Skip to Content

< Previous | Next >

Iowa DNR Spring Fishing Forcast

by: theangler
While the old axiom that the best time to fish is whenever you can get out may be little more than a witty response from the
hardened angler, the saying may contain more truth than fiction. Wait until the reports trickle in that the fish are biting, and you may just miss the boat on some of the best action of the year.
Iowa DNR Spring Fishing Forecast
ICEOUT
Ice leaves lakes and streams in southern Iowa in late February and fishing for channel catfish and largemouth bass begins shortly thereafter around the first week of March. Catfish will follow a trail of winter-killed fish. Those dead fish float after ice out and get blown to shore and collect in shallow bays to serve as a buffet for hungry catfish. Use any dead fish—like shad or cut bait—that looks like what has died over the winter. Warm, windy days always provide the best fishing, and when the fishing is good, it is likely impossible to fish with two rods.

The Coralville and Rathbun reservoirs, along with Mississippi River backwaters, provide excellent early season catfishing. Other interior streams are also good; fish where creeks enter the river and the water is warmer. Larger catfish can be found in Lake Manawa, Lake Anita, Saylor ville Reservoir, Lake of Three Fires, Three Mile Lake and Badger Creek. The DNR’s aggressive catfish stocking program has established a good catfish population in nearly ever y public lake in Iowa. Largemouth always seem to be biting, but trophy fish are caught right after ice out. After a long winter, big females go on a feeding binge to support their developing eggs sacks and prepare for the spawn in early summer. To find these trophies, use rubber worms or spinners slowly around shoreline structure. Some top bass lakes are West Lake Osceola, Three Mile Lake, Lake Anita and Big Creek Lake.
EARLY SPRING
During the last two weeks of March and the first three weeks of April, walleyes move to shallow rocky areas, like gravel points or the face of a dam. Males come in first to wait for females to come in to spawn. A good technique to hook these aggressive fish is to use a 1/16 to 1/8 ounce jig tipped with a 2- to 3-inch white, yellow or chartreuse twister tail body or shallow running 4- to 5-inch crankbait
and fish in less than 4 feet of water. The best bite is from the late afternoon, evening and morning hours. Target rocky shorelines where the wind is blowing in. Top walleye waters are Twelve Mile Lake, Three Mile Lake, Lake Icaria, Lake Manawa, Lake Sugema and the Des Moines, Raccoon and Middle Raccoon rivers. Trophy walleyes have been caught from the El Dorado and Clermont areas along the Turkey River. In the rivers, use a lead head jig tipped with a minnow and a slow retrieve. Fish below the low head dams and other fish barriers, like gravel bars.

North Iowa will lose its ice from middle March to around the first week of April, beginning with the smaller, shallow lakes, followed by the larger deeper ones. Northern pike will go on the prowl right after ice out, cruising along shore looking to spawn and for an easy meal. Look for areas of inflow or current coming in from a marsh and use live bait or dead chubs on the bottom. The best pike action can be found at Little Swan Lake in Dickinson County, and in West Swan Lake in Emmet County. In the Mississippi, Maquoketa and Wapsipinicon rivers, pike gather in backwater areas with vegetation right after ice out. Fish just of f the weeds for the best action. After the spawn, pike move out from the backwaters and will bite all day long. Fish the cuts connecting these weedy backwaters to the main rivers using live bait, like suckers or Daredevil spoons, bucktails or frog imitation lures. Wader fishing is as good as boat fishing for walleyes in nor th Iowa lakes with an open season. Use a jig and minnow or twister tail and fish slowly. The east and north shores of Storm Lake are good, as is Silver Lake in Dickinson County.

