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Johnny darter

Johnny darter


olive in color with numerous "w-shaped" markings along the sides; one of 16 species of darters in Iowa; reaches a maximum length of about 2 1/2 inches


Johnny darter Distribution

statewide (with the exception of the southwest corner of the state) in medium-sized streams and some lakes


chironomids, tiny crustaceans, small insect larvae

State Record


Expert Tip

darters play an important role in aquatic food chains and are some of the most colorful fish in Iowa


The range of the Johnny darter is quite extensive, rivaling that of logperch. In Iowa, it reaches its greatest abundance in the small creeks and streams of the northeast region. It is also common in some of the natural lakes and is occasionally sampled in man-made lakes.

The Johnny darter is a small member of the darters, reaching a maximum length of approximately 2 1/2 inches. It is olive in color with numerous, conspicuous w-shaped markings along the sides. The dorsal fin contains 12 rays, the anal has 8 rays; there are usually about 50 scales along the lateral line, and the breast and cheeks are scaleless.

Habitat preference is quite diverse. They are found in streams of various size, gradient, substrate and clarity. Of all the darter species, it may be the most tolerant of diverse conditions. It is not a riffle species and is frequently encountered in small to medium-sized streams of moderate clarity, where it lives in pools over sand or solid bedrock.

Spawning activities of this fish have been examined intensively. The males establish territories around partially embedded rocks in the spring when the water temperature approaches 60 degrees F. A nest site is prepared by turning upside down and rubbing the area with the caudal, anal and pelvic fins, while balancing with the aid of the pectorals. Gravid females are approached with fins lowered and are led beneath the rock where nest polishing is resumed. The female may then join the male, head to head, and deposit 30 to 200 eggs in the nest. Females may lay 5 or 6 egg clutches, and males sometimes accumlate a thousand or more eggs from several females. Males then guard the eggs until hatched.

Chironomids, tiny crustaceans and small insect larvae are the primary food items of Johnny darters.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Lost Island Lake Palo Alto 3 miles north of Ruthven 1162.00
Silver Lake (Dickinson) Dickinson west edge of Lake Park 1041.00
Yellow River Allamakee T96N, R6W, S3 to T96N, R4W, S24 25.00
Paint Creek Allamakee Located in Yellow River State Forest, 3 miles west of Harpers Ferry off of State Forest Road or CR B25. 11.00
Maquoketa River (trout portion) Clayton The Upper Maquoketa River from Joy Springs downstream to Backbone Lake contains trout year-round. The area 3 miles southwest of Strawberry Point off 400th is stocked with catchable fish. 8.00
North Bear Creek Winneshiek Located 2.5 miles northeast of Highlandville. 6.00
Sny Magill Creek Clayton Located in the Sny Magill Wildlife Management Area, 3 miles southwest of McGregor along Keystone Road. 5.00
Coon Creek Winneshiek Located in Coon Creek Wildlife Management Area, 7 miles northeast of Decorah. 2.60
Otter Creek Fayette Located 3 miles southeast of West Union. 2.50
Wapsi River Trout Section Mitchell Located 0.5 mile west of McIntire. 2.50
Pine Creek Allamakee Located on Pine Creek Wildlife Management Area, 2 miles northeast of Sattre on Balsam Road or CR W60. 2.50
Fountain Springs Delaware 2.5 miles northeast of Greeley along Oak Road. Most of the fishery lies within Fountain Springs County Park 2.30
Turtle Creek Mitchell Located about 1/2 mile north of St. Ansgar off of Highway 218. 2.20
Upper Swiss Valley Creek Dubuque Located 3 miles south of Dubuque near Swiss Valley Nature Center, just off Swiss Valley Road 2.10
Burr Oak Creek Mitchell Stream located just north of Osage. T98N, R16W, S4, 5, 9, 10 2.00
Brush Creek Jackson Located 2 miles norteast of Andrew just south of 261st street. 1.90
Casey Springs Winneshiek Stream located north of Decorah. T99N, R9W, S25, 26 1.50
Richmond Springs Delaware 3 miles south of Strawberry Point. Located entirely within Backbone State Park. Closest to north park gate access. 1.40
Little Turkey River Delaware 3 miles east of Colesburg in Hoffman Wildlife Managment Area off Hubbard Road 1.20
Tete des Morts River Jackson Located near St. Donatus. T87N, R3E, S4 1.10
Mink Creek Fayette Located on private property 1.5 miles north of Wadena, access on Bighorn Road. 0.90
Lower Swiss Valley Creek Dubuque Located 3 miles south of Dubuque in Swiss Valley Park just off Swiss Valley Road 0.80
Spring Falls Delaware T90N - R4W; sections 1, 2, 12 0.80
Joy Springs Clayton South on Alpha Ave, off Highway 3 about 3 miles west of Strawberry Point in Joy Springs County Park. 0.80
Ozark Springs Jackson T86N - R1E; Section 32 0.70
Bankston Creek Dubuque Just south of Park Hollow Road, 3 miles north of Bankston in Bankston County Park 0.60
Baileys Ford Delaware 3 miles southeast of Manchester - follow signage from Jefferson Road. 0.60
Mossy Glen Clayton 5 miles northwest of Edgewood at the termination of the Level B portion of Eagle Ave. Road damage from weather has made access to this site difficult for all vehicles. Not recommended for low-clearance or 2-wheel drives. 0.50
South Cedar Creek Clayton Located 2 miles south of Garnavillo and may be accessed from Jigsaw Road. 0.50
Bohemian Creek Winneshiek Located about 1.5 miles east of Protivin. 0.30
Monastery Creek Dubuque Monastery Creek can be accessed through the Dubuque County Swiss Valley Nature Preserve about 4 miles SW of Dubuque off of Swiss Valley Rd. 0.20