Seven Great Iowa Fishing Destinations
The northern reaches of the state have great fishing waters accessible in a couple road trips.
With so many great summer fishing destinations in northern Iowa, how can you fish them all? How about a road trip hitting several great fisheries in just two trips?
The first is to northwest Iowa’s Big Spirit Lake, Silver Lake (Lake Park) and West Okoboji. The second features north-central Iowa’s Clear Lake, Rice Lake and Silver Lake. Beforehand, research with a LakeMaster or Navionics chip to learn each fishery’s subtleties. Let’s head out!
BIG SPIRIT LAKE
Big Spirit is a tremendous walleye fishery, beginning with the opener in May. Big Spirt has great numbers of fish up to 17 inches, then a 17- to 22-inch protective slot, with one walleye over 22 inches allowed.
Some excellent fishing occurs in the evening, with wade-fishermen casting Buck-A-Roo hair jigs, jigs and plastics, jigs and minnows or stickbaits such as a Smithwick Rogue, Rapala Husky Jerk or Long Cast Minnow. Top areas include where water is running into the lake: Buffalo Run (west side), Little Spirit tube (northwest side), the Grade (north end), Footbridge (north shoreline-west of Mini-Wakan State Park), Trickle Slough (northeast side) and Hales Slough (east side). Great fishing occurs off docks as well using lighted slip-bobbers and a plain hook tipped with a minnow, spottail shiner or a leech.
After dark, anglers troll crankbaits in 5 to 10 feet of water. Berkley Flicker Shads, Reef Runners, Smithwick Rogues, Rapala Husky Jerks and others produce. Experiment with speed until a pattern emerges.
During daytime, depth depends on water clarity. The clearer the water, the deeper you must go, usually at least 12 to 14 feet. Check bait shops for the top bait: spottail shiners. Troll at .8 to 1.0 mph with a slip sinker or bottom bouncer with a snell (48 to 60 inches) and plain hook tipped with a spottail shiner or a leech. Start in Hales Slough, then go to Big Stony with its rock reefs and then to the south to Little Stony, Red Nose and Reeds Run. Then move to the north side working from Jackson Point west to Cottonwood, on to the Foot Bridge and the rock reef off Buffalo Run.
If You Go
Good boat ramps are at the spillway on the southeast side, Templar Park and Mini-Wakan State Park. Kabele’s Trading Post has lodging and a bait shop. Other bait shops include Stan’s Bait and Tackle in Milford and Oh Shucks on the southwest side of West Okoboji.
Silver Lake (near Lake Park) is known for its walleye fishing. In late spring, fish the shallows in waders or from a boat casting stickbaits, a jig tipped with a minnow or a white twister. Fishing with a slip-bobber (lighted after dark) and plain hook tipped with a minnow or leech also works.
Fish the entire east side north to the city park. Early morning or evening to dark are generally the best times. Other areas include the north on the lake side of Trapper’s Bay, off Long’s Point on the west side and the north side of the island.
By June, boat fishing takes off. The lake is a bowl with little structure, except for a rocky reef located about halfway across the lake. Anglers target this area, along with the rest of the lake, trolling with live bait rigs tipped with minnows, leeches or nightcrawlers.
Some also fish slip-bobbers and plain hooks tipped with a minnow, leech or nightcrawlers. Trolling crankbaits like No. 5 Shad Raps and Berkley Flicker Shads using planer boards can be productive as well.
If You Go
Boat ramps are at the west end and on the east end in the Silver Lake City Park. Lodging and bait shops are located back at the Iowa Great Lakes.
West Okoboji has tremendous bass and bluegill fishing. Shane Akin, owner of Great Lakes Guide Service, recommends working docks in Turtle Lake, Millers Bay Canal, The Harbor and the Triboji access with a wacky worm, pre-rigged worm (black and natural) or a big willow leaf spinnerbait (green and white with a copper or gold blade) for May largemouth bass.
As waters warm, fish shallow bays of Little Emerson and Little Millers. By late May, bass transition from canals and backwaters to wood docks rimming the shoreline. Fish the calm side of the lake.
Akin says docks holding bluegills will most likely have bass, and fishing topwaters like hula poppers, chug bugs and others can produce. Also, try drop-shotting on the ends of docks. If fish are under docks, switch to a Texas Rig worm or a jig/craw combination. At times, it’s hard to beat jerkbaits like the Berkley Cutter and Rapala Husky Jerk.
As summer weed beds develop in 15 to 20 feet of water, bass move to these areas. Target points and turns leading to open areas where bass lie in wait for small bluegills and perch. Baits include a jig/craw, a small stub worm or an 8- to 10-inch scented worm with a drop-shot rig with the hook set from 12 to 18 inches off the bottom. Cast out and let it sink to bottom; jig it and let it sit for up to a minute, then keep working.