March-April is walleye and sauger time in Mississippi River tailwaters below any lock and dam where fish stage, preparing to spawn. The most effective technique is a twister tail or a hair jig tipped with a minnow. On both forks of the Des Moines River (Emmet, Palo Alto,
Humboldt counties), the Little Sioux in Clay County and the Raccoon in Sac County, fish around barriers, like gravel bars or low-head dams. Fish will move upstream from over-wintering holes and gather below low-head dams or rock riffles. Target deep water below those
barriers or back eddies where fish are not fighting current. “Use a slow retrieve in cold water because fish are moving slowly,” says Jim Wahl, fisheries super visor in northwest Iowa. As water warms, add night crawlers and crankbaits to the offering.

By April, crappies and bluegills in smaller lakes get active. Lake Macbride is a must, with excellent numbers of 8- to 10-inch crappies and clear water. Nearby, Coralville has 14-to 16-inch crappies, and the best fishing is mid-lake around rocky shores with brush, and the shallow upper end, which warms first. Pay attention to water levels if heading to Coralville as fishing can be difficult if run-off is high and the water is muddy.

Bass anglers should switch to spinner baits, crankbaits and jig-n-pig, and when frogs begin showing up, use fake frogs near lily pads and vegetation. “When bass suck it in, wait a couple seconds to set the hook,” offers Steve Waters, fisheries super visor for southeast Iowa.

Trout stocking begins April 1 but many areas will be holding fish throughout the winter. The streams in Clayton County—Sny Magill and Bloody Run—have good trout populations and angler access. Bloody Run is in a county park and anglers headed upstream will enter a state area with a 14-inch minimum length limit and brownies raised in the wild. There are many fish above the 14-inch limit in this scenic area.

French Creek has good trout fishing all year with strong populations of wild browns and a good year class coming on. Turtle Creek, in Mitchell County, has benefited from several recent improvements. The county conservation board purchased additional land for access,installed new habitat and worked with private landowners to protect water quality. The trout segment now stretches about 2.7 miles. “Turtle Creek has all the qualities of a good stream. It has a good watershed, good water temperature and has good numbers of fish,” says Karen Osterkamp, fisheries supervisor for north east Iowa.
LATE SPRING
Beginning in late April and running into early May, crappies begin moving shallow on some pre-spawn runs. Look up-lake to the upper arms with shallow water and flooded timber that warm quickly. Use a 1/32- to 1/64- ounce jig and tip it with a small minnow with or without a bobber. Good lakes for numbers and sizes of crappies are Lake of Three Fires, Three Mile Lake, Big Creek Lake, Coralville, Diamond Lake and Lake Anita. Crappie fishing will also be good at Briggs Woods Lake, the canals on East and West Okoboji, Upper and Lower Gar and Minnewashta. The best fishing will be on sunny days around vertical cover like wood docks or catwalks. Badger Lake in Webster County also offers good crappies. Use a tube jig under a small bobber, and tip with a minnow if the bite is slow. Crappies in the water column will rise to the bait.

