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 get back to the Stone Age with a trip to one of Iowa’s many State Parks and ancient geological sites. But if your an avid angler, here are the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa.
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 historic 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 and rolling plains and sunshine (so bring your shades), as well as seemingly endless waterways. In Iowa’s lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, you’ll find crappie, bluegill, muskie, Northern pike, and walleye.
- 1 Fishing Licenses
- 2 Eating Your Catch
- 3 10 Great Fishing Spots in Iowa
- 4 Reeling In the Big Fish:
If you want to enjoy any of the 10 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 the age of 16, you will need a valid license to fish in this state. However, there are some exemptions, 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
There are few things 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 the majority of lakes, rivers, and streams in Iowa contain high-quality fish that’s safe to eat.
The IDNR and the Iowa Department of Public Health both provide helpful online information about fish consumption, together with 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 has some fantastic ice fishing opportunities, too.
And don’t forget Iowa’s officially designated State fish, the channel catfish, some of which are trophy-size. So here are the 10 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:
Coralville Lake is located in Johnson County, some four miles to the 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 coming in 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, 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 the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa 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 offers 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
When fishing in West Okoboji, you’ll also find muskie, walleye, and northern pike. Use a suspending jerk bait, using 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, and then work the jig back to your boat.
The Great Lakes have a closed-season for walleye. However, the first full 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:
Big Creek Lake is located near Polk City to the 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 lots of recreation opportunities, making it one of the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa.
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 all popular activities that visitors can enjoy within the park. Fish species that you’ll find here include:
- Largemouth bass
- Smallmouth bass
- Channel Catfish
- White bass
- White Crappie
- Yellow Perch
Also, there are 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 the offshore. Look for deep areas where there are drop-offs and ledges that offer shelter and good hunting grounds for the fish.
4. Bloody Run Creek:
Bloody Run Creek is located two miles to the west of Marquette in Clayton County. It is one of Iowa’s most popular trout fishing destinations, so it belongs on this list of the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa. There’s excellent shore fishing here, as well as camping, a picnic area, and restrooms. The trout species you’ll catch here include:
- Brown trout
- Rainbow trout
Although access to the shoreline is good, take care to avoid wild yellow parsnip when it’s 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 the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa 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 to the 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 there are two well-stocked trout streams, Glovers Creek and Otter Creek, which flow through the park.
As one of the top 10 Iowa fishing locations, this one is gloriously 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 heat of the afternoon when the trout rise to feed on hatches of mayflies, midges, and stoneflies.
And both streams are home to stocked brooks and 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 to the northwest of Bluffton in Winneshiek County. It’s a wonderful semi-wilderness location with excellent shoreline access and primitive camping sites.
Here you’ll find pristine waters, teeming with brook, brown, and rainbow trout. 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 the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa.
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. During its journey, the Mississippi flows along Iowa’s borders for 300 miles. And that’s why it’s one of the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa.
The river gradually becomes shallower and wider as it progresses. But its bed is mainly mud and sand with a few outcrops of bedrock.
Along the river, navigation locks and dams create a series of lake-like pools, which heavily influence the fish species that you’ll find here. Unfortunately, some fish species that like fast-flowing water, such as smallmouth bass have declined. However, fishes that enjoy a more pond-like habitat proliferate, including:
- Freshwater Drum
You’ll find the best fishing for walleye, paddlefish, and sauger during the late spring and fall.
Just look directly in 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 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 next contender for the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa is the Chariton River. It is a 218-mile long tributary to the Missouri River. But the part of the river to focus on is located in southeast Iowa in Clarke County.
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 on 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 the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa. Located in Palo Alto County, some three miles north of Ruthven, 1,162-acre Lost Island Lake is a well-provisioned fishing spot that’s popular with anglers from 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 that run 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 the water is bordered by a large network of extensive sloughs and marshes. 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 the 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 belongs on this list of the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa.
10. Tuttle Lake:
Tuttle Lake is located a couple of miles outside of Dolliver in Emmet County. This is a shallow, 2,268-acre lake that 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 at any time you visit. So this is one of the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa for that reason.
Reeling In the Big Fish:
The Hawkeye State of Iowa offers huge choices and great sport for leisure anglers, regardless of what species of fish you want to catch. Iowa’s fishing locations are also among the most scenically beautiful and in the country.
Although these are the 10 best fishing locations in Iowa, there are many more great spots. So, if you want an action-packed fishing vacation with many other memorable family-friendly activities, put Iowa right at the top of your list of places to visit.
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.