By: Rod Woten, Bass Pro Shops Altoona Pro Staff
Iowa isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind when someone mentions fly fishing. Granted, we don’t have any epic saltwater flats that hold line-stripping bonefish and we don’t have any glacier-fed rivers that hold stunningly beautiful cutthroat trout. There are, however, plenty of fly rod opportunities in Iowa if you know where to look. The opportunities below are just a few of my favorites from around the state.
Farm Pond Panfish
I learned to fly fish on southeast Iowa farm ponds growing up as a kid. Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but Iowa is the land of 10,000 farm ponds and many of them rarely, if ever, get any fishing pressure. That can equate to trophy panfish and the opportunity to be THE ONLY ONE with permission to fish a farm pond or two. Often, all it takes is a knock on a landowner’s door and sharing a bag of fillets with them every once in a while.
The great thing about panfish on the fly rod is that every fish seems like a monster. One of my favorites tactics for catching farm pond bluegills on the fly rod are foam poppers. Trust me - if you love the adrenaline of catching bass on top water lures, then catching bluegills on fly rod poppers is definitely right up your alley. Don’t limit yourself to poppers only, though. Almost any dry fly, grasshopper, cricket, or beetle pattern will make an excellent top water presentation for bluegills. If you’re lucky enough to be fishing a pond that also contains crappies, you also stand a very good chance of landing a few of those silver-sided panfish.
For those days when the bluegills just won’t feed on the surface, I’ll tie on a small beadhead nymph of some sort, add a strike indicator above that, and experiment with the depth between the two until I find the exact depth that the bluegills are feeding at. Another variation on this theme is to tie a foam hopper on and then add a nymph to a short length of line tied to the hook of the hopper. This is often referred to as a “hopper-dropper” rig, and will not only catch those deeper feeding bluegills, but can pick up surface strikes as well.
All of these tactics also work well on any Iowa lake with a good panfish population, so don’t be afraid to give those a whirl either.
Down a Lazy River
Iowa is blessed with a few rivers that have pretty good smallmouth bass fishing. One of my favorites is the stretch of the Raccoon River between Panora and Redfield. On a hot summer day, it feels pretty good to wade a stretch of this river while tossing wooly buggers to likely looking smallmouth haunts and waiting for the strike. Other than an occasional passing flotilla of kayakers, we often have the river to ourselves when we do this. For those that are willing to wade far enough from the access points, you can often forget you’re only minutes away from the nearest highway.
My favorite fly for this is a black wooly bugger with a gold cone head. Fishing this fly is as simple as casting to a likely looking spot, and stripping line to retrieve the Bugger. The stripping action causes the Bugger to gently rise and fall through the water with each stroke and looks a lot like a minnow swimming through the current. Smallmouth can’t resist it, but it’s also not uncommon for us to catch walleye, largemouth bass, channel catfish, white bass, yellow bass, crappies, green sunfish, flathead catfish and carp on any given cast. I think that’s one of the things I love the most about wading the Raccoon River; even though we’re specifically targeting smallmouth, you just never know what you’re next fish will be.
The Queen Mother of All Iowa Fly Fishing
Without a doubt, the pinnacle for fly fishing in Iowa is chasing brook, brown and rainbow trout in the cold water spring-fed streams of northeast Iowa. Most folks don’t even realize that we have trout in Iowa, but they are there and the fly fishing for them can be EPIC at most times of the year. Iowa’s trout streams are often small, and the close proximity of overgrowth can be a true test of anyone’s fly casting ability. It is often said that if you can successfully fly fish the trout streams of Iowa, you can fly fish anywhere with success.
Whether your goal is to fool a truly wild trout, take home a limit of stockers for the grill, chase a true trophy fish, or simply get away from it all and spend the day casting in the solitude of nature, you can find all of these on a northeast Iowa trout stream. Because of the unique geology of the area, (which, in large part is why these streams are there in the first place) you'll be blessed with rock outcroppings, scenic overlooks and flora and fauna that will take your breath away. In this area of the state it is truthfully hard to tell most of the time that you are still even in Iowa! It’s something you truly have to experience for yourself to fully understand, and what better way to do so than with fly rod in hand.
Give it a Try!
It is said that almost any fish that can be caught with rod and reel can also be caught on the fly rod. Contrary to popular belief, Iowa has some humdinger fly fishing opportunities available to anyone willing to pick up a rod, learn to cast and give it a try. From farm pond bluegills and largemouth to river smallmouths, and from carp (often referred to as the “poor man’s bonefish”) to spring stream trout, Iowa can offer it all. Bass Pro Shops can provide you everything you need to get started; not only on the equipment side of things, but also with expert guidance on selecting things like line, rod, reel and flies for whatever fish you decide to chase as well as offering casting workshops and fly tying seminars all done in-store. Be sure to stop in and pick their brains if this whole fly rod thing is something that peaks your interest. I also own and operate Coldwater Guide Service, which specializes in guiding beginner fly anglers. While our forte is Northeast Iowa trout, we also offer trips for all of the scenarios I’ve described above, as well as many others, including ice fishing adventures during the winter. If you’d like to have us take you out and show you what this fly fishing thing is all about, be sure to check us out at www.coldwaterguideservice.com.
Whatever avenues you might take to learn fly-fishing, I highly encourage you to at least give it a try….even if it only remotely interests you. As a fishing professional, I spend many hours fishing with an array of techniques ranging from pulling planer boards for walleyes and spinnerbait fishing for bass to drifting for crappies and fishing through a 6” hole in the ice with a 20-inch rod in the winter…and everything in between, but some of my most satisfying moments in my life have come with a fly rod in my hand.
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