This article originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine
From easy access to family-friendly to off the beaten path, these are the places insiders go. So get started and find your fun.
ADAIR COUNTY—Mormon Trail, Nodaway, Orient and Meadow lakes are always popular, but fisheries biologist Bryan Hayes favors Greenfield City Reservoir, a family spot with crappies, bluegill, largemouth and cats. The city park has a paved walking path, playground, picnic shelters and disk golf.
ADAMS COUNTY—Lake Icaria is a family fishing destination with excellent shoreline access, a ski zone and camping in a well-maintained county park. Cast for bluegill up to 8 inches and crappie up to 12 on fish mounds using small jigs and minnows. Troll crankbaits along the dam or points for 20-inch-plus walleye, or cast the fish mounds or cedar tree piles with jigs or plastics for largemouth, some exceeding 20 inches.
ALLAMAKEE COUNTY—With gin clear water and wary, wild brook and brown trout, unstocked French Creek makes for challenging fishing—a paradise for avid anglers to test their skills. Its plentiful public areas are artificial-lure-only and brown trout is catch-and-release only.
For warm water, the Mississippi River rules. In May, tempt flatheads from deep holes with golden shiners or bluegill below the dam near Harpers Ferry. Fish the dock or use the boat ramp in Harpers to fish the slough for crappie and cats. Fish vegetation for yellow perch and slow currents for drum. In Lansing use the new easy access fishing walkway above the river bridge and another downriver where Village Creek empties in (From the river road head inland on Harpers Ferry Road and take first left).
APPANOOSE COUNTY—Iowa’s largest water—Lake Rathbun—is a perennial favorite for crappie. It will be a banner year for 9- to 11-inch fish, with bigger possible. White bass and hybrid striped bass are back, too. “When you hit white bass, the action is fast and furious,” says fisheries biologist Mark Flammang.
AUDUBON COUNTY— Littlefield Lake, the county’s only public water, is well manicured with good shoreline access. Catch 15- to 20-inch-plus channel cats, 8-inch bluegill and 9- to 10-inch crappie. Bring the family and take advantage of camping, a beach and playground.
BENTON COUNTY— Kids will revel in catching and releasing 8- to 12-inch bass (15-inch minimum) at Hannen Lake, southwest of Blairstown. Shoreline access is excellent and you can fish right outside your camper, says fisheries biologist Paul Sleeper. A small playground, swimming beach and 180 acres of woodland and prairie surrounding the lake will entertain the whole family.
BLACK HAWK COUNTY—Cedar River. Walleye here come in all sizes, mostly 15 to 18 inches, with catches topping 20-inches regularly taken. Find a nice population of smallmouth bass 16 inches and higher, especially above Cedar Falls, along rocky areas in summer and fall. “It’s a big river; most fishing is from small boats,” says fisheries biologist Dan Kirby. “Channel cat numbers are super strong and underused with 12-inch to mid-20s summer and fall. There is good shorefishing downtown for cats.”
BOONE COUNTY—“Great place to take kids,” biologist Ben Dodd says of Don Williams Lake, based on the abundance of crappie (7 to 9 inches) and bluegill (6 to 7 inches). While smaller, anglers will catch fish in numbers. Campground, beach, golf course and cabins don’t hurt either. Best fished from a boat.
BREMER COUNTY—Cedar River and Sweets Marsh. The whole Cedar is really good here, but for less-fished areas with “consistently awesome walleye populations,” head near Plainfield for a float, walk-in or John boat trip. Or forego the river for Martins Lake, a pool in the Sweet Marsh wildlife area near Tripoli known for 15- to 20-inch bass. Small boats help to navigate vegetation.
BUCHANAN COUNTY—The Wapsipinicon is super for smallmouth bass, mainly below Independence to the county line. Walleye numbers are down a tad, but still good, says Kirby. Trek to the county’s northwest corner and the Wapsi offers wild, self-sustaining northern pike. Its small water is hard on motorboats, so paddle or walk in.
