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Fall fishing for Iowa’s prize trout

  • 11/7/2023 11:52:00 AM
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Fishing Iowa’s trout streams is a unique way to enjoy the cool fall weather and marvel at the amazing colors of Iowa’s prize trout. Male brown and brook trout display their brightest, most vibrant spawning colors this time of year.

Iowa boosts some of the most beautiful and plentiful trout streams in the Midwest. A true angler’s paradise, Northeast Iowa is dotted with hundreds of miles of trout streams. From easily accessible streams in state or county parks, to those found in Iowa’s most wild and remote natural spaces, there are plenty of places to catch rainbow, brown and brook trout.

“It’s a busy place this time of year,” said Mike Steuck, Iowa DNR fisheries supervisor for interior streams. “Anglers can test their skills with lots of wild fish in these streams.”

Although a little late for peak fall colors, the bluffs, valleys and rock outcroppings offer spectacular views. View some of the best bluffs in Northeast Iowa, starting with the narrow valley of Little Paint, west of Harpers Ferry. Several overlooks give excellent views of the stream from above. 

Look for trout behind larger boulders and under rock ledges. Let your lure or bait drift around the boulders and just in front of the ledges.

Catch stream-reared brown trout up to 18-inches and 10- to 12-inch stocked rainbow trout in the Maquoketa River. Miles of public access spots line the river in Clayton and Delaware counties. Find rainbow trout in pools and runs while brown trout will be near wood habitat.

The best chance to catch all three trout species in one trip is at Spring Branch Creek, southeast of Manchester. There is great public access to more than 1.5 miles of coldwater stream.

Learn to “read” a stream, to identify habitats that offer food and cover. Trout are not randomly scattered in a stream. They locate themselves along the edge of the current flow near protective cover. The stream current carries food to the trout while it waits.

Trout try to bulk up in the fall for winter and are always hungry. Brown and brook trout lay their eggs in nests called redds in October and November. The eggs stay in these areas of cleaned gravel on the stream bottom until they hatch in late winter or early spring. Be careful where you walk to avoid stepping in or directly above these nests.

“Brown trout are wary, be as quiet and hidden as you can,” said Steuck. “If you can see them, they have already seen you and probably will not bite.”

Fish overcast and gray days when using spin fishing gear. Trout are less wary of lures at this time. If fly fishing, target midday on sunny and bright days. In cooler fall temperatures, bright warm days can stimulate an insect hatch. Dry flies can still be productive, but the insect hatches become more sporadic and less intense than in the summer so nymphs may be a better option.

Northeast Iowa draws thousands of anglers from across Iowa to its coldwater streams and excellent trout fishing. Iowa’s trout season is open all year. Iowa’s trout streams are too. About 105 coldwater trout streams await anglers in 10 northeast Iowa counties.

Anglers need a valid fishing license and pay the trout fee to fish for or possess trout.  The daily limit is five trout per licensed angler with a possession limit of 10.

Learn more about Iowa’s trout streams, including maps and amenities, and tips and tricks to catch trout on the Iowa DNR’s website at