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Body form of creek chubs is stout and robust, with a broad, blunt head. Four taxonomic characters separate this species from the other cyprinids. First, a black spot occurs in the first 3 rays of the dorsal fin. Second, it has a very large mouth. Third, a small, flap-like barbel is located in the groove in the middle of the upper jaw. Last, a wedged-shaped spot appears at the base of the tail. Body color of the back and sides varies from olive to purplish changing to silvery-white on the belly, and a lateral stripe runs from the tip of the snout through the eye to the end of the caudal peduncle. The intensity of the lateral stripe and dorsal color depends on water clarity, darker individuals coming from clearer waters. Creek chubs appear striped because of the dark color above, light streak just above the dark lateral line, and then white beneath. The dorsal fin is inserted behind the base of the pelvic fins, and the anal fins contain 8 rays, while the pectoral fins contain 16 or 17, and the pelvic fins 8 rays. Body scales are very small in size and appear cross-hatched on the upper back and sides. Lateral line scales range from 49 to 64 in number, and they are sometimes interrupted by missing pores. A terminal, slightly oblique mouth extends to below the eye and usually has a barbel; however, the barbel may be absent from one or both sides. Hooked pharyngeal teeth, on stout arches, are arranged in two rows and have the formula 2, 5-4, 2. Breeding males develop a rosy tint on the body and form large nuptial tubercles on head and snout. Fins may become light yellowish to light olive in color.
Creek chub is widely distributed in all major drainage basins in this state, but its relative abundance in fish collections varies greatly with location. This species is common in most of our small streams, while it is rare to occasional in the large interior rivers. It is rare in the Great Border Rivers and seldom maintains populations in lakes and reservoirs.
Creek chubs consume primarily aquatic and terrestrial insects, insect larvae, crustaceans, mollusks, and small fishes, along with the incidental ingestion of algae and other minute plants.
State Records are not documented for non-game species.
For a great adventure close to home, go fishing at a small stream with a little spinner (Mepps size 0, for example). For even more fun, try fly fishing with small wet (sinking) flies. Keep a few to use as live bait the next time you go fishing for bigger fish, or to use as cut bait for catfish.
The Creek Chub is the most widely distributed minnow in Iowa, occurring in every major watershed in the state. However, its abundance varies greatly with location. It reaches its greatest abundance in small streams while at the same time is only occasional in the larger rivers. The Creek Chub is rare and has a limited distribution in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Populations of Creek Chubs are seldom found in lakes and reservoirs.
Some researchers state that the Creek Chub can be found in all ponds, reservoirs, and lakes, but most indicate that the majority of creek chubs inhabit small, often intermittent, headwater creeks where few other fishes are present. Its population may increase when human activity reduces the population of competing species. The Creek Chub frequents streams with alternate riffles and pools rather than continuous strong flow, occurring where there are sufficient holes, brush, roots, or other cover for retreat if threatened. It is most abundant in streams of high gradient with gravelly bottoms, requiring flow for spawning and gravel in which to build nests. It can tolerate turbidity if there is enough gradient to create gravelly areas, and scarcity of gravelly bottoms may limit the creek chub’s distribution. Overall, the Creek Chub is “a native species with the tenacity of a weed”.
Creek Chubs inhabit small to medium-sized streams with silt-free gravel bars. They can endure turbidity, provided the current sweeps the gravel free of silt. Creek chubs are one of the largest and most dominant fishes in Iowa creeks and streams.
Male Creek Chubs breed by preparing a nest in the gravel-bottomed run by mounding up gravel about 3 inches high and several feet in length using the snout and mouth. Spawning activity commences in May when the water temperature reaches about 65 degrees F. Eggs are deposited in the nest by one or more females over a period of 2 weeks and covered with gravel by the male as nest building continues. The male guards the nest against intruders with tubercle displays or swimming in a ritualized combative posture.
Creek Chubs consume primarily aquatic and terrestrial insects, insect larvae, crustaceans, mollusks, and small fishes, along with the incidental ingestion of algae and other minute plants. This species attains about 12 inches in length after 4 years of life.
Creek Chubs provide some angling in small streams, particularly for young fishermen, and are an excellent food fish. This species is one of the principal bait fishes because they are hardy, abundant and easily kept in confinement. In the wild they are an important forage fish for sport fish species.
Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.
Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.
Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames
Illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing