Where to Find Them
Bait & Lures
Angling Tips

Fishing for Trout

There is a mystique about trout. From the fine water quality that is essential for trout to the tranquil scenery often associated with a trout stream, there is a following for these fish that is surpassed by no other.

Iowa boasts some of the most beautiful and plentiful trout streams in the Upper Midwest. Iowa trout streams offer rainbow, brown and the native brook trout, both naturally reproducing and stocked.

Trout fishing is a great Iowa tradition. The first fish hatchery in the state was constructed in 1874 to culture trout near Anamosa. As interest in trout fishing grew and hatcheries became essential to replenish trout populations in heavily degraded streams, more emphasis was placed on trout culture. The DNR operates three hatcheries that provide over 360,000 fish each year.

Where to Find Them
Iowa trout streams have a variety of natural and man-made cover habitats. Natural cover includes dead water pools, boulders, bank-cover, aquatic vegetation and log jams. Look for lurking trout on the downstream side of boulders in high gradient streams with swift current. An eddy is formed just behind most of these rocks where a feeding trout can face upstream, protected from the main current in the still water of the eddy. Rainbow trout are often found in front of a boulder where the current is split in slower current. Brown and brook trout prefer slower, more protected eddies.

Trout prefer bank cover. The bank slows the current and provides habitat that is similar to boulders. Underwater obstacles such as brush, logs and tree roots that extend outward from the bank add greater attraction for cover. It is difficult to predict the precise location of trout in a brush or log pile, so take your time and fish this habitat with care.

Aquatic vegetation is the most difficult yet productive habitat cover to fish for trout. On most occasions, the main stream current scours a tunnel through the vegetation bed. Thin strands of the plants extending out from the main body become a nuisance by fouling baits and lures. Trout often lay at the inside edge of the vegetation where it slows the flow and provides a comfortable feeding station.

Deep pools interspersed with riffles provide a variety of places for trout fishing. They are consistent places for the fish to hide and ambush their prey. The riffle provides feeding sites while the pool has cover for both resting trout and feeding sites. The upstream and downstream ends of a pool are excellent spots to fish for trout, where the current is strongest. Trout will also gather near the bottom and eat drifting food organisms, especially where there is structure like submerged boulders and logs.

Bank hides that have been constructed on the outside bends of streams are probably the most difficult to fish, but they are very productive for trout. These structures provide excellent disguise for even the largest trout. Trout are often at the upstream end of these structures and capture food items that drift along the outside edge. Drift the bait or lure into this vicinity. These structures blend well with the surrounding landscape, so focus on the bank terrain as well as the stream.

Be alert at all times while trout fishing. Approach the stream cautiously and with a low profile. Trout can often be spooked before you make your first cast. Fishing upstream will generally spook fewer fish than working downstream. Actively feeding trout often reveal their presence to the perceptive angler. Look for specific habitats and approach these locations with care and patience. Make mental notes of drifting aquatic organisms, both on the water surface and substrate. Take notice of terrestrial activities along the stream bank that might influence trout. Try to become a part of the stream system – try to read the stream.

Spinning gear is the top choice of Iowa trout anglers. Ultra-light equipment is preferred because it can cast very light and small baits and lures. It handles light monofilament line of 6-pound test or less well and allows for maximum excitement when fighting a trout. Make sure your reel is balanced with the rod. Choose a 5 to 7 feet rod with a quick, sensitive action that can cast one-sixteenth ounce lures and baits of that weight or less.

Fly fishing and trout are synonymous. Use the manufacture’s recommendation listed on the rod to properly match your reel and line to your rod. A 7 1/2 to 8 foot fly rod with medium to slow action is ideal for Iowa trout fishing. Pick a reel that suits you best. Fly lines come in various weights and styles. Attach a leader, preferably tapered, with a 3-pound test tippet to the heavy line; there are small barbed eyelets available to do so.

