Fishing in Iowa: From Coralville Lake to Coldwater Creek
Iowa is a Midwestern U.S. state that shares a border with Illinois and is located between the mighty Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. As well as offering fabulous fishing, Iowa is an excellent location for a family vacation.
You can enjoy many family-friendly activities throughout the year. Trek out into the wilderness and return to the Stone Age with a trip to one of Iowa’s many State Parks and ancient geological sites. But if you’re an avid angler, here are Iowa’s ten best fishing locations.
You can also enjoy birding and wildlife watching amid the dramatic mountains, gorges, and woodlands. And for the more adventurous in your family, check out the mysterious Spook Cave or go geocaching for a day.
And when you’ve tired of countryside activities, head into one of Iowa’s vibrant cities to take in historical landmarks, art collections, and museums. Film buffs of the older generation might enjoy a day trip to the “Field of Dreams” movie site while the kids play baseball on the actual film set.
Iowa is a land of endless cornfields, rolling plains, sunshine (so bring your shades), and seemingly endless waterways. You’ll find crappie, bluegill, muskie, Northern pike, and walleye in Iowa’s lakes, reservoirs, and ponds.
Head to one of the State’s many interior streams or rivers searching for trophy-size catfish, walleye, and smallmouth bass. Or you can try your luck in the Missouri River for sauger and blue catfish.
If you want to enjoy any of the ten best fishing locations in Iowa, you must have a valid license that you can produce for a Conservation Police Officer.
So, remember to put your license in your tackle box before you cast a line. And if you’re over 16, you will need a valid fishing license in this state. However, some exemptions exist, so the details are available on the IDNR website. You can buy a license online here too.
If you prefer, you can buy an Iowa fishing license from any of the authorized retailers on this list. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources manages fishing in Iowa and sets all the regulations surrounding angling.
Note that you must have a separate permit if you wish to use trotlines. And if you don’t buy a third-line permit, you’ll be restricted to using no more than two lines. So each line may contain a maximum of two hooks.
Eating Your Catch
One of the joys of fishing in Iowa is the opportunity to enjoy a delicious meal by eating your catch. Whether you reel in a prized bass, a tasty catfish, or a succulent trout, the abundance of freshwater fish in Iowa’s lakes and streams presents a delectable culinary experience. Many anglers take pride in cooking their fresh catch, savoring the fruits of their labor.
The possibilities are endless, from simple preparations like grilling or pan-frying to more elaborate recipes. Eating your catch provides a unique and flavorful dining experience and creates a deeper connection with the environment and the fish you catch. However, it is essential to be mindful of fishing regulations, size limits, and specific guidelines regarding consumption advisories for certain species. Doing so ensures that your fishing adventures in Iowa provide excitement and relaxation, and a mouthwatering feast.
Nothing is more satisfying than gathering around the campfire with your family to cook and eat your day’s delicious catch. If this sounds like fun, you’ll be pleased to hear that most lakes, rivers, and streams in Iowa contain high-quality fish that are safe to eat.
The IDNR and the Iowa Department of Public Health provide helpful online information about fish consumption and a current list of fish consumption advisories for waterways within the State. So why not pack your toasting fork and some marshmallows too?
10 Great Fishing Spots in Iowa
Iowa boasts an impressive variety of fishing locations to appeal to the freshwater angler. So whether you’re a dedicated bass fisherman who enjoys trolling from a boat or you prefer the challenge of fly-fishing for wild trout from the bank or by wading, Iowa has something for everyone.
And when the temperatures plummet in the winter, the Hawkeye State also has some fantastic ice fishing opportunities.
And don’t forget Iowa’s officially designated State fish, the channel catfish, some of which are trophy-size. So here are the ten best fishing locations in Iowa. Here’s what you can expect at each one on your next memorable fishing trip to this stunningly beautiful and diverse state.
1. Coralville Lake:
This Lake is located in Johnson County, some four miles north of Iowa City. This man-made reservoir has a surface area of around 5,280 acres. It is popular for on-water and shore angling. Some Fish species that thrive here include:
- White bass
- Northern Pike
- Hybrid Striped Bass
The stands of flooded willows around the reservoir provide a perfect habitat for bass, panfish, and crappie. And the water over the MacBride spillway attracts white bass, catfish, and walleye. The facilities for the visiting angler and their family are excellent here. There’s boat access, including a hard-surface boat ramp.
There are restrooms, a picnic area, a playground, hiking trails, and a beach. There are also plenty of well-equipped campgrounds. They range from primitive, tent-only spaces to full RV hook-ups with electricity and sewerage. For a change of scenery, check out nearby Lake MacBride State Park.
2. Iowa’s Great Lakes:
Iowa’s Great Lakes (located here) are some of Iowa’s ten best fishing locations because there are six lakes in the group. The largest is Big Spirit, and there is West Okoboji, East Okoboji, Lower Gar, Upper Gar, and Minnewashta.
Fishing, water sports, boating, and parasailing are popular, especially on the deep, clear blue water of West Okoboji. But for anglers, the shallow waters of Big Spirit offer excellent catches of walleye, panfish, and bass year-round. However, for a quieter angling experience, head to East Okoboji.
