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Additional rules and regulations are listed below to help you fish safely, and legally, in Iowa. This is not a complete set of fishing regulations. For more fishing related regulations, check out the information found at Fishing Licenses & Laws
You cannot possess, introduce, purchase, sell, or transport aquatic invasive species in Iowa except when you are removing a species from watercraft and equipment, you catch and immediately kill or return the species to the water from which it came, or you transport the species in a sealed container for identification purposes. You cannot introduce any live fish, except for hooked bait, into public waters.
Spiny softshell, smooth softshell and painted turtles
Common snapping turtle Continuous open season.
Turtle Limits You can take and possess a maximum of 100 pounds of live turtles or 50 pounds of dressed turtles.
Spiny softshell, or smooth softshell, Daily catch limit - 1 Painted turtle, Daily catch limit - 1 Common snapping turtle, Daily catch limit – 4 Turtle Regulations
More information on Iowa's turtles:
All frogs except bullfrogs and crawfish frogs: Continuous open season in inland and boundary waters.
Bullfrogs: Continuous open season in inland and boundary waters.
Crawfish frogs: On Iowa's threatened and endangered list and cannot be taken.
Season Dates: Feb. 1 - April 30 sunrise to sunset
This special paddlefish snagging season is limited to waters of the Big Sioux River below the I-29 bridge (both Iowa and South Dakota waters) and Iowa waters only on the Missouri River beginning at the Big Sioux River confluence and extending to the Hamburg Landing boat ramp. This includes all backwaters and sloughs and any tributary of the Missouri River at its confluence and extending below its Interstate 29 bridge.
Download printable maps of the of the Iowa-Nebraska boundary line for Woodbury, Monona, Harrison and Pottawattamie counties. The boundary line in Mills and Fremont Counties is the center of the river channel.
A downloadable GPX file with the boundary line for Iowa waters of the Missouri River is available. Right click and choose "save target as" or "save as", and save the file to your computer (not to your device's card). When saving, change from XML file type to All Files, and type in .gpx at the end of the MissouriRiver_Boundary_Line file name. After saving to your computer, you should be able to add the data to your GPS. The saved file "MissouriRiver_Boundary_Line.gpx" should be universally usable on most GPS units.
Special Paddlefish License and Tag: Licenses are available first come, first served - 950 resident licenses ($25.50) and 50 nonresident licenses ($49) are available each year. You can buy up to two tags per year - one from Dec. 15 to Dec. 31 and an additional tag from Jan. 1 to Jan. 7, or two tags if you didn’t buy one in December.
Buy your license via the Iowa DNR online licenses sales website.
You will receive your paddlefish license and tag(s) in January along with a packet of information that will help you have a successful season. Special License Requirements: A resident angler must have a fishing license plus a special paddlefish license. A nonresident angler must have a fishing license that is valid in Iowa plus a special nonresident paddlefish license. Resident and nonresident youth under sixteen years of age are not required to have a fishing license; however they must have a special paddlefish license. Youth under sixteen years of age must first get an Iowa DNR Custom ID number before buying a special paddlefish license. Customer ID numbers are available from any Iowa DNR license vendor.
You must have a valid paddlefish license and unused tag(s) to fish for paddlefish. You can snag fish to catch paddlefish and rough fish (common carp, bighead carp, silver carp, grass carp, black carp, bigmouth buffalo, smallmouth buffalo, black buffalo, quillback, highfin carpsucker, river carpsucker, spotted sucker, white sucker, shorthead redhorse, golden redhorse, silver redhorse, freshwater drum, shortnose gar, longnose gar, bowfin, gizzard shad and goldfish). Once you have caught and used all of your tags on Paddlefish, you must stop snagging. Hooks and Gaffe: You cannot use hooks larger than 5/0 treble or measuring more than 1¼ inch in length when two of the hook points are placed on a ruler. You cannot use a gaffe hook or other penetrating device to help you land any snagged fish. This is the regulation for Iowa waters. If fishing in the South Dakota waters of the Big Sioux River, you are limited to 2/0 treble hooks (1/2” gap from shank to tip of hook).
You can only possess paddlefish less than 35-inches or more than 45-inches. You must immediately release alive all paddlefish measuring 35-inches to 45-inches when measured from the front of the eye to the natural unaltered fork of the tail. To properly measure a paddlefish, use a flexible tape and measure along and over the center line contour of the fish while it is lying flat.