BUENA VISTA COUNTY—The go-to is Storm Lake—tons of public access and family-friendly parks. Expect high catch rates of walleye, says fisheries biologist Ben Wallace. There are plenty of “eaters,” but anglers revel in large numbers of catch-and-release slot-limit fish (17 to 22 inches). April through June, fish live minnows under a slip bobber or white twister tails from shore or toss or troll shad-colored crankbaits. The main forage fish are shad and emerald shiners, so anything silver works. After ice-out, target windblown shorelines with shad guts or cutbait for cats.
BUTLER COUNTY—For years, the Shell Rock River has produced outstanding walleye—trophies up to 28 inches and lots of 15- to 20-inchers. Use small John boats or float while casting jigs, crankbaits or live baits. In spring, target schooled fish below dams, obstructions and cobble rock. In summer, cast a jig and crawler, or try crankbaits.
CALHOUN COUNTY—Keep kids busy for hours with an enormous population of smaller yellow bass at North Twin Lake. A paved trail makes easy access. Decent-size walleye and catfish supply dinner. Cabin rentals available.
CARROLL COUNTY—A fishkill at Swan Lake temporarily knocked it down a peg on the list. So head four and a half miles south on Mahogany Ave to 4-acre Tigges Pond—built and stocked several years ago with largemouth, catfish and bluegill that exceed 8 inches. Hike in 1/4-mile. “It’s gets you off the beaten path,” Wallace says.
CASS COUNTY—Summertime drift fishing for bluegill and crappie at Lake Anita is great for beginners, says Hayes. Drifting allows novices to fish without casting or bobbers. Hang a 1/32nd ounce jig tipped with worm over the side, let out 30 feet of line and hang on.
CEDAR COUNTY—Experience lake and river fishing at Cedar Valley Quarry, west of Tipton. Cast for bluegill in two limestone quarries inside Cedar Valley County Park. A concrete boat ramp provides Cedar River access for catfish. Hike trails, picnic, camp or simply enjoy the view.
CERRO GORDO COUNTY—Find fishing nirvana at Clear Lake—known for its yellow bass and walleye—and good shore and boat angling. “It’s one of Iowa’s better walleye fisheries,” says biologist Scott Grummer. Make it a weekend, camping at adjacent Clear Lake State Park or McIntosh Woods State Park (with a handy fish cleaning station). Anglers typically catch 14- to 20-inch walleyes (14-inch minimum) with trophies running 8 pounds and up. Fish walleye after ice out to mid-June and yellow bass from the end of April to mid-June.
CHEROKEE COUNTY—Hit the Little Sioux River where average channel cats run 2 to 6 pounds and walleyes span 15 to 25 inches. Wescott Park in Cherokee has great shoreline access and a boat ramp. Try twisters for walleyes and cutbait for cats, or float a live chub for both.
CHICKASAW COUNTY—For easy shore access, try Airport Lake northwest of New Hampton. Boat ramp, beach, camping and picnic area. Hook into largemouth, crappie, channel cat and an occasional yellow perch.
CLARKE COUNTY—Last spring locals left West Lake near Osceola with limits of 9-inch crappie, says biologist Andy Jansen. Plus, some bass exceed 19 inches. Shore access is limited, so bring a boat and use the paved ramp.
CLAY COUNTY—Due to great park development, 15-acre Scharnberg Pond always finds itself in demand. “It’s a great example of how even small ponds can offer great opportunities,” biologists Mike Hawkins says. Good bass and bluegill fishing, handicapped-accessible pier, concessions, beach, modern camping, cabins. Stocked with trout when the weather chills.
CLAYTON COUNTY—After visiting Big Springs Trout hatchery, families enjoy trout fishing the adjacent Turkey River or the hatchery ponds. Youngsters go nuts for the kids-only pond. (They can even borrow rods from the hatchery.) Primitive camping available on the river banks. Below Elkader, the Turkey is good for smallmouth, walleye, rock bass, channel cat and suckers. Many entry points provide easy access for canoe or kayak fishing.
CLINTON COUNTY—Plenty of borrow pits and ponds dot this county, but biologist Chad Dolan gives his blessings to Hagenson Pond off highway 67 south of Camanche. Small and off the beaten path, it’s great for kids. Good numbers of 12- to 15-inch bass and 6.5-inch bluegill, along with catfish. “This is one kids can take advantage of,” Dolan says. “It will keep them busy.”