West Okoboji’s rocky shorelines, points and humps hold trophy-size smallmouth. In May, look for smallies stacked on rockpiles anywhere from 8 to 30 feet. Throughout summer, fish the weedlines relating to rockpiles and bars. Work jerkbaits on shallow rocks under 14 feet. Huge, 20-plus-inch fish can also be taken on a slip-bobber with a leech or a jig and minnow, Akin says.
If You Go
Boat ramps include Emerson Bay on the southwest side, Triboji on the northwest side, along with several on East Okoboji and Upper Gar.
Four miles south and two miles west of Larchwood, this 72-acre lake offers excellent bluegill fishing. It’s a great place for windy days or when looking for a place to get away.
The lake has been renovated to eliminate common carp and grass carp, giving water clarity of up to 12 feet. Multiple year-classes are in the lake from 5- to over 10-plus-inch bluegills.
Its eight strategically placed jetties offer a depth of approximately 8 feet at the end of each jetty. Each has submerged cedar trees for additional habitat.
Only electric trolling motors or oars are allowed. Still, anglers often bring their bigger boats once the weed growth emerges and use their trolling motor to maneuver into the fishing pockets.
The spawn usually begins around Memorial weekend and lasts into mid-June. With clear water, anglers can sight-fish the spawning beds along shore. Use a slip-bobber and a 1/64-ounce jig tipped with a garden worm or a Belgian worm and let it hang right over a bed.
Another option is to get out on a jetty with a fly rod and a dry fly or use a small bobber as a strike indicator and pair it with a tiny hair jig as bait.
If You Go
A concrete boat ramp is located in the county park.
Located in north-central Iowa, this is one of our top walleye fisheries. Wading anglers and boat anglers work several rocky reefs, including Dodge’s Point and Grandview Point on the north side and Billy’s Reef, the outlet reef and the outlet along the east shoreline from early spring.
However, Kevan Paul, a local guide, notes walleye anglers have recently targeted other structure.
“By May, the docks/hoists are in, and weeds are emerging,” he says. “These attract the baitfish, and the walleyes follow. In May and June, walleyes can be taken throughout the day, but by July, low-light conditions work best.”
There are three presentations that target 4- to 7-foot depths. The first is fan-casting light jigs tipped with a leech, piece of nightcrawler or plastic around docks and weeds. Second, a slip-bobber and plain hook tipped with a leech or nightcrawler — this works well for 10- to 12-inch crappies. Third is trolling crankbaits like the Flicker Shad and the Live Target Perch Crankbait.
“On a guide trip, we run lines away from the boat with planer boards and then two lines behind the boat,” Paul says. “As water becomes stained, we run the two lines back only 20 to 25 feet, almost in the prop wash. This seems to stir up the baitfish, and the walleyes are right there.”
The north shore is lined with bulrushes. Cast jigs and work slip-bobbers along the shoreline. Troll edges with crankbaits throughout the summer, too.
If You Go
Good boat ramps are located at McIntosh Woods on the east side of the Little Lake and between City Beach and City Park on the edge of town. Clear Lake Bait and Tackle in Clear Lake offers live bait, tackle and fishing information.
This 1,000-acre shallow lake 25 miles north of Clear Lake, has an excellent population of perch, along with good numbers of walleyes and largemouth bass. Perch average 9 to 10 1/2 inches, with occasional fish over 12 inches. By May, expect emergent vegetation, with perch relating to the weed beds. Water is relatively clear, so a slight chop improves the bite. Two common presentations include vertical jigging with a small gold jig tipped with a small leech or a slip-bobber with a plain hook tipped with a small leech.
Another area is the dredge cut on the south side out from the housing development. Depth runs 5 to 12 feet deep and runs east to west. Fish edges of weeds.
Snap jigging with a blade bait or a Eurotackle Z-Viber bait will create reactionary bites. Cast the bait out and let it fall to the bottom. Then rip it up, drop the rod tip, let the bait settle to the bottom, and then rip it again. Often bites come when you’re ripping it back up.
If You Go
Boat ramps are located on the southeast and north sides of the lake.
This 316-acre shallow lake located about 15 miles northeast of Rice Lake is loaded with 12- to 17-inch largemouth bass and bluegills that run over 10 inches. When the bite is on, it’s nothing to catch up to 100 bass, with an occasional 5-pounder possible.
Work the bulrushes on the west, east and south sides with Carolina rigs, chatterbaits, spinnerbaits or, whenever the surface is calm, topwater lures such as a Hula Popper, Jitterbug, Zara Spook or even a buzzbait. Best times are generally early morning or late afternoon until dark.
Expect to encounter a lot of 8- to 10-inch bluegills while fishing the lake. Again, work the bulrushes on the west, east and south sides. Cast a small bobber and a tiny ice jig tipped with a Belgian or leaf worm for best success. Another productive presentation is vertical jigging a Shuck’s Jigger Minnow tipped with a worm or a wax worm.
If You Go
A good boat ramp is located on the south side of the lake.