Measuring a Paddlefish:
Measure from the front of the eye to the fork of the tail. Paddlefish between 35” and 45” must be released.
Tagging, Possessing and Processing Paddlefish: Immediately upon taking into possession a legal paddlefish, you must visibly attach the transportation tag issued with the license to the fish’s lower jaw. Attach the tag in such a way that it cannot be removed without mutilating or destroying the tag. You cannot possess a paddlefish license or transportation tag issued to another angler or tag a paddlefish with a transportation tag issued to another angler. The transportation tag must remain attached to the paddlefish until it is processed for consumption. The paddlefish must remain intact except for the snout in front of the eye until the fish reaches the final processing place. The “final processing place” is defined as your home or the location where consumption occurs. The transportation tag is your proof of possession of the carcass.
Cut slit in jaw for transportation tag. Slide the tag’s tab into slot until locked.
Closed Season: During the closed season, you cannot possess paddlefish on waters opened to paddlefish snagging during the season.
Paddlefish are one of the largest freshwater fish in North America. The Iowa state record for a paddlefish is 107 pounds, caught in 1981 on the Missouri River. Paddlefish feed on microscopic organisms called zooplankton. Since they are filter feeders, they cannot be caught effectively with traditional hook-and-line methods; snagging is the only efficient method of take.
Use long, heavy action rods with 50 – 100 pound test line. Longer rods let you snag at a slower pace with longer sweeps to cover more water area. Whether you prefer bait casting or spinning reels, make sure the reel is well maintained with functional drag. In Iowa, you must use treble hooks 5/0 or smaller for snagging. Many anglers recommend 2/0 – 5/0 hooks tied 18 – 36 inches above a 2- to 6-ounce weight. Heavier weights are better for casting in fast, deep water. Use lighter weights when fish are closer to the surface or in slow-moving water.
Paddlefish prefer slower, deep water. Scout with a depth finder for pockets of deep water, or head to areas slightly downstream from wing dams. Paddlefish feed in the current coming off the end of the dam.
Some anglers prefer to vertically snag for paddlefish from a stationary boat over a deep hole. Another option is to cast into the current seam from shore or an anchored boat. This is very effective in shallower areas where angler activity may frighten fish out of the area.
Be safe when heading out on spring waters. Rivers can change over the winter with new downed trees, snags, floating ice and even changing locations of sandbars. Be aware of your surroundings while boating. Make sure your boat motor is running properly after being stored during the winter.
Going overboard into cold water can be dangerous and possibly fatal. Have dry clothes with you. Do not snag from dangerous positions in the boat. Keep a knife or pliers nearby in case you find yourself attached to a large fish by a treble hook or heavy fishing line. Know your own limitations; heavy rods and reels, and a long day of snagging, can prove tiring for people with lower physical strength.
What can I use to take fish? You can use gaff hooks or landing nets to help land fish. You can take rough fish (carp, buffalo, quillback, gar, sheepshead, dogfish) day or night, by:
What cannot be used to catch fish? You cannot use to take or try to take any fish by:
How many lines and hooks can I use?
How close do you have to be in attendance of your fishing tackle? You must be in visual sight of your fishing tackle when they are being fished in the water.
Can You use a Tip-Up Fishing Device for ice fishing? A "tip-up fishing device'' is an ice fishing mechanism, with an attached flag or signal to indicate fishing action, used to hold a fishing rod or pole with line and hook.
You can use one or two lines with two hooks while tip-up fishing on all inland waters and the Big Sioux River. You may fish a combination of one tip-up fishing device and one additional line, or, two tip-up fishing devices and no additional lines.
The following regulations apply when fishing the Mississippi River or Missouri River and connected backwater:
Can You use Trotlines or Throw lines? "Trotlines" are lines commonly called "tagged lines," "throw lines," "bank lines," "ditty lines, " "ditty poles" and other names. You can use trotlines in all rivers and streams of the state, except those in Mitchell, Howard, Winneshiek, Allamakee, Fayette, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, and Jackson counties. Trotlines may be used in the above nine counties only in the following stream sections:
You need a valid sport fishing license to use "trotlines". You can use one to five "trotlines". All the "trotlines" you are using can have a total of 15 hooks. For example: You can have one "trotline" with 15 hooks or 5 "trotlines" with three hooks each. Each separate "trotline" must have a tag attached, plainly labeled with the owner's name and address. You must check each "trotline" at least once every 24 hours. You cannot use "trotlines" in a stocked lake, within 300 feet of a dam or spillway, or in a stream or portion of stream, which is closed or posted against their use. One end of the "trotline" must be set from the shore and visible above the shore waterline. You cannot set the "trotline" entirely across a stream or body of water. Any conservation officer can remove untagged or unlawful lines.