CRAWFORD COUNTY—Tough call here. Yellow Smoke is known for big bluegill. “If you catch six to eight bluegill you’ll be doing good,” Wallace says, “but they will be monsters. Wallace leans towards Nelson Park and a “good population of really nice, big bluegill.” The county lake has good water quality, lots of amenities and ample shoreline fishing, especially on the dam.
DALLAS COUNTY—Beaver Lake produced a pretty good crappie population recently with fish still ready to bite. While numbers dipped a bit, size is up. Crappies range 10 to 11 inches with bluegill 7 to 9 inches. “It’s a fun little place to fish with lots of standing timber,” Dodd says.
DAVIS COUNTY—For “unmatched bass fishing,” plus good bluegill and improving crappie numbers, hit Lake Wapello State Park, says Flammang. A revamped, rebuilt campground reopens this spring.
DECATUR COUNTY—Catch 16- to 20-inch walleye, 9-inch bluegill, 10-inch crappie and lots of bass (some beyond 20 inches) at Little River Watershed Lake west of Leon. Rock and dirt mounds, reefs, spawning beds and cedar piles added in 2011. For spring walleye, troll crankbaits along points or rock structure. For summer bass, cast crankbaits along weed lines or plastics near cedar piles.
DELAWARE COUNTY—Catch brook and rainbow trout on Spring Branch Creek at Baileys Ford County Park three miles southeast of Manchester. Keepers are stocked twice weekly April through October. Use small spinners, jigs or prepared baits. Fly anglers like the upper end to hit an almost self-sustaining population of wary browns. To make it an overnighter, camp at the park, use the boat ramp and fish the adjacent Maquoketa River. Head downriver and hit the upper end of Delhi for walleyes and smallmouth.
DES MOINES COUNTY—Big Hollow north of Burlington is only six years old but is the “best spring crappie spot around,” producing 11-inch-plus crappie. And 9-inch-plus bluegill are hard to beat, too. When crappie spawn, “You can’t keep them off your line,” Dolan says. Excellent bass lake for 15-inch-plus fish. Use a 32nd-ounce jig with a 1-inch paddletail body. Lots of timber, hidden coves and structure, so bring plenty of jigs.
DICKINSON COUNTY—Plenty of fishing gems dot this county, from big water to those better suited for kayaks, waders and small watercraft. None are brighter than East and West Okoboji. Aquatic plant life is exceptional, providing excellent habitat for slab bluegill, nice crappie and 9- to 10-inch perch and yellow bass. Walleye range from younger year class to slot limit to trophy size. Smallmouth fishing is some of the best in the Midwest. “Any skill level can have success on anything from bluegill to muskies,” Hawkins says. Use a boat in summer to avoid shoreline vegetation.
DUBUQUE COUNTY—The river is king here with pools 11 and 12—the latter more frequented from downtown to the Massey County Park for every type of fish. Walleyes 15 to 18 inches common. A slot protects fish 20 to 27 inches. Hit tailwaters below either dam in spring and wing dams in summer with crankbaits or three-way rigs for walleye, sauger and cats. Fish the flats with a little current between the wing dams with a worm and sinker for drum. In summer, hit the main channel with a split shot and worm around rock or brush for bluegill. In fall, cast near sunken wood and brush in side channels for white and black crappie up to 12-inches. For trout, head to Swiss Valley County Park four miles southwest of the city for Catfish Creek’s ’bows and brookies.
EMMET COUNTY—For walleyes and cat, hit the West Fork Des Moines River. “I get nothing but excellent reports on walleyes there,” Hawkins says. The entire stretch is good, but easier access around Estherville. Canoe and kayak fishing opportunities abound.
FAYETTE COUNTY—Explore Echo Valley State Park east of West Union and cast for trout on Glovers and Otter creeks. Both stocked weekly April thru October and have excellent wade and bank fishing. A new universal fishing access at Glovers enhances bank fishing. The park offers primitive camping, hiking and biking.
Volga Lake is known for panfish and bass, but supports an overlooked cache of catfish with fish up to 23 inches common. Surrounded by Volga River State Recreation Area, its an easy weekend getaway with camping, hiking and equestrian trails and wildlife watching.
