Where to Find Them
Equipment
Bait & Lures
Angling Tips

Fishing for Trout

There is a mystique about trout. From the fine water quality trout need t to the tranquil scenery of a trout stream, there is a following for these fish that is exceeded 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. Iowa’s first fish hatchery was built in 1874 near Anamosa to raise trout.  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 many natural and man-made cover habitats. Natural cover includes dead water pools, boulders, bank-cover, aquatic plants and log jams. Look for lurking trout on the downstream side of boulders in high slope streams with swift current. An eddy forms just behind most of these rocks where a feeding trout can face upstream, safe 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 like 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 spread outward from the bank add greater attraction for cover. It is hard to guess where trout will be in a brush or log pile, so take your time and fish this habitat with care.

Aquatic plants are the most difficult yet productive habitat cover to fish for trout. Most times, the main stream current washes a tunnel through the vegetation bed. Thin strands of the plants that extend out from the main body become a pest by catching baits and lures. Trout often lay at the inside edge of the vegetation where it slows the flow and provides a comfortable feeding place.

Deep pools scattered with riffles offer many places to fish for trout. They are consistent places for the fish to hide and trap 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 built on the outside bends of streams are probably the most difficult to fish, but they are very productive for trout. These structures offer 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 area. These structures blend well with the nearby landscape, so focus on the bank terrain as well as the stream.

Be alert at all times while trout fishing. Approach the stream carefully and with a low profile. Trout can often be spooked before you make your first cast. Fishing upstream will usually spook fewer fish than working downstream. Actively feeding trout often reveal their presence. Look for specific habitats and approach these places 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 affect trout. Try to become a part of the stream system – try to read the stream.

Equipment
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 correctly match your reel and line to your rod. A 7 1/2 to 8 foot fly rod with medium to slow action is perfect for Iowa trout fishing. Pick a reel that suits you best. Fly lines come in many weights and styles. Attach a leader, preferably tapered, with a 3-pound test tippet to the heavy line; small barbed eyelets are available to do so.

Bait & Lures
Natural trout baits include many items: worms, minnows, crayfish, grasshoppers, crickets, wax worms and other insect larvae. Hooks for these baits range from No. 6 to 14; match bait size with hook size. Thread the worm on the hook in at least two places and cover the whole hook. Trout sometimes pick up a worm, crush it, drop it and then pick it up again. This nibbling habit makes a cautious fish hard 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 hard portion of their body, above the front legs, or simply thread them on to the hook. These baits work best when drifted downstream into likely trout cover.

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

Prepared trout bait ranges from commercial products to homemade creations. Most varieties come in small chunks or balls. Cast them across a pool and let them 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) fished upstream with a flexible speed retrieve. The lure looks more natural in this position and it is easier for a trout to chase 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 be along any coldwater stream.

Angling Tips
You can catch trout all 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 occurs, but not consistently.

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

Summer is the best chance for fly fishing since natural insect hatches are common and strong. 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 favored habitats that have the best environmental conditions, so look for springs that flow into trout streams and keep the water temperature cool. Work these sites carefully; many have 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. Collect them in the cool of the early morning. Imitation grasshoppers also work well. Nightcrawlers are equally effective, mainly after light rainfall. Try 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 put their eggs into them. The eggs stay 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 – find 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 randomly use up energy. Find trout 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 lure a trout to chase it.