Some of the best fishing all year will be for the super aggressive yellow bass during the spawn at Clear Lake and North Twin Lake. Use a small leadhead jig and tip it with cut bait or a piece of night crawler and fish on or near the bottom. Yellow bass prefer rocky bottoms, and at Clear Lake, that means the island, Dodges Point or the outlet. Shore fishing will be as good if not better than boat fishing. Yellows are running 7 to 9 inches at Nor th Twin and 9 to 11 inches at Clear Lake. Walleyes and smallmouth bass should still be biting in northeast Iowa rivers. This is also a good time to head to Lake Hendricks for largemouth bass with its 18-inch minimum and good numbers of big bass. Channel catfish will prowl at Volga Lake, where surveys found good numbers of cats larger than 16 inches and many 24- to 30-inchers. Use cut bait or night crawlers.
NEW FOR ANGLERS New Regulation
There is a new daily bag limit on crappies and bluegills, but no possession limit. Anglers may harvest 25 bluegills and 25 crappies daily from public waters in Iowa.
Lake Renovation Update
Meadow Lake (Adair County) has been drawn down for in-lake fish habitat work. The fish population has not been renovated. Green Valley Lake(Union County) has been lowered and the fish population eliminated and restocked. The lake will be allowed to refill this spring.
Viking Lake (Montgomer y County) is two years past its major renovation and the fish are growing well. Fishing should be outstanding at the end of this year and definitely for 2010. Lake Wapello (Davis County) was drained in 2008 to fix a leak in the dam and remove a gizzard shad population that someone had introduced. “We were already seeing the failure of year classes of fish to develop and the overall population was beginning to collapse,” Waters says. “The gizzard shad were simply out-competing the young bass, bluegills and crappies for food, so it was only a matter of time.” While the lake was down, the shoreline was deepened, and fish habitat, rock reefs and riprap were installed. Waters says if the weather holds they hope to start impounding water this spring. Lake Darling (Washington County) was drained in November to replace the failing spillway. The DNR took advantage of the drained lake to do extensive fish habitat and water quality improvement work. The project calls for silt removal, deepening shallow areas and riprapping the shoreline. For the last 8 to 10 years, the DNR worked with landowners in the watershed and within the state park boundaries to install sediment basins to protect the lake. The timeline again depends on Mother Nature. Waters says they are hoping to finish the work by September but it may last into the spring of 2010. “This will be a totally new lake,” he says. Crystal Lake (Hancock County) fish population was renovated in the fall. Ingham Lake had a winter kill in 2007-08 and its fish population is still recovering. The lake will be a year away from providing good fishing.
Best Fishing in Southwest Iowa
“All of the renovated lakes are coming back online and there is just so much good fishing here in southwest Iowa, it’s hard to pick just one lake,” says Chris Larson, fisheries super visor for southwest Iowa. Twelve Mile Lake, Lake of Three Fires and Lake Anita get his vote. All have outstanding overall fishing for bluegills, crappies and largemouth bass. Add walley


Best Fishing in Southeast Iowa
Lake Sugema is tops for bluegills, crappies, largemouth bass and walleyes. It also has some channel catfishing. Lake Keomah has a quality population of bass, bluegills, crappies and channel cats of decent size worth taking home. Lake Miami has good opportunities for bass, bluegills, crappies and channel catfish. Diamond Lake has a good variety of fish. Lake Belva Deer has excellent bluegill and bass populations and a growing catfish and crappie population. Lake Rathbun is a go-to spot for quality walleye, catfish and white bass angling.


Flooding Effects—Northeast Iowa
The flood of 2008 changed the face of many rivers by filling in deep holes in one area while creating new holes in others. A lot of sediment was taken out and the rivers are looking good. “We have not seen any decreases in the fisheries, in fact, they are actually looking better than ever,” says Osterkamp. But for anglers, “It will take some time to re-learn these rivers.” Spring Branch has good numbers of trout washed in to the stream from flooded raceways at the Manchester hatchery. The Turkey River at Big Spring also received a huge amount of trout when the hatchery flooded.


Tip for fly-fishing trout
Insects begin to hatch when the water temperature gets in the 50s. Bluewing olives hatch in March, followed by dark Hendrickson mayflies in March-April. Mayflies and caddis flies hatch throughout spring into fall.


Tips for spin-casting for trout
When the water is clear, fish faster and use a sinking jigging spoon. When the water is of f-colored from a recent rain, use a smaller, darker colored spinner. Change the lure to match the conditions. Trout will be feeding on the bugs and worms washed into the stream. Use small spinners in pool areas and cast upstream from where you want to fish. Fish the undercut banks and bank hides. Tr y not to spook the fish in the pools.

Improved Stream Access
A new handicap accessible bike trail follows Trout Run from the hatchery into Decorah.

Buy licenses online at WWW.iowadnr.GOV
BY mick klemesrud

2943 Views
Added: Wed May 06 2009
Last Modified: Thu Jan 17 2013

Comment on this Article Rate this Article Bookmark this Article