FLOYD COUNTY—Twelve-acre Rudd Lake has a hard surface boat ramp and lakeside trail plus largemouth, channel cat and bluegill. It’s a former borrow pit that provided aggregate for Highway 18, which runs adjacent.
FRANKLIN COUNTY—Beeds Lake; good shore access and family friendly, with bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass and catfish. Camp at Beeds Lake State Park and enjoy a walking trail and good access around the lake, which is no-wake. Quiet and peaceful fishing in a pretty setting.
FREMONT COUNTY—Summer Missouri River flathead catfishing is a great Iowa tradition. Go with an experienced river angler—fast currents can be intimidating. Hit the pools below wing dams using live green sunfish or creek chubs. Move often to find feeding fish. Here, 20-inch-plus catfish are common, with chances for trophy 40-pounders.
GREENE COUNTY—Spring Lake—lots of catfish. “Fish anywhere from shore and catch cats,” Wallace says. “This is a place to go to fish right from your camper.”
GRUNDY COUNTY—Created when borrow material was needed for a highway project, Grundy County Lake was transferred from state to local ownership in 2002. Easily accessed off highway 20 and the T-55 interchange in Dike. Catch 6- to 7-inch bluegill and 12- to 16-inch largemouth bass (15-inch minimum). Fish off the jetties, let the kids burn energy at the playground or set up camp. A paved trail connects Dike to the lake, so bring a bike.
GUTHRIE COUNTY—Crappie fishing in the Middle Raccoon River below the Lennon Mills Dam in Panora will surprise you, says biologist Bryan Hayes. Local anglers took limits of 9- to 10-inch crappies last summer. Fish jigs under a bobber in eddies below-dam. The county park has access. A few walleye or smallmouth lurk about, too.
HAMILTON COUNTY—Briggs Woods. Fun family fishing abounds at Iowa’s second oldest county park. Camp or rent a cabin and take advantage of good water quality to cast for largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish. Good water access from lakeside trails. End the day with 18 holes of golf or a long hike in timbered forest.
HANCOCK COUNTY—West Branch Iowa River. Hike for pike along the wildlife area where East Twin Lake flows into the river. Good spring and fall fishery when there is flow from the lake. “Walk-in fishing is a unique opportunity for anglers who seek northerns,” says Grummer. In spring, pike leave the river for the wetland and lake to spawn. Fish the eddy where the lake enters the river with lures, jigs and minnows or spoons.
HARDIN COUNTY—Iowa River. Float past dense forested hills and limestone cliffs for smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike and catfish. Put in at Steamboat Rock and float to Pine Lake State Park, or use several other city and county accesses to customize your trip. Good shore angling.
HARRISON COUNTY—Willow Lake, tucked into the Loess Hills in a county park, is a great family spot. Water clarity is second to none, says Hayes. “Fish can easily be spooked with the clear water.” Cast for 8-inch-plus bluegill, 10-inch redear sunfish and 17-inch catfish.
HENRY COUNTY—Beautiful Lake Geode State Park is “right up there with Belva Deer” for bass, and has one of the best bluegill growth rates in Iowa, Dolan boasts. “You catch twice as many bass per hour than Belva Deer, they’re just not as large.” Bluegill bigger than 9 inches and redears close to that. Target plentiful points, outcroppings and fallen timber with a Wolly Bugger on a flyrod or beneath a bobber with a slow retrieve.
HOWARD COUNTY—The county’s only trout stream is Bigalk, a small wadeable stream with good bank access. It holds fish year round with weekly stocking thru October. Find good populations of bluegill, crappie, largemouth and channel cat at Lake Hendricks County Park. Pack the family, too, as this park has a campground, hiking trails, beach, excellent shoreline access and concrete boat ramp.
HUMBOLDT COUNTY—West Fork Des Moines River. Public river access abounds from the dam in Rutland through the city of Humboldt down to Frank Gotch County Park for walleye, smallmouth and channel cats. It’s a tailor-made float trip with many accesses and boat ramp in Humboldt.
IDA COUNTY—At 62 acres, Crawford Creek is one of the larger impoundments around and the spot for jumbo bluegill, large crappie and an occasional big perch. (Plus a solid largemouth population.) Rental cabins available from the county, too.
