Its often said that Iowa ice fishing is more productive than fishing throughout the spring, summer, and fall months. Not as many anglers travel out into the ice-cold weather to go fishing during an Iowa winter, but it appears to be the thing to do.
Ice fishing is growing in popularity, especially where ice houses or ice house RVs are concerned. The warmer these luxurious technologies bring to the table, the more anglers will hit the ice in the middle of winter.
In Iowa, Crappie, Perch, and Bluegill are the most popular fish to catch in the winter, and the state is loaded with some of the best fishing lakes in the country for poking a hole through the ice and dropping a line.
7 Best Places for Ice Fishing in Iowa
Fortunately, it doesn’t end with Crappie, Perch, and Bluegill. There are more than just three species of fish to catch on the icy lakes of Iowa. Those three just happen to be the most common. Panfish and Walleye opportunities are also fantastic, and here are the best 7 best places to catch them all.
1. Clear Lake
Located outside of Des Moines, Iowa, Clear Lake is enormously popular with anglers going after Yellow Bass and Walleye. Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources did a phenomenal job recouping fish populations in Iowa’s lakes, and the Yellow Bass and Walleye in Clear Lake benefitted enormously from the effort.
Yellow Bass depths during the winter months at Clear lake are between 8’ and 15’ and are typically caught on wax worms that hover between 3” and 6” from the bottom. Walleye are the same because they eat the Yellow Bass. Large minnow baits are perfect for them.
2. The Mississippi River
The Mississippi River obviously doesn’t freeze, so you must find points along it where the backwater freezes. The thing is, when the Mississippi River creates backwater areas, they are usually gigantic. This makes Brown’s Lake and Bussey Lake prime nursery habitats for the fish you want in your cooler.
Crappie fishing is incredible in these backwater areas, with 10” to 12” catches more common than anything else. The only drawback of fishing in the backwater areas along the Mississippi River in Iowa is gaining access. These large bodies of water are often not connected to roadways of any kind.
3. Storm Lake
Not only does it sound pretty cool, Storm Lake is also an excellent fishing spot during the Iowa winter months. Walleye are particularly good here, and the ice gets so thick you can park one of those snazzy RV ice houses on the ice.
What makes Storm lake unique is the fact that it’s routinely dredged, and fish loves those deeply entrenched claw marks running along the bottom. The thing is, they aren’t claw marks so much as depressed areas where fish love to congregate. Bring a fish finder with the capability of mapping the underwater topography, and you’re gold.
4. Big Spirit Lake
Big Spirit is a part of Iowa’s great lakes, and it’s supposedly the best place for anglers to be right now, regardless of the season. Ice fishing on Big Spirit Lake is fantastic with healthy numbers of Crappie, Bluegill, and Walleye.
Another benefit Big Spirit has going for it is the sudden explosion in the Yellow Perch population. They aren’t up there with the others yet, but it’s getting close, with the dividing line growing thinner each year.
5. East and West Okoboji Lakes
For a purely Bluegill and Crappie experience, Okoboji Lakes, both east and west, is where the fish are. They are a part of the Iowa great lakes system, which situates Okoboji next to the Big Spirit Lake.
The size of Crappie and Bluegill in both Okoboji Lakes are exceptional as well, with Bluegill averaging 8” and Crappie averaging 10”. If you’re looking for Bluegill, the consensus from anglers in the area is that they are traveling deeper these past few seasons, around 20’.
6. Brushy Creek
Located near Fort Dodge, Brushy Creek is known for its massive population of Bluegill and Crappie, as most Iowa lakes are. You can also catch Walleye and Perch in Brushy Creek, but they are far outweighed by the former.
The water’s surface on Brushy Lake often freezes to a depth of 9”, almost entirely closest to shoreline areas. There are a ton of driftwood piles, and tree roots sticking out of the ice, providing underwater habitats for your targets.
7. Big Creek Lake
Another large and very deep lake in Iowa, Big Creek Lake is famous for its ice fishing tournaments and its close location to Des Moines. As with Brushy Creek, Bluegill and Crappie are densely populated here, and catching a sack full is almost effortless if you know what you’re doing.
If you’re more of a fan of Walleye and Bass, you’ll find that Big Creek Lake has plenty to offer there as well. During the heart of the winter months, Big Creek Lake sustains between 5” and 9” of ice, with 4” being enough to hold people without cracking up.
Tips and Tricks
If you’ve never been ice fishing before, it’s unique, and the most important thing to do is stay warm. It’s not like you get an opportunity to run around and get your body heat up while fishing.
While spoon lures and plastics often catch fish in the ice, live bait is the way to go, and you should never head out onto the ice without some live bait in tow. This is especially true for Walleye, who swim along the bottom, feeding on smaller Yellow Bass and other minnows.
The early bird gets the worm when it comes to ice fishing, and they are more likely to bite early in the morning when you’re using spoons and plastics. However, at some point, the activity will come to a screeching halt, and that’s where your live baits come in.
Some of the more popular live baits on the ice are waxworms and spikes. You should always bring some along, especially if you want to be out there for a while. It’s also a good idea to keep quiet. You will see fish through the ice, but that works both ways.
Stomping around and making a lot of noise will vacate an entire area beneath you before you even get a line in the water. Consider a good fish finder, along with a flasher. The latter will help you visually locate fish, and the fish finder will go well beyond that.
Keep yourself warm and strongly consider an ice house. It’s often not the cold that gets you but the wind blowing across the ice. It’s enough to ruin your day if you’re entirely exposed and unprepared.
If you don’t mind the cold, ice fishing in Iowa is exceptional, and, according to anglers throughout the state, it’s more productive than fishing in the spring, fall, or simmer months. At least that’s true if you know what you’re doing and get out on the ice early enough each day.
The best part is, you don’t need a massive tackle box full of baits to do it. Usually, some spoons, plastics, and plenty of live bait are more than enough to get the job done and put fish on the grill or in the oil later in the evening.
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