There’s not as much water sports activity, but the fishing is decent. Fish species to find include:
- White Crappie
- Smallmouth bass
- Largemouth bass
Tips for Iowa’s Great Lakes
You’ll also find muskie, walleye, and northern pike when fishing in West Okoboji. Use a suspending jerk bait, twitches, jerks, and pauses to provoke a strike. And on windless days, when the water is warm, use hair jigs above the rocks.
Largemouth fishing is good during the spring, but the main action kicks off after spawning in the summer. So fish the strong weed line around West Okoboji where largemouth bass lay in wait for bluegill. And skirted jigs work well, tipped with a chigger craw, especially from a boat outside the weed edge. Make a long cast into the weeds, then return the jig to your boat.
The Great Lakes have a closed season for walleye. However, the first whole opening weekend in May is Great Walleye Weekend. There’s a prize for catching a tagged walleye and one for the heaviest stringer. Night fishing from the shore or wading is popular. And boaters can use slow trolling stick baits. Ice fishing for trout and pike is also popular at the lakes. Just make sure you have the proper gear to drill your fishing holes.
3. Big Creek Lake:
This Lake is located near Polk City, north of Des Moines. The 866-acre Lake was created via a diversion dam they built to form a flood defense. But it also offers many recreation opportunities, making it one of Iowa’s ten best fishing locations.
Although camping is not allowed within the area around the lake, as it’s a wildlife refuge area, there are several well-provisioned campgrounds nearby.
Boating, swimming, and hiking are popular activities visitors can enjoy in the park. Fish species that you’ll find here include:
- Largemouth bass
- Smallmouth bass
- Channel Catfish
- White bass
- White Crappie
- Yellow Perch
Also, there is seven-pound bass in this lake and in decent numbers too. But they’re a challenging catch. You’ll need to take to the water and fish offshore. Look for deep areas where some drop-offs and ledges offer shelter and good hunting grounds for the fish.
4. Bloody Run Creek:
- Brown trout
- Rainbow trout
Although access to the shoreline is good, avoid wild yellow parsnip when in bloom, as contact can cause skin irritation.
From April through October, they stock Bloody Run with catchable brook and rainbow trout, adding to the abundance of native wild brown trout that inhabit the waters. In some areas, you can only use artificial lures. Also, you must release all brown trout under 14 inches.
However, you’ll have success if you try dangling a worm under a bobber in the deeper pools along the stream. Or you can cast a lure in front of one of the series of bank hides. And just allow it to drift downstream to provoke some hit-and-run action.
5. Glovers Creek:
Glovers Creek is another one of Iowa’s ten best fishing locations for keen-fly fishermen who enjoy the challenge of trout fishing. There’s excellent shore fishing here, and access to the banks is straightforward. Also, there’s lots of camping, restrooms, and a picnic area.
The creek is in Fayette County, about three miles southeast of West Union within Echo Valley State Park. Also, the park has a 2.5-mile nature trail that your family will love exploring. And two well-stocked trout streams, Glovers Creek and Otter Creek, flow through the park.
As one of the top 10 Iowa fishing locations, this one is scenic. Both streams are set against a stunning limestone bluff backdrop. The best times to fish here for trout are in the early morning and the afternoon heat when the trout rise to feed on hatches of mayflies, midges, and stoneflies.
And both streams are home to stocked brooks, rainbows, and wild brown trout. They stock Glovers Creek weekly from April through October. So you can find catchable rainbow and brook trout up to 10 to 12 inches. Also, they annually introduce Fingerling French Creek strain brown trout to boost the wild population.
6. Coldwater Creek:
The fly fisherman’s paradise of Coldwater Creek is about three miles northwest of Bluffton in Winneshiek County. It’s a wonderful semi-wilderness location with excellent shoreline access and primitive camping sites.
You’ll find pristine waters teeming with brook, brown, and rainbow trout here. And much of the habitat along the stream has been managed to create hiding places for fish.
Check out the area close to the mouth of Coldwater Creek’s impressive cave system for stream-reared rainbows. Fly-fishers using caddis flies, midges, or mayflies will do well in spring and fall.
Also, try hoppers and crickets in the summer. You can use spinnerbaits, plastic-tipped jigs, and hook and worm bait to get trout lurking in the deeper holes. This creek belongs to this list of Iowa’s ten best fishing locations.
7. Mississippi River:
The majestic Mississippi River winds its way across the U.S. for over 2,000 miles from its source at Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi flows along Iowa’s borders for 300 miles during its journey. And that’s why it’s one of Iowa’s ten best fishing locations.
The river gradually becomes shallower and wider as it progresses. But its bed is mainly mud and sand with a few outcrops of bedrock.
Navigation locks and dams along the river create a series of lake-like pools, which heavily influence the fish species you’ll find here. Unfortunately, fish species like fast-flowing water, such as smallmouth bass, have declined. However, fishes that enjoy a more pond-like habitat proliferate, including:
- Freshwater Drum
In late spring and fall, you’ll find the best fishing for walleye, paddlefish, and sauger.
