Iowa’s lakes, except Big Spirit Lake, West Okoboji Lake, and East Okoboji Lake, do not have a season and give anglers a chance to catch muskies when they are at their heaviest during the pre-spawn period. Muskies spawn when water temperatures are between 48-56 degrees. Anglers may see many muskies in shallow water during the spawning period, but they are tough to catch when they’re actively spawning.
As water temperatures start to rise in early spring, muskies can be seen in shallow bays soaking up the sun. In reservoirs, find them in the upper arms and inflows. Sight fishing, a common technique, involves slowly moving along in a boat to look for muskies. Cast large jigs tipped with a large soft plastic, such as a 6 inch twister tail, ahead of the fish and slowly work the jig combo back towards the fish. Look also in deeper water next to spawning areas for baitfish species such as sunfish and suckers.
Try twitching large crankbaits along areas between shallow back bays and main lake drop offs early in the spring. Look for any aquatic plants that have started to grow. A few sprigs of green aquatic vegetation may be all you need to attract a fish of a lifetime. After casting the crankbait, work the lure with twitches and pulls of the fishing rod while retrieving. Glide baits work like crankbaits, but instead of diving, they display a zig-zag pattern. A long pause or “hang time” between twitches of the rod is the key to effectively retrieve both of these baits.
Fishing techniques used during the summer are similar between natural lakes and reservoirs and often depend on the forage base. Cast spinnerbaits and topwater baits when fishing in and around emergent vegetation, such as bulrush. These baits are designed to avoid getting snagged on vegetation. Use spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, bucktails and topwater baits in shallow submergent weed beds, such as curly leaf pondweed and around boat docks.
Use deep diving crankbaits, bucktails and large plastic jigs in deeper weed beds . Bucktails, jerkbaits, and crankbaits work well when fishing rock areas. Both casting and trolling in the deeper water are good options. Try fast retrieves and fast trolling speeds to entice muskies to strike. Don’t be afraid to “burn” baits (retrieve very fast) when water temperatures are warm.
During the fall, muskies continue to build up energy reserves before the winter and spring spawn. Use deep diving crankbaits, large jigs, large plastics or glide baits.
While male muskies rarely grow to 40 inches, females will reach 40 inches by age 5 in many waters. Because natural reproduction is very low or non-existent in Iowa and specimens have reached 25 years of age and lengths over 50 inches, avid anglers usually practice catch and release . Proper handling is essential to safely release fish and avoid injures to anglers. Find more tips for a speedy and safe release on the DNR website.