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Brown back with silvery reflections, sides tinged golden yellow with dark-edged scales, white belly, and large scales. It is often misidentified as other carpsuckers. The most notable feature is the lack of a nipple-like projection at the middle of the lower lip. It can be distinguished from the other carpsuckers by the number of scales along the lateral line; it has 37 to 41 scales. Adults are commonly 12- to 17-inches long and weigh 1- to 3-pounds.


Quillback Distribution

Abundant in the clearer streams in Iowa. Their range extends from the Great Border Rivers into the large interior rivers and most river impoundments. Along with the River Carpsucker, they often make up a big portion of fish in these rivers. Small streams occasionally have Quillback populations, but their abundance is usually rare.


Bottom ooze, plant materials, and aquatic insect larvae

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Quillback Carpsuckers prefer moderately clear, highly productive streams with large, deep pools next to stable gravel or rubble bottoms. It is less tolerant of turbidity than  other carpsuckers, although they are often found together. Quillbacks adapt easily to other habitats and often live in slow-flowing streams, natural lakes and river impoundments.

Quillbacks are early spring spawners. They prefer shallow areas in moderate current over sand and gravel bottoms. Spawning starts in April and May when water temperatures are 55 to 70 degrees. The adhesive eggs are randomly broadcast and sink to the bottom where they hatch unattended. A six year old female produces about 64,000 eggs. Quillbacks are a long-lived species with fish as old as 11 years found in populations. Growth averages up to 3- to 4-inches per year in the younger ages to about 1- to 1 1/2-inches each year for older fish. A six year old quillback would be about 12-inches long and weigh slightly over one pound. It has been reported to hybridize with Highfin Carpsucker.

Quillbacks are not of importance to anglers and are seldom caught except in very early spring. Snagging for Quillbacks occurs in the fast water below dams, where they tend to gather. The commercial catch of Quillbacks is low and incidental to River Carpsuckers, as neither species is in demand as a food-fish. They are an important forage fish to predators when they are young.

Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 19, Mississippi River Lee Amenities listed are at City of Ft. Madison boat ramp. Amenities vary by location in Pool 19 33500.00
Pool 18, Mississippi River Louisa Amenities listed are for the Toolsboro Ramp. The ramp at Toolsboro is paved but the road to the ramp is gravel. There is some shore fishing along the parking area and at the outlet of Lake Odessa. Amenities vary by location in pool 18 13300.00
Pool 16, Mississippi River Scott The amenities list are for Buffalo Shores campground in Buffalo, Iowa. Amenities at other locations in Pool 16 vary by location. 13000.00
Pool 17, Mississippi River Muscatine Amenities list for Muscatine City Ramp. This ramp is located in downtown Muscatine. Amenities vary by location in Pool 17. 7580.00
Spirit Lake Dickinson One mile North of Spirit Lake 5684.00
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5340.00
Saylorville Reservoir Polk North edge of Des Moines 4970.00
Lake Macbride Johnson 4 miles West of Solon 940.00
Pleasant Creek Lake Linn 4 miles North of Palo 400.00
Swan Lake Dickinson 2m N Superior 371.00
West Nishnabotna River Fremont 121.00
Iowa River (Marshalltown to Coralville Lake) Iowa This stretch is located in Marshall, Tama, the SW corner of Benton, Iowa, and Johnson County. A popular access is at the Hwy 21 Access, which is part of the Iowa River Corridor Wildlife Area, just south of Belle Plaine. 104.00
Five in One Dam Linn On Cedar River under I-380 in Cedar Rapids 90.00
Iowa River (Iowa Falls to Marshalltown) Marshall This stretch is located in Hardin and Marshall County. A popular access is located in Pine Lake State Park, just east of Eldora on County Road S56. 66.00
Wapsipinicon River (Oxford Junct to Mississippi R) Scott Wapsi River Environmental Education Center : 31555 52nd Avenue, Dixon, Iowa 52745. Northeast of Dixon along the Wapsi River. And Sherman Park across the River in Clinton County 66.00
Skunk River (Coppock to Mississippi River) Des Moines Mac Coon Access is located five and one-half miles north of Lockridge just east of Willow Blvd. 65.00
Missouri River (Sioux City to Little Sioux) Harrison Chris Larsen Park: 1280 Larsen Park Road/Sioux City, IA. Located on the Sioux City riverfront along the Missouri River. Larsen Park offers 110 acres on the Sioux City Riverfront. Managed by the City of Sioux City. 64.00
Missouri River (Council Bluffs to state line) Fremont Lake Manawa State Park: 1100 South Shore Drive/Council Bluffs, IA 51501 phone: 712-366-0220. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Lake Manawa State Park has boat ramps on the Missouri River within the park. 61.00
Little Sioux River (Correctionville to Missouri R) Harrison Little Sioux Park, 2 miles SW of Correctionville, Woodberry County Conservation Board 57.00
Des Moines River (Stratford to Saylorville Lake) Polk The Highway 30 Access is in the middle of this river section and is located 3 miles west of Boone on the north side of Highway 30. 57.00
Cedar River (La Porte City to Cedar Rapids) Linn This stretch is located in Benton and Linn County. A popular river access is in the Dudgeon Lake Wildlife Area right of Hwy 150 on the North side of Vinton. 56.00
Cedar River (Cedar Rapids to Moscow) Cedar This stretch is found in Linn and Cedar County. A popular access is found in Palisades State Park which is on Hwy 30 between Cedar Rapids and Mount Vernon. 55.00
Missouri River (Little Sioux to Council Bluffs) Pottawattamie Wilson Island State Recreation Area: 32801 Campground Lane/Missouri Valley, IA 51555 phone-712-642-2069. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wilson Island Recreation Area has 544 acres along the Missouri River near Missouri Valley Iowa. 53.00
Wapsipinicon River (Troy Mills to Oxford Junction) Jones This stretch is located in Linn and Jones County. A popular access on this stretch is in Pinicon Ridge Park, just off Hwy 13 by Central City. 53.00
English River Washington Riverside Access : on the South side of Riverside. Has a hard surface ramp but it is only usable during highwater, mostly used as a canoe take out. 37.00
Des Moines River (Farmington to Keokuk) Lee Redwing Access : 3941 Valley Road just west of Keokuk. 35.00
Iowa River (Columbus Junction to Mississippi R) Louisa Cappy Russell Access : West of Oakville 6444 County Road X-71, Oakville, IA 52646 30.00
Iowa River (Coralville Lake to River Junction) Johnson This stretch is located in Johnson County. A popular access is the Tailwater East Ramp located right below the Coralville Lake Dam, East of North Liberty and Coralville. 29.00
Mohawk Park Lake Linn East side of the Cedar River off J Ave. 26.00
Iowa River (River Junction to Columbus Junction) Louisa River Forks Access : 1001 Main Street, Fredonia, IA 52738 24.00
Petersons Pit, West Story 4 miles northeast of Ames 22.60
Burlington Street Dam Johnson On the Iowa River in Iowa City under the Burlington Street bridge 12.00