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Corning, Iowa - Lake Icaria is a popular fishing lake in southwest Iowa’s Adams County. It’s also has a popular campground. And a popular swimming beach, and is popular for boating and for deer hunting. In fact, Lake Icaria offers year-round outdoor recreation attracting visitors from Des Moines to Council Bluffs and all across the region.
“It’s quite a destination area for southwest Iowa,” said Chad Paup, wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Grand River Unit. “The Adams County Board of Supervisors is investing in the cabins, cottages, beach, and marina because they know that Icaria brings people to the area.”
Lake Icaria is a shared resource between the Iowa DNR and the Adams County Conservation Board. Paup’s staff is responsible for managing and improving the wildlife area, the Iowa DNR’s Fisheries Bureau manages the lake and the conservation board is responsible for the park.
Paup said staff from the Grand River Unit are working to reclaim the area from the cedars and woody shrubs that has crowded out the prairie one chunk at a time. The cut trees are placed in a pile, then they treat the area with prescribed fire. After the cedars are removed, he said they are occasionally finding remnant prairie on some of the areas.
“It’s not everywhere, but it is in pockets,” he said. “In southern Iowa, if you don’t manage these areas with fire, they can get away from you fast. We want native gasses and wildflowers here and that requires active management.”
Paup said they rotate the areas where they use fire every 3-5 years, and maintain the firebreaks which makes it more manageable. The area surrounding the east retention pond was burned this spring to get grass on the hillsides, which will improve and protect the water quality of Lake Icaria.
“It’s a constant battle to keep trees and shrubs from encroaching on the grassy areas,” he said.
The DNR partners with the Adams County Conservation Board, that owns and manages the adjacent Talty Wildlife Area, to coordinate the use of prescribed fire to maximize the benefits.
“They’re tremendous partners and go over and beyond helping us to manage Lake Icaria to make this place what it is - they take care of the park, manage the parking lots, boat ramps and we manage the wildlife area,” Paup said.
That partnership benefits not only the visitors to the area by providing quality habitat, but also the animals that pass through or call the area home.
Staff with the DNR’s Multiple Species Inventory and Monitoring program visited Lake Icaria in 2009 and returned this year to record the different species on the area.
In addition to the deer, wild turkeys, rabbits and pheasants that live here, there are a number of species that are considered in need of greatest conservation including northern leopard frogs, western fox snakes, northern prairie skinks, Baltimore orioles, belted kingfishers, brown thrashers, dickcissels, common yellowthroats, red-headed woodpeckers, western meadowlarks and monarch butterflies.
Lake Icaria fishery
Lake Icaria has a two-acre pond on the wildlife area that is used as a temporary home to 100,000 newly hatched walleye fry year in late April to early May where they will live for 30 days eating and growing with little competition and away from predators. At the end of the 30 days, these walleyes will be around two inches long. The stop logs are pulled and the walleyes drain through the tube into the 650-acre lake.
Walleyes are a featured species here and the lake receives a supplemental stocking of larger 8-inch fish in the fall. These advanced fingerlings have the best chance for survival.
“We’re seeing a lot of 12 to 18-inch fish right now, and fish up to 25 inches are being caught in the winter,” said Andy Jansen, fisheries biologist with the Iowa DNR. He said they used the pond this year to rear wipers instead of walleyes to increase the wiper population.
The fishery also includes blue catfish, a recent addition beginning in 2019, that come from the Mt. Ayr fish hatchery. These fish are now around 14 inches and beginning to show up in anglers’ catches. The blue catfish join a strong population of the ever-popular channel catfish.
“There’s an outstanding channel catfish population for all sizes, especially for fish 15 to 25 inches,” Jansen said. “Bluegills are running around 7-8 inches and crappies are mostly 7-9 inches with some larger fish available. It’s a good place for kids because the panfish are active and kids generally don’t care about the size.”
The fishing jetties received new riprap recently and the marina installed new docks and new security lighting last year. Bait is available at the marina and at nearby Lakeside Supplies. A fish cleaning station is available at the main boat ramp.
“The park staff do a fantastic job at maintaining the park and the lake amenities,” Jansen said.