IOWA COUNTY—Lake Iowa County Park, a quiet spot north of Millersburg, is best for master angler-size redear sunfish (10-inch-plus) says Sleeper. Cast also for bluegill and crappie. Some hiking trails meander around the lake through native prairies and woodlands or run shoreside for easy access. Camping, beach and nature center.
JACKSON COUNTY—Mississippi River pools 12 and 13 are good for walleye, channel cat, crappie, bluegill and drum. Easy boat access below the dam at Bellevue—a pretty river town with blufftop camping and great views at Bellevue State Park south of town. River access, camping and marina north of town at Spruce Creek County Park. For trout, head to Big Mill for wild browns and stocked ‘bows and brookies. The South Fork Big Mill is in a narrow valley with forested hills.
JASPER COUNTY—On the east side of the county and easy to get to is county-owned Jacob Krumm Nature Preserve. “It’s a really nice bluegill and crappie fishery,” says Dodd. Crappie approach 13 inches, and bluegill 8. Underwater structure attracts fish with a pier on the north end. One mile north of Lynnville exit on I-80. Follow Jacob Avenue east to entrance.
JEFFERSON COUNTY—Pleasant Lake, a former Fairfield water supply reservoir, is a local favorite for oodles of big bass. Plenty of 16- to 18-inchers-plus, and bluegill. Channel cats stocked every other year. Good shore access and small watercraft launch available. Hop to Bonnifield Lake and Walton Lake, two more former city reservoirs, for more fishing.
JOHNSON COUNTY—Lake Macbride State Park is “the best walleye lake in the area,” Sleeper says. Cast for trophy wipers (10-pounds-plus) and catch and release 30-inch-plus muskies (40-inch minimum). Handicap accessible pier. Pontoon, motorboat, canoe, paddle boat or kayak rentals available. A five-mile multi-use trail runs lakeside from Solon to near the park entrance.
JONES COUNTY—Keep kids busy catching and releasing 12- to 14-inch largemouth (15-inch minimum) at Central Park Lake west of Center Junction. Catch 6- to 8-inch bluegill. Hike wooded trails and past restored prairie and wetlands. Playground, beach, sand volleyball court and horseshoe pits provide entertainment for all ages.
KEOKUK COUNTY— Lake Belva Deer is “the hottest bass lake,” Dolan claims—“big fish and big numbers.” Plenty exceed 20 inches, bluegill to 9.5 and pound and a half redears. “It’s nothing to catch 15 to 20 bass an hour. For spooky redears, use a teardrop ice jig, tip with a spike and limit movement. A steady rise and fall action is best.”
KOSSUTH COUNTY—Family friendly, 60-acre Smith Lake has a well-kept county-run campground, beaches, playgrounds, fishing docks, boat ramp and piers. Educational too, with Water’s Edge Nature Center located on shore. North of Algona, the lake is a crappie and bluegill factory. Bass have an 18-inch minimum, so large fish abound.
LEE COUNTY—Five ponds dot Shimek State Forest near Ft. Madison. Dolan’s favorites are White Oak and Shagbark lakes. White Oak requires hiking to reach, but offers 8- to 9-inch bluegill and 9- to 10-inch redears. Fish off the dam, or float a bellyboat to inaccessible shores. Shagbark has 9-inch bluegill, a shore trail lake and can be driven to. Enjoy the massive white pines throughout.
LINN COUNTY— Admire the scenery at Pinicon Ridge Park while fishing for smallmouth, walleye and northern pike in the Wapsipinicon River west of Central City. Take a canoe trip in secluded back areas—rent a canoe at the concession. Climb the observation tower for a view of the Wapsi valley, or tour the 5-acre Alexander Wildlife Area.
LOUISA COUNTY—Venture to Lake Odessa—a Mississippi River backwater—for trophy 10- to 12-inch-plus crappies. Fish a crawler under a bobber or jig and 1-inch paddletail plastic body. Plenty of shoreline access, boat ramps and habitat.
LUCAS COUNTY—Red Haw State Park is known for bluegill, but also holds great crappie. Bluegill run 8.5- to 9-inches, with redear up to 11. Large numbers of quality largemouth, too. Morris and Ellis lakes in nearby Chariton have great bass fishing and
LYON COUNTY—Working together, the county and DNR produced an “amazing fishery” at Lake Pahoja, says Hawkins. “This is one of the premiere county parks in northwest Iowa.” Plenty of 8-inch bluegill and small to medium size bass. Plenty of trails, camping, cabins. “For kids and beginners, this is where I would send them.”
