Nelson - January 06, 2020

Lake of the Woods offers fantastic action, from early ice until late in the hardwater season.

The bite at night turns on in late summer in the Midwest. Go get your limit now.Night Stalking Late-Summer Walleyes Playbook

Night Stalking Late-Summer Walleyes

Mike Pehanich - August 14, 2020

The bite at night turns on in late summer in the Midwest. Go get your limit now.

When walleyes hold deeper than many popular crankbaits can reach, it's time to adapt with snap weights and precise depth control.Deep Thinking for Fall Walleyes Walleye

Deep Thinking for Fall Walleyes

Mark Romanack - September 24, 2019

When walleyes hold deeper than many popular crankbaits can reach, it's time to adapt with snap...

These large Midwestern rivers offer fantastic spring walleye action.Big-River Spring Walleye Hotspots Walleye

Big-River Spring Walleye Hotspots

M.D. Johnson - April 23, 2020

These large Midwestern rivers offer fantastic spring walleye action.

See More Walleye

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now