Is there a Boundary Water Sport Trotline? A boundary water sport trotline license applies to the waters of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Big Sioux rivers. You can use a maximum of four trotlines with 200 hooks (total) with a boundary water sport trotline license. All boundary water sport trotlines must be tagged with your name and address on a metal tag affixed above the waterline.
You cannot sell fish with a boundary water sport trotline license.
*Snagging is NOT PERMITTED in the following areas: * - Des Moines River from directly below the hydro electric dam (Big Dam) to the Hawkeye Avenue Bridge in Fort Dodge. - Des Moines River from directly below the Little Dam to the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge in Fort Dodge. - Des Moines River from directly below Saylorville Dam to the Southeast 14th Street bridge in Des Moines. - Northeast bank of the Des Moines River from directly below the Ottumwa Dam, including the catwalk, to the Jefferson Street Bridge. Snagging from the South Market Street bridge is also prohibited. - Cedar River in Cedar Rapids from directly below the 5 in 1 Dam under I-380 to the 1st Avenue bridge. - Cedar River in Cedar Rapids from directly below the "C" Street Roller Dam to 300 yards downstream. - Iowa River from directly below the Coralville Dam to 300 yards downstream. - Chariton River from directly below Lake Rathbun Dam to 300 yards downstream. - Missouri River, any Missouri River tributary beginning at its confluence and extending below its Interstate 29 bridge, and the Big Sioux River from the Interstate 29 bridge to the confluence with the Missouri River with the exception of snagging paddlefish and rough fish during the open season. - Skunk River, from directly below the Oakland Mills Dam to the downstream end of the 253rd Street boat ramp. - Spillway area from directly below the Spirit Lake outlet to the confluence at East Okoboji Lake. *Snagging, bow and arrow fishing and spearing are NOT PERMITTED in the following areas:* - From the Ventura Grade roadway, jetties and bridges of Clear Lake and Ventura Marsh - Within 300 feet of the concrete culvert and metal fish barrier of Lost Island Lake Inlet - Within 300 feet of the outlet and metal fish barrier of Lost Island Lake Outlet - Within 300 feet of the outlet and metal fish barrier of Barringer Slough - Beginning at 230th Avenue and extending downstream to the signed Iowa Great Lakes Sanitary District property line of Lower Gar Lake outlet.
Do I Need a License to Catch Bait? You need a fishing license to take minnows or any other species of fish for your own individual use for bait.
What Equipment Can I Use to Catch My Bait?
You can use alive or dead bait from the following species groups:
You can only use dead bait from the following species:
Non-bait Species You cannot use the following species for bait in any inland water of the state:
You can return fish of these species to the water from which they were taken. You cannot possess live Gizzard Shad at any lake. Any Gizzard Shad taken for bait purposes must be killed immediately.
Selling Bait You must have a bait dealer's license to take or try to take bait for commercial purposes (selling, giving or furnishing to others). You need an aquaculture license to raise bait, but not to sell bait. See Iowa Code 481A.142 for more information. Selling Minnows Outside State Licensed bait dealers can carry, transport, or ship or cause to be carried, transported, or shipped any minnows for the purpose of sale beyond the boundaries of the state which are bred, hatched, propagated, or raised on a licensed aquaculture unit. Bait Dealer's License For more information about bait dealer's licenses, see Iowa Code 481A.144 and Iowa Code 481A.145. License fee: Iowa Resident - $30.50 and Nonresident - $125.00 Currently licensed Bait Dealers Bait Dealer Equipment Licensed bait dealers may use:
Licensed bait dealers can sell minnows, frogs, crayfish, salamanders and mussels for fish bait.
