Iowa Fishing

Iowa is a diverse state, offering varied angling opportunities across the state. The Mississippi and Missouri Rivers make up the east and west borders and farm ponds, natural and man-made lakes, and interior rivers and streams populate the interior. Abundant fish populations provide anglers with the chance for a pleasant excursion.

Iowa Fish Species


Of the three trout species found in Iowa, one is native and two are naturalized. According to past records, brook trout have always inhabited the streams in northeast Iowa. Brown trout are not native to North America; they were introduced from Europe during the late 19th century. Rainbow trout are native to the Pacific Northwest. Both rainbow trout and brown trout have been stocked in Iowa for over a century. Most trout in Iowa streams are reared in trout hatcheries but some brown and brook trout naturally reproduce.

Iowa's greater than 100 trout streams are located in north east Iowa, east of the Cedar River and north of the cities of Cedar Rapids and Maquoketa. In the early 1960`s the Iowa DNR because a trout stream acquisition program that has resulted in public ownership of more than 42 miles of the 266 miles of coldwater streams with trout populations. In some Iowa trout streams, regulations restrict anglers to using rainbow trout lures instead of live bait.

Rainbow trout and brown trout can reach weights of greater than 40 pounds in some areas but it is rare to find one of these fish larger than 10 pounds in Iowa. The record rainbow and brown trout for Iowa were both caught in 1984, the rainbow trout weighed 19 lbs. and 8 oz. and the brown weighed 15 lbs. and 3 oz. Both trout were brood stock that had been stocked from the hatchery and were caught in French Creek in Allamakee County in northeast Iowa.


10 of the 39 North American catfish species inhabit Iowa rivers and lakes. Channel catfish, flathead catfish, blue catfish and bullheads are the most common species of catfish in Iowa.

Catfish can be distinguished from other fish species by their lack of scales, their barbells or "whiskers" around their mouth, and the strong, sharp spines located near the dorsal and pectoral fins.

Catfish barbels store sensory organs which are used to transmit both touch and taste. Other locations on a catfish's body contain more taste buds. Estimates are that an adult bullhead has approximately 100,000 nerve sensory locations. All catfish are adapted to foraging in muddy and dark waters where feeding by senses is essential.

Perch Family

Young yellow perch function as vital forage for larger species such as northern pike, largemouth bass and walleye.

Walleye, perch and sauger are important game fishes and are highly valued by anglers in Iowa. Walleyes rank as the fourth most hunted fish in Iowa. Perch are of more regional importance, particularly in the natural lakes and Mississippi River.

Pike Family

There are three members of the pike family in Iowa: northern pike, muskellunge, and tiger muskies, a hybrid of the male northern pike and female musky. All of these species are important game fish so they are reared in Iowa fish hatcheries for release in lakes and rivers with a suitable environment.

Northern pike is probably the most widely distributed and best known member of the pike family. The original range of the northern in the state was the natural lakes, the upper reaches of the large interior rivers and the Great Border Rivers, particularly in the upper basin pools.

The muskellunge or "musky" was considered a very rare fish in Iowa until l960 when stocking began in West Okoboji Lake and Clear Lake. Purebred musky have been released in five lakes since l960.

The newest addition of the pike family in Iowa is a hybrid fish, the tiger musky, which is a cross between northern pike and muskellunge and was first introduced in l978. Although natural crossing of these two species occurs where both inhabit the same waters, it is only recent that hatchery hybridization has been popular. Like both parents, it grows to a large size and shows hybrid vigor in growth and fighting ability.

Sunfish Family

Various species of sunfish are found in all parts of Iowa. Smallmouth bass are most abundant in streams, largemouth bass prefer quiet waters of lakes and large rivers, crappie are found in both moderate to large-sized lakes and streams, green and orange-spotted sunfishes are found nearly everywhere, and bluegills prefer lakes, ponds and the backwaters of large rivers. All together, the sunfish family provides a considerable segment of the angling for Iowans.

Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass draw the most attention from Iowa fisherman. Crappies, bluegills and other sunfish offer fine fishing for people looking for a filet for dinner.

Iowa Fish Hatcheries

The Iowa DNR maintains five hatcheries throughout the state:

Big Springs Fish Hatchery
16212 Big Springs Road
Elkader, IA 52043

Decorah Fish Hatchery
2321 Siewers Spring Road
Decorah, IA 52101

Fairport Fish Hatchery
3390 Hwy 22
Muscatine, IA 52761

Manchester Fish Hatchery
22693 - 205th Ave.
Manchester, IA 52057

Rathbun Fish Hatchery
15053 Hatchery Place
Moravia, IA 52571

Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery
122 252nd Ave.
Orleans, IA 51360

The Big Springs Fish Hatchery in Elkader, Decorah Fish Hatchery, and Manchester Hatchery are the Iowa hatcheries that raise trout. The Manchester Hatchery stocks trout in these lakes and streams:
Bailey's Ford, Bankston, Big Mill, Brush, Dalton Lake, Fountain Springs, Joy Springs, Little Mill, Little Turkey, Maquoketa River, Lower Swiss Valley, Richmond Springs, and Upper Swiss Valley.

The Elkader Hatchery stocks trout in these lakes and streams:
Bear, Bloody Run, Buck, Clear, French, Glovers, Grannis, Heritage Pond, Hickory, Little Paint, Mink, North Cedar, North Prairie, Otter, Paint, South Cedar, Sny Magill, Turkey River, and Wexford.

The Decorah Hatchery stocks trout in these lakes and treams:
Bigalk, Blue Pit, Bohemian, Coldwater, Coon, North Bear, Patterson, Silver, Lower South Bear, Spring, Trout River, Trout Run, Twin Springs, Turtle, Wapsi River, Waterloo, and West Canoe.

Top Iowa Fishing Locations

  1. Mississippi River
  2. Missouri River
  3. Coralville Reservoir
  4. Lake Rathbun
  5. Lake Icaria
  6. Little River
  7. Green Valley
  8. Binder Reservoir
  9. Clear Lake
  10. Silver Lake
  11. Lake Sugema
  12. Des Moines River
  13. Iowa River
  14. Rice Lake
  15. Prairie Rose
  16. Lake Miami
  17. Lake Darling
  18. Richmond Springs
  19. Turkey River
  20. French Creek
  21. North Bear
  22. Three Mile Lake
  23. Lake Manawa
  24. Spirit Lake
  25. East Okoboji Lake
  26. Lost Island Lake
  27. North Twin Lake
  28. Lake Delhi
  29. Martens Lake
  30. Meyers Lake
  31. Lake Macbride