MADISON COUNTY—Groomed shorelines at Criss Cove County Park south of Winterset provide easy access to a 9-acre pond. Catch largemouth, bluegill and an occasional crappie. Small campground near the pond.
MAHASKA COUNTY—Hawthorne Lake is a “bass angler’s dream” with huge populations up to 20 inches. “Twenty-five fish a day is normal,” Flammang says. Bluegill are improving. Nearby White Oak Lake near Rose Hill is no slouch either. Fish both in a day.
MARION COUNTY—Red Rock Reservoir is a perennial favorite for giant crappies. Target the Whitebreast arm and marina for black crappies pushing 14 inches. When white bass and hybrid whites run, action is furious. Look for birds hovering over surfacing bait fish and toss silver-colored lures into the frenzy. From February through May, head below dam for a variety of species, most notably walleyes.
MARSHALL COUNTY— A former quarry, Sand Lake on Marshalltown’s east side has good shoreline and boat access, jetties and trails. Cast for 6- to 7-inch bluegill. Trout stocked spring and fall in the north-most quarry.
MILLS COUNTY—Kids love the abundant bluegill and crappie at Glenwood Park Pond, along with 18-inch-plus largemouth bass and 14- to 17-inch catfish. It is well stocked with catfish, says Hayes. “Whenever we have extra catfish available, (Glenwood) is on the list to receive some.”
MITCHELL COUNTY—Just north of St. Ansgar, explore Turtle Creek and its two miles of public fishing. Stocked with rainbow and brook trout weekly from April through October, it also boasts wild browns and easy angler access. Several Cedar River access points allow floating and fishing along mossy cliffs and wooded banks for smallmouth, walleye, northern pike, rock bass and suckers. See the fishing regs for details on a catch-and-release river section for black bass.
MONONA COUNTY—Fish all by yourself at Oldham Lake outside Soldier. It offers great crappie numbers and nice bluegill “if you hit the spawn right.” Little public access, so use a small boat, float tube, canoe or kayak.
MONROE COUNTY—A favorite—Lake Miami—is still worth a visit despite a recent lake renovation (fish populations are improving but still one to two years away to peak). Instead, hit the upper and lower Albia Reservoir for 60 acres of water. The city park has “amazing bluegill fishing…we are talking 10 inches,” Flammang says, with, boat ramps and shoreline access.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY—In spring, cast off jetties at Viking Lake State Park for 10-inch crappie. Catch bass up to 20 inches and 18- to 20-inch channel cat in summer. Lakeside campground, beach, restaurant and trails.
MUSCATINE COUNTY—Deep Lake County Park—an old quarry—holds excellent bass, crappie (9 to 10 inches) and bluegill (6.5 to 7 inches). Fisheries staff raised 30 to 35 bass from one submerged log. Redear sunfish and muskies, too. Channel cat stocked every two years. Some amenities, more planned. Watch six-lined race runner lizards and ornate box turtles in this sand prairie.
O’BRIEN COUNTY—Mill Creek Lake near Paulina responded well to renovation 10 years ago. Big bluegill and nice bass keep kids busy. Family fun with camping, cabins, concessions, lodge and hiking and biking.
OSCEOLA COUNTY—Ocheyedan Pond is kid-friendly as well. The small, former surface mine offers decent largemouth, bluegill and catfish, with good shoreline access, picnic area, beach and trails.
PAGE COUNTY—Hidden south of Clarinda, Ross Area Pits County Park is a fishing oasis amidst cropland. Once a limestone quarry, it features deep, clear-blue water pits surrounded by trees. Among sunken boats, catch bluegill exceeding 8.5 inches and 10- to 12-inch bass.
PALO ALTO COUNTY—Lost Island Lake is one of Iowa’s bigger natural lakes and is undergoing restoration. With 1.2 million pounds of carp and buffalo removed, dramatic water quality gains and aquatic plant growth followed. Crappie, perch and yellow bass responded favorably, and bluegill and bass—which need clean water and habitat—are showing up. Shoreline access early spring, then best fished with a boat.
