Iowa's Best Warm-water Fly Fishing

You're seldom far from good fly fishing in Iowa

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth, a very large one, photographed from an old trophy mount. Today, virtually all informed anglers release smallmouth bass.

There are numerous smallmouth streams in Iowa. Some are in central Iowa, others are closer to "trout country." More so than any other species, it is dubious practice to publicize the whereabouts of smallmouth streams that aren't protected. Hence, only Iowa's protected streams are listed here. In practice, you will find that simply stating your commitment to catch-and-release will encourage others to share their knowledge.

Flies: Use wooly buggers, crawdad patterns, Clouser minnows, and poppers or divers in the hot months. The most common error is using large lures. Select flies a size smaller than logic suggests.

Upper Iowa River
The protected area is from Fifth Street in Decorah (which is considered by many to be in the absolute heart of "trout country") downstream to the upper dam.

Maquoketa River
Fish from the dam at Lake Delhi downstream as posted to the gravel road bridge. This section of the river is near the confluence with Spring Branch Creek (see trout streams), so there is potential to combine both kinds of fishing into one outing.

Cedar River
Also in the Northeastern part of the state, this river is designated catch and release from the Otranto Dam to the bridge on county road T26 near St. Ansgar.

Middle Raccoon River
The stretch from the dam in the town of Panora to the dam in the town of Redfield is protected. During wet seasons it can be floated in canoes or jon boats; in other years, it is better to wade.

Largemouth Bass and Bluegills

These bluegills each weighted about a pound, which is uncommonly large. When fighting, bluegills swim in large, powerful circles. These towed me in my float tube around the pond as I landed them and are the only trophy fish I've ever kept.

Largemouth and bluegills are fly fishing staples in Iowa. Crappie are also very common, but the "season" when they are close to the surface is comparatively short. Our experience in the fly shop shows that anglers who outfit themselves specifically for largemouth bass (8 wt. rods, big poppers and divers) soon tire of the large stuff and gear down. An excellent compromise is to use poppers large enough that small sunfish cannot take the hook. You will attract a fair number of bass and get the best of the bluegills.

In the early and late parts of the season, use wet flies worked slowly by the "finger twist" method. Use them at first daylight

through the hot months also. Poppers with rubber legs are excellent producers. The best "farm pond" rods are 9 feet and either 5-, 6-, or 7-weight. The heavier the rod, the larger bugs you can throw for bass; the lighter the rod, the more fun bluegills are.

At first you may have trouble meeting farmers and getting permission to fish the ponds, but there are many, many public areas. Ask in bait and tackle shops and look in the DNR's published regulations for a list of public fishing areas. Near Des Moines, Badger Creek Lake is an excellent choice.


This wiper was photographed from the mount that was displayed by the State of Iowa while the fish held the state's record during the early '90s. My friend and fishing buddy Ron Fredrickson devoted a season to catching a record fish, which is to say that the trophy fish was purposely stalked and caught, not hooked by good fortune alone. The fish weighed over 15 pounds and measured about a yard long.

It happens like this: first you hear the sound, like water running in the tub, or a dog rolling in the pile of leaves you've raked. It's the sound of a school of shad the wipers have cut loose from the main school and chased to the surface where they are skipping across the water for their lives. You have maybe two seconds, if you're lucky, to cast your popper into the school.

For central Iowa anglers, particularly for those of us who are self-proclaimed river rats, there is nothing like wiper hunting. These fast, aggressive fish can spool you in mere seconds. T
hey range from under a pound to about twenty pounds, and to find them go early. You're late if you miss sunrise. Wipers are a hybrid fish created in hatcheries by using the necessary

components from the female ocean striped bass and a male of the tiny, fresh water white bass (which in Iowa are called "stripers" and are also sporting to catch). Wipers are found in the Des Moines River from Saylorville Lake downstream. The tail waters of the Saylorville and Redrock dams are the best spots, but wipers appear throughout the river. That's the good news. The bad news is that, other than having to rise ridiculously early (actually, there is some minor evening activity too), you have to monitor the river conditions fastidiously. The fish, at least smaller individuals of the species, are easily caught, but the continually changing water levels below the dams must be just right. And it helps if the shad are running. August is typically the month when shad run in low water.

Pike and Muskie

This is another antique mount, a northern taken in northern Minnesota.

These game fish are caught in a surprising number and variety of places, usually by accident. If you know an area they frequent in a lake you regularly fish, try for them there at ice out. Other than that, two large natural lakes in northern Iowa -- East and West Okoboji, sometimes called the "Iowa Great Lakes," -- are your best bet. Better still, travel north into Minnesota or Ontario. There is a long-standing Iowa tradition of going north to fish for walleye and northern for the family's summer vacation. As more and more Iowans have embraced fly fishing, more and more fly rods are going north on vacation.

Wherever you do fish for Pike, we recommend using a shock tippet fashioned by threading a short piece of Berkley "Steelon" (plastic coated steel leader

material) through the eye of the fly and then attaching it by twisting it around itself several times and then melting the coating with a lighter (we call it "twist-melt."). Prepare each fly in this manner before leaving home -- 12" to 14" of material should be plenty -- and when it's time to fish use an Albright knot to attach the shock tippet to your monofilament leader. While you're at it, tie a few stout 6-foot leaders by using 2-foot pieces of 25lb, 20lb, and 15lb Maxima.

People who do a lot of this agree on one thing -- any fly will work as long as it's red and white and reasonable large. In practice, most anglers also carry some chartreuse Megadivers and other accepted pike flies.