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By David Merical
From the January/February 2014 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine
I don’t like spending precious fishing time driving to far-off destinations, so I tend to fish close to home. There are very nice streams in northeast Iowa to trout fish. Unfortunately, many of those streams are a three-hour drive from central Iowa.
But the DNR keeps expanding its urban trout program, which brings trout fishing closer to anglers across Iowa. The increased sale of trout stamps funds this program. Not only does the program introduce anglers to catching trout, it also sparks tourism by getting anglers interested in travelling to experience northeast Iowa’s wonderful trout streams. Since the urban trout program is designed as a seasonal fishery, anglers are encouraged to keep their limit of up to five trout for a tasty meal.
It’s practically a year-round opportunity. In certain deep lakes, at least some trout survive even the hottest summers. With fall and winter stockings, anglers are able to ice fish for trout, providing there is safe ice.
I fished three different urban trout lakes recently: Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park, Lake Petocka and Ada Hayden Lake.
I made it out one late January to ice fish a nearby lake for trout. It wasn’t a stocking day and fishing was tough. Very few anglers were catching fish, so it wasn’t possible to observe what successful anglers were doing. But I did land a couple of trout.
In past years, I have ice fished trout on stocking days, often doing extremely well. In one freakish instance in February 2008, I landed 115 rainbows in 5.5 hours of ice fishing. That day was so crazy—for a while two friends and I stood fishing out of one 8-inch diameter hole at the same time all catching fish. We fished holes just a few feet away without luck. We laughed at ourselves while this ridiculous scenario played out, enjoying every minute.
It was a similar experience one January, when I landed 88 rainbows through the ice in five hours. On each of those days, I shook a small Reef Runner Cicada 18 inches below the ice. Trout would hammer the lure—coming back repeatedly if they didn’t get hooked.
When open water arrives, I flyfish for trout at a central Iowa lake during my lunch hour. With the driving time to get to the lake and back, I have 20 minutes to fish. Using sinking fly patterns, I can catch and release five rainbows every time.
April 21 was my last brief flyfishing trip to a trout lake before the spring heat arrived, and I did catch a trout that evening.
Banner Lakes was the first area lake to get a fall stocking, brought to the lake in October. Using a couple of fly patterns, I caught 21 rainbows.
My next trip to Banner was nine days later. I caught a bass, crappie and bluegill, but no trout. After talking with several people, only one had caught a single trout that day. One guy had located hundreds of trout in one area, and threw everything he could think of at them, but couldn’t get them to strike. It happens.
The next lake to receive trout this fall was Lake Petocka, on Nov. 1. I flyfished it on stocking day for a couple of hours. I released five trout and a bass, but fishing was extremely slow for everyone. I continued to flyfish at Lake Petocka occasionally through Dec. 1. I had some excellent days, catching 64 rainbows in six hours and 78 rainbows in four hours a few days later. I had a few other days with few fish and shorter trips. In that first week following the stocking, I caught 10 percent of the 1,500 trout that had been stocked. And within one month following the stocking, I caught 200 rainbows, or 13 percent of the stocked fish.
Ada Hayden Lake was stocked on Nov. 20 and one DNR employee counted 95 anglers at the time of stocking. It was crowded. I caught five trout, but the crowd got under my skin and I called it a day—plus I had caught 22 trout at Lake Petocka earlier that day, and I was worn out.
A buddy and I flyfished Ada Hayden again a day after stocking. It was extremely windy. We thought trout would be along the north shoreline where the wind was blowing in. Casting into that wind was tough, and we didn’t see anyone catching trout. We walked nearly all the way around the lake before finding trout. It was the mother lode. The next couple of hours, we caught and released 112 ‘bows between the two of us.
Tips For Urban Winter Fisheries
Use live or prepared baits such as live minnows, night crawlers, canned corn, marshmallows, salmon eggs or artificial or scented baits such as Berkley products for trout. Bottom fishing can work, but suspending bait under a bobber keeps it visible for these primarily sight-feeding predators. If casting lures, try retrieving small jigs tipped with plastics, small in-line spinners such as Mepps or Panther Martins or small Kastmaster spoons.
Flyfishing with artificial subsurface fly patterns usually out-catches the other fishing methods by a substantial margin. I’ve personally switched to flyfishing for trout, and my success rate has soared during open-water season.
Different days see some fly patterns working better than others. The most consistent pattern is a size 8 or 10 Woolly Bugger. Those with a beadhead for weight are more versatile, but if fish are in the shallows, use unweighted. Total fly lengths of about 1.5-inches seems effective. Feel free to experiment. This fly pattern can be bought or tied in a variety of colors. Darker colors often work best, but some days the fish want white. Another color scheme that works well in fall is “Chili Pepper”— made with lots of flashy copper-colored materials.
Keep in mind these “stocker trout” are hatchery raised on pellet food. So, some may strike a fly similar
to the color or size of a trout food pellet. Some days I have done well on them, either retrieved or suspended under an indicator (an indicator is a flyfishing version of a bobber).