PLYMOUTH COUNTY—Leave the crowds for good fishing, primitive and modern camping and cabins at county-run Hillview Recreational Area. It’s nestled in the loess hills, surrounded by open grasslands, reconstructed prairie, woodlands and wildlife habitat.
POCAHONTAS COUNTY—Newly renovated Lizzard Lake has lots a wildlife viewing plus perch and northerns. Its abundant habitat limits shoreline access so “you could really have fun canoe or kayak fishing,” says Wallace.
POLK COUNTY—Walleye stocked the past few years in Big Creek to reduce shad populations are reaching “eater size,” and Dodd says anglers should do well on 15- to 17-inch fish the next couple years. Bluegill are also “real nice.” Target May through early June.
POTTAWATTAMIE COUNTY—Farm Creek, east of Carson, has a farm pond vibe on county property. Catch 9-inch bluegill, 10-inch crappie, up to 18-inch bass and 20-inch cats. A new paved boat ramp makes access easy.
POWESHIEK COUNTY— Catch abundant 7- to 9-inch crappie at Diamond Lake west of Montezuma. Fish from your campers in some areas. Eleven jetties provide excellent access. Fish cleaning station and paved trails.
RINGGOLD COUNTY—Turn kids loose on bluegill, bass, wipers, channel catfish and crappie at Fife’s Grove Pond north of Mount Ayr. Its a well-kept county park with a gazebo and shoreline access. Hike trails and explore a historic one-room log cabin nestled in an oak savanna where many trees are well over 150 years old.
SAC COUNTY—Black Hawk Lake, renovated in 2012, “has something for everyone,” Wallace says. Half the shore is public, with plenty of trails, parks and beachfront to explore. “The walleye population is coming on, and really nice bluegill.” Catfish, too. Walleyes push 20 inches, bluegill are 8 inches-plus and catfish are in the 20- to 22-inch range. “Muskie are coming on, but not yet 40 inches,” he says. Head to Town Bay on the west end for walleye, and Drillings Point off the state park marina for catfish right after ice-out. If fishing slows, give nearby Arrowhead Lake or Black Hawk Pits a cast.
SCOTT COUNTY—Lost Grove Lake is Iowa’s newest impoundment, and large at 400 acres. Bluegill push 7.5 inches and crappie 9 to 10. Bass and walleyes are plentiful running 10 to 13 inches. Muskie are 24 inches. Tons of amenities, fishing jetties and paths, three ADA-fishing platforms, lots of flooded timber. If you can’t find a place to fish here, you are not looking very hard.
SHELBY COUNTY—Bluegill are big in recently renovated Prairie Rose Lake southeast of Harlan. Abundant bass provide great catch-and-release fishing (15-inch minimum length limit). Shore access is limited with an abundance of aquatic plants—fish from a boat, kayak or jetty. Look for structures like rock piles and reefs added during renovation.
SIOUX COUNTY—Find good numbers of bass, bluegill and cats, and improved shore access, at Big Sioux Recreational Area. Concrete ramp and beach, too.
STORY COUNTY—Dakins Lake, built and stocked in 2014, is showing excellent growth rates, with good numbers of bluegill and bass. Some bluegill will near 8 inches, and a high concentration of bass will keep kids busy. Good shoreline access.
TAMA COUNTY—Celebrate Memorial Day by catching 7- to 9-inch yellow bass at Otter Creek Lake. Fish will be next to shore spawning and easy to catch. Bluegill, bass and crappie available. Fish cleaning station near the boat ramp. Hike the three-mile scenic lake trail, visit the two-acre native prairie or tour the nature center.
TAYLOR COUNTY—Enjoy a day of family fun at Lake of Three Fires State Park, northeast of Bedford. Catch bass, some exceeding 17 inches, bluegill up to 8 inches and crappie over 12. Located in the area’s most scenic park, with eight miles of trails, a large picnic area under trees close to shore and three rental cabins.