Just look directly at the tailrace of the navigation dams. At the bottom of the dams, deep holes have been scoured. And they provide the ideal habitat for many species in the highly oxygenated water.
However, access to most of the dams is good, so that you can fish from the shoreline or a boat. Boat ramps and parking facilities are close to all the Mississippi dams and locks. And there are 58 launching facilities on the Iowa side of the River.
8. Chariton River:
The Chariton River is the next contender for the ten best fishing locations in Iowa. It is a 218-mile-long tributary to the Missouri River. But the part of the river to focus on is in southeast Iowa in Clarke County.
This stretch of the river runs from the outlet of Lake Rathbun as far as the State line. There are gravel boat access ramps in Outlet Park and Sharon Bluffs, with a picnic area and restrooms.
Fish species that flourish in this part of the Chariton River include flathead catfish, channel catfish, and walleye. This tailrace fishery is largely dependent on flood conditions at Rathbun Lake.
Almost all the fish here are transient escapees from the Lake during floodwater discharge, quickly moving downstream. However, the best angling here is shortly following a flood and the consequent overflow from Rathbun Lake.
9. Lost Island Lake:
Lost Island Lake is a productive fishing lake that should be high on your list of Iowa’s ten best fishing locations. Located in Palo Alto County, some three miles north of Ruthven, 1,162-acre Lost Island Lake is a well-provisioned fishing spot popular with anglers across the State.
There’s excellent, easily accessible shore fishing and pier fishing. Also, there is boat access for those who want to cast a line from the water via a hard-surface boat ramp.
There are restrooms, campsites, and picnic areas too. You can prepare your catch for eating at the fish cleaning station while your family enjoys exploring the many trails around the Lake. Or they can even take a swim from the beach.
Fish species that abound in Lost Island Lake include:
- Black crappie
- Largemouth bass
- Channel catfish
- Northern pike
- Yellow bass
- White bass
- Yellow perch
- Yellow bullhead
The Lake is a shallow bowl with an average depth of just 10 feet. The banks are sloping, and extensive sloughs and marshes border the water. There’s little submerged vegetation within the lake, but that doesn’t seem to deter the myriad fish species that thrive here.
Anglers come to Lost Island Lake in the spring, early summer, and fall for bullhead fishing, which can be tremendous. Walleye fishing is superb in the spring and fall, and you may creel an occasional northern pike too.
During the winter months, ice fishing is productive here, especially for yellow bass. And that’s why Lost Island Lake is on this list of Iowa’s ten best fishing locations.
10. Tuttle Lake:
Tuttle Lake is located a couple of miles outside Dolliver in Emmet County. This shallow, 2,268-acre lake drops to a maximum depth of six feet. Close by is Okamanpedan State Park. Here you’ll find camping, hiking, and a very pleasant environment to relax post-fishing.
Tuttle Lake has good boat access via a hard-surface boat ramp. There’s camping, restrooms, and a picnic area too. As for the fishing, you can expect to encounter the following varied species of fish in Tuttle Lake:
- Northern pike
- Black Bullhead
- Black crappie
- Channel catfish
Local anglers come to Tuttle in the spring, early summer, and fall to fish for bullhead. Walleye fishing is also outstanding, especially during the spring and fall. And you may finish up with a full bag of other mixed species whenever you visit. So this is one of the ten best fishing locations in Iowa for that reason.
Reeling In the Big Fish:
The Hawkeye State of Iowa provides extensive options and fantastic opportunities for leisure anglers, no matter their preferred target species. Moreover, Iowa’s fishing locations offer abundant fish populations and rank among the most visually stunning in the nation. While the aforementioned ten fishing spots showcase the state’s finest, it’s worth noting that numerous other remarkable locations exist. Therefore, if you’re seeking an action-packed fishing vacation coupled with a plethora of memorable family-friendly activities, Iowa deserves to be at the forefront of your travel itinerary.
In conclusion, fishing in Iowa offers diverse experiences, encompassing tranquil locations like Coralville Lake and lively destinations such as Coldwater Creek. Whether you’re a seasoned angler seeking new challenges or a beginner eager to cast your first line, Iowa’s abundant waterways present ample opportunities for recreational fishing.
With many lakes, rivers, and streams to explore, anglers of all skill levels can immerse themselves in the joys of the sport while relishing the scenic beauty and abundant aquatic life that Iowa offers. From the thrill of reeling in a prized catch to the peaceful moments spent surrounded by nature, fishing in Iowa allows individuals to connect with the state’s beautiful landscapes and bountiful aquatic ecosystems.
As you explore the fishing spots in Iowa, remember to respect the environment, follow fishing regulations, and engage in sustainable practices to preserve these precious resources for future generations. So grab your gear, cast your line, and embark on a memorable fishing adventure in the heartland of America.
My articles appear in Marketing Edge Magazine, on Gizmogrind, and with various Medium publications. But one thing hasn’t changed in all of my life: no matter where I was or what I was doing. I’ve always loved to be outdoors.
A man needs nothing more than a good flannel shirt, a well-worn pair of jeans, and comfortable hiking boots. I don’t go for all the fancy luxury stuff. Suits are uncomfortable and shaving sucks.