Bait & Lures
Natural trout baits include a wide variety of items: worms, minnows, crayfish, grasshoppers, crickets, wax worms and other insect larvae. Hooks for these baits range from No. 6 to 14; matching bait size with hook size. Thread the worm on the hook in at least two places and cover the entire hook. Trout sometimes pick up a worm, crush it, drop it and then pick it up again. This nibbling habit makes a cautious fish tough to catch on an exposed hook point.

Grasshoppers and crickets are most often used in the late summer and early fall. Hook them once through the tough portion of their body, above the front legs, or simply thread them on to the hook. These baits are most effective when drifted downstream into likely trout cover.

Minnows are occasionally used to catch large brown trout. Hook the minnow lightly through the back or lip and drift it into the deep pools that have hiding habitat structure. Minnow pieces can also be used as cut bait. Small, soft-shell crayfish and fish eggs, usually from salmon, can also be productive when drifted in a similar fashion. Use egg hooks for salmon eggs.

Prepared trout bait ranges from commercial products to homemade concoctions. Most varieties come in small chunks or balls. They are usually cast across a pool and allowed to drift with the current. Other popular baits include whole kernel corn and marshmallows.

Artificial trout lures are about the same as for any other game fish; only the size is usually smaller. Use small spinners, plugs or jigs (one-sixteenth to one-sixty/fourth ounce in weight) and present these lures by fishing upstream with a variable speed retrieve. The lure appears more natural in this position and it is easier for a trout to pursue and pick it up. Spinners and jigs can be dressed with a variety of materials or with live bait. Marabou or soft plastic twister tails are the most popular. Vary the speed of your retrieve if you are not catching fish.

Most trout flies imitate some type of natural food organism, such as a mayfly, caddis fly, sculpin, minnow, stonefly, grasshopper or midge. Trout fishing flies can be found that match almost all of the varying life stages of aquatic and terrestrial insects that are likely to occur along any coldwater stream.

Angling Tips
Trout can be caught year around, and with few exceptions most of our trout streams have fish long past the usual stocking schedule. Iowa has more than 40 trout streams with consistently naturally reproducing brown trout and another 30 streams where natural reproduction is occurring, but not consistently.

Increased flows after a gentle spring shower dislodges food organisms and spurs the trout to go on a feeding spree. As rainfall enters the stream, water clarity becomes a bit more turbid, helping to camouflage the leader and line. Worm fishing can be productive at these times along with nymphs and streamers.

Summer is the best opportunity for fly fishing since natural insect hatches are frequent and intense. Fishing with spinners that imitate minnows is at its peak because natural minnow abundance is highest at this time. Summer marks a critical time for trout survival as temperature and oxygen become important factors. The maximum water temperature for trout is 75 degrees F and the dissolved oxygen should be about 7 parts per million. Trout seek out preferred habitats that have optimum environmental conditions, so look for springs that flow into trout streams and keep the water temperature cool.Work these sites carefully; many contain some nice fish.

By autumn, live or prepared bait, wet flies and spinners return to the trout fishing routine. Dry flies can still be productive, but the insect hatches become more sporadic and less intense than in the summer. Early fall is grasshopper time, especially for brown trout. Gather them in the cool of the early morning. Imitation grasshoppers also work well. Night crawlers are equally effective, particularly following light rainfall. Take care not to disturb active trout nests or redds, visible as areas of cleaned gravel in the streambed, when fishing in the late fall and throughout the winter. Brown and brook trout build these redds and deposit their eggs into them. The eggs remain in the redds until they hatch in the late winter or early spring. Avoid stepping on or near a redd.

Learn to "read" a stream – identify habitats that offer food and cover. Trout are not randomly scattered in a stream. The stream current carries food to the trout while it waits. Although trout are streamlined, they do not haphazardly use up energy. They can be found along the edge of the current flow near protective cover. Look for cover with the most food and least effort needed. Some anglers use attractor lures, either a spinning lure or a fly, to entice a trout to chase it.