UNION COUNTY— Experienced anglers and families head to Green Valley Lake north of Creston for 14- to 18-inch bass, 8-inch bluegill and 12- to 15-inch walleye—some top 20 inches. Enjoy a picnic, walk lakeside trails, swim or rent a pine log cabin. If things are slow, hit nearby Twelve Mile Lake east of Creston for 10-inch bluegill, 12-inch crappie, jumbo yellow perch up to 13 inches and 14- to 18-inch walleye. Shore access here is limited so bring a boat.
VAN BUREN COUNTY—Lake Sugema boasts loads of county park amenities for families and campers plus quality largemouth, crappie and bluegill angling. And hilly, forested Lacey Keosaqua State Park lies just minutes away. Camp or rent a cabin, fish Keo lake—teeming with bass, cats and bluegill—or cast for just about any species on the Des Moines River adjacent the park. Clean your fish, then stroll the rustic Villages of Van Buren County—a tourism destination.
WAPELLO COUNTY—Sturgeon are willing biters—especially in spring on the Des Moines River. Bounce a ‘crawler and slip sinker off the bottom. “They fight like crazy,” says Flammang. On the river, don’t forget walleye, white bass and superb channel and flathead cats.
WARREN COUNTY—Easy to get to on the south side of Indianola, Lake Ahquabi State Park is a nice family place, Dodd says. Good shore access and plenty of park amenities. Heaps of year-around bluegill and “really big” redear sunfish fished during spawn in May and early June. They are bottom feeders, so normal bluegill fishing techniques should work. Don’t forget Hooper Pond, just south of the lake, for quality bass and catfish.
WASHINGTON COUNTY—Newly renovated Lake Darling has phenomenal growth rates—bluegill pushing 7.5 inches and bass over 15. Larger fish from watershed ponds are showing up. Mile-long ADA-compliant fishing trail from upper arm to campground and many revamped jetties. “Those who visited Lake Darling before the restoration won’t recognize it now,” Dolan promises.
WAYNE COUNTY—Humeston Reservoir is top dog, with great crappie, good bluegill and high quality bass. “A hard-core bass angler’s dream,” says Flammang. Oh, and camping and golf, too. Nearby Seymour Reservoir is also a good bet for bluegill and crappie.
WEBSTER COUNTY—“I think Brushy Creek is the best kept walleye secret,” says Wallace. “If you want monster catfish, we got ‘em.” Plus 40-inch muskie. There’s not much letdown with bass, bluegill and crappie, either. While shorelines are good during spring spawns, Brushy is a boat anglers’ paradise to explore its vast habitat.
WINNEBAGO COUNTY—Recently restored and stocked in 2013 with yellow perch, largemouth bass, bluegill and walleye, look for even better angling in coming years at Rice Lake. “This is definitely a fishery to keep an eye on,” says Grummer. “This will be the first year for good sizes and will get better towards fall,” he says. Hook into 8- to 9-inch perch and 6.5-inch bluegill.
WINNESHIEK COUNTY—Recent surveys show more than 1,000 fish per mile at Coldwater Creek, oft overlooked for the popular North and South Bear to the east. Coldwater’s wild browns are bolstered with weekly stocking April thru October of ‘bows and brookies.
For warm water fishing, 60 miles of Upper Iowa River runs through the county. Along limestone forested bluffs cast for smallmouth, walleye, rock bass, suckers and occasional trout. Use 16 public accesses to launch canoes and kayaks (rentable locally.) Riverside public camping is made for multi-day floats. Target weekdays as weekends are very busy, especially in summer.
WOODBURY COUNTY—is loaded with small lakes, but for a “farm pond experience” on public property, hit the Southwood Conservation Area near Smithland and its two small ponds nestled near loess hills, open grasslands and timber. Both have good bluegill, crappie, bass and catfish populations plus camping and hiking.
WORTH COUNTY—Silver Lake. Once known for chocolate brown and green water, it is now clear thanks to renovations. It is ripening with bass, bluegill and yellow perch, all stocked in 2013. This year should start to payoff in keepers and will only improve as the season progresses.
WRIGHT COUNTY—Lake Cornelia. Hit the north end with good shore access on the fishing jetty, boat ramp, docks, beach and county campground. Catch yellow, white and largemouth bass, channel cat, crappie, yellow perch, bluegill and an occasional walleye. “The yellow bass population is strong, running about 8 inches,” says Grummer.