They cannot sell:
Bait dealers' tanks and bait boxes must be larger enough and have proper aeration to keep the bait alive and prevent substantial loss. Bait dealers can take only the size of bait they can use and must return all small minnows and frogs to the water immediately. They must be present when their bait is taken. You may take bait (except endangered or threatened species listed under Iowa Code 481B and Iowa Administrative Code 571 -77.2) from the lakes and streams in the state that have not been closed to the taking of bait. Bait Inspection Minnow and bait boxes and tanks are open to Iowa DNR inspection at all times.
Iowa DNR Special Events Application System
You need a permit issued by the Department of Natural Resources to conduct a traditional or virtual fishing tournament on public waters under the jurisdiction of the state. Fishing clinics and youth fishing days are excluded. Fishing tournament means any organized fishing event, except for department-sponsored fishing events held for educational purposes, involving any of the following: (1) six or more boats or 12 or more participants, except for waters of the Mississippi River, where the number of boats is 20 or more and the number of participants is 40 or more; (2) an entry fee is charged; and (3) prizes or other inducements are awarded. Separate authorization is needed for each tournament.
During a virtual fishing tournament, also known as a catch-photo-release tournament, anglers photograph and release fish upon catching instead of keeping them in a live well. An aggregated virtual fishing tournament is similar to a traditional fishing tournament with participants gathering at one location at the same time. A distributed virtual fishing tournament, usually organized as an online contest, occurs on multiple bodies of waterand can last any length of time within one calendar year (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. Only five or or fewer participants may be present on any one body of water at the same time.
Applications for fishing tournaments are accepted only via the online special events application system. You can submit an application starting on September 1 for the coming year. A $25 administrative fee is charged for each application. Aggregated virtual fishing tournaments are permitted the same as traditional tournaments. Distributed virtual tournaments need a special events permit, but the application fee has been waived.
Authorizations are not transferable. The area fisheries management biologist must receive your application at least 30 days before the proposed event. The tournament's sponsor or a representative must have the authorization letter in their possession and be available at the contest site for Department representative during contest hours.
All tournaments are listed on the DNR's webpage.
Guidelines Approval of any tournament application is at the discretion of the fisheries management biologist. The DNR may impose special conditions not specifically listed here for any fishing tournament if deemed necessary to protect the resource or to assure public safety. Special conditions may include, but are not limited to:
The number of tournaments at any one access area during a given day may be restricted if deemed necessary to avoid congestion with the public or competing tournaments.
Tournament Rules and Regulations Bass fishing tournaments
Bass fishing tournaments must:
Catfish fishing tournaments The daily catch limit for a catch and release catfish fishing tournament is five catfish per boat regardless of the number of tournament participants on the boat.
Culling or Sorting You cannot sort, cull, high-grade or replace any fish already in your possession. Participants in DNR-permitted black bass and catch and release catfish (five fish per boat restriction) tournaments are exempted if fishing from a boat with a functioning aerated or water-circulated live well.
A boat equipped with any size motor may be operated at a no-wake speed on artificial lakes, more than 100 acres in size, under the custody of the Department of Natural Resources. Lakes included in this regulation are:
*Special Regulations Exist. Other lakes managed by counties and municipalities may be included in the above regulations. Check local regulations for more information. Where special regulations exist, check the regulations posted at the particular lake. Lake Macbride, Johnson County, has an additional regulation:
On artificial lakes under 100 acres, you can operate a motorboat equipped with one or more outboard battery operated electric trolling motors. There is no motor restriction on natural lakes and federal reservoirs. Some lakes have special exceptions; Motors of any horsepower operated at no wake speed are allowed on the following lakes:
Motors not more than 100 h.p.
Liquidated Damages In addition to penalties assessed by the court, a person convicted of unlawfully selling, taking, catching, killing, injuring, destroying or having in possession any animal, must reimburse the state for the value of the animal as follows:
Multiple Offender Program A ''multiple offender'' is any person who has equaled or exceeded five points during a consecutive three year period. Fish and wildlife convictions are assigned point values as determined by the Iowa Administrative Code. Point values range from one to three points depending on the seriousness of the violation.
Your license will be suspended or revoked for a specific period as determined by the number of points accumulated. This program applies even if all violations occur as a single incident with no previous violations. This program is administered by the Iowa DNR. It is in addition to any penalties or revocation/suspension imposed by the court for the same violations. Persons with suspended or revoked hunting and fishing privileges are allowed to buy licenses during the suspension period.