Fly Fishing in Iowa: 20 Top Destinations

Key Takeaways:

  • Iowa offers diverse fly fishing spots, ranging from trout-rich streams to bass-rich lakes and rivers, ensuring there’s something for every angler.
  • Summer is the best season for fly fishing in Iowa due to abundant insect hatches and favorable conditions for a variety of fish species.
  • Iowa’s waters host a wide range of fish species, including trout, bass, bluegill, and pike, providing diverse opportunities for fly anglers.
  • The Iowa Department of Natural Resources regulates fishing activities, emphasizing responsible and sustainable angling practices.
  • Fly fishing regulations in Iowa may change, so it’s crucial to stay up to date with the latest rules and guidelines through the official Iowa DNR website to ensure compliance and a positive fishing experience.

List of 20 Great Fly Fishing Spots in Iowa

List of 20 Great Fly Fishing Spots in Iowa

Iowa offers a wealth of fantastic fly fishing spots, and below are 20 of the most popular spots that will help you reel in some unforgettable angling experiences.

  • Bailey’s Ford
  • Big Mill Creek
  • Bloody Run Creek
  • Coldwater Creek
  • Fountain Springs
  • Glovers Creek
  • Hannen Lake
  • Iowa River
  • Joy Springs
  • Lake Darling
  • Lake Macbride
  • Lake Okoboji
  • Missouri River
  • Paint Creek
  • Swiss Valley
  • Trout River
  • Turkey River
  • Viking Lake
  • Waterloo Creek
  • Yellow River

1. Bailey’s Ford

  • Located 3 miles southeast of Manchester in Delaware County, Iowa, accessible from Jefferson Road.
  • Famous for its crystal-clear, cold waters and serene, meandering streams, it’s renowned for its thriving population of wild brown trout.
  • Effective fly patterns include Pheasant Tail Jig Natural and The Frenchie. Weekly stocking of the rainbow and brook trout enhances fishing prospects.

2. Big Mill Creek

  • Situated on the Big Mill Wildlife Management Area, approximately 4.5 miles west of Bellevue in Jackson County, Iowa.
  • A spring-fed stream with wild brown and brook trout, offering great wading and fly fishing opportunities.
  • Suggested fly patterns include Muddler Minnow, Half Chernobyl in Tan, and Elk Hair Caddis CDC in Tan.

3. Bloody Run Creek

  • Located 2 miles west of Marquette, Iowa, off Highway 18.
  • A designated trout stream stocked with rainbow and brown trout.
  • Recommended fly patterns include The Frenchie (Size 16), Chubby Chornobyl (Size 10), and Copper John (Size 12).

4. Coldwater Creek

  • Found in Winneshiek County, Iowa, situated 3 miles northwest of Bluffton and accessible via Coldwater Creek Road.
  • Offers scenic surroundings and features a weekly stocking of brook, brown, and rainbow trout.
  • Focus on undercut banks and deeper pools, and use recommended fly patterns like Flashback Pheasant Tail (Size 20) and Prince Nymph (Size 14).

5. Fountain Springs

  • Located 2.5 miles northeast of Greeley along Oak Road in Delaware County, Iowa.
  • Wild brown and brook trout inhabit this spring-fed stream in northeast Iowa’s Driftless Area.
  • Prime fly fishing spots include runs, riffles, and undercut banks, with recommended fly patterns like Muddler Minnow and Prince Nymph.

6. Glovers Creek

  • Situated in Echo Valley State Park, approximately 3 miles southeast of West Union in Fayette County, Iowa.
  • A secluded small stream in northeast Iowa, Glovers Creek has wild brown and brook trout.
  • Fly patterns to try include Parachute Adams, Hot Wing Caddis-Tan, and JujuBee Midge.

7. Hannen Lake

  • Located 4 miles southwest of Blairstown in Benton County, Iowa.
  • A popular fly fishing destination for excellent largemouth bass and bluegill fishing.
  • Bass can be targeted near weed beds and structures using streamers and topwater flies.

8. Iowa River

  • A major river in Iowa, a tributary of the Mississippi River, open to small rivercraft to Iowa City.
  • Offers diverse fly fishing opportunities, primarily for smallmouth bass and channel catfish.
  • Focus on deeper pools, eddies, and current breaks, using streamers, nymphs, and poppers.

9. Joy Springs

  • Located in Clayton County, Iowa, situated south on Alpha Ave, about 3 miles west of Strawberry Point in Joy Springs County Park.
  • A spring-fed creek in northeast Iowa with wild brown and brook trout.
  • Recommended fly patterns include Elk Hair Caddis and Flash Light Midge.

10. Lake Darling

  • Situated in southeast Iowa, loaded with crappie, largemouth bass, catfish and bluegill.
  • Bass can be targeted near weed beds and submerged structures.
  • Target bluegill and crappie with small nymphs and dry flies.

11. Lake Macbride

  • An 812-acre lake located near Iowa City.
  • Fishing opportunities include smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, crappie, and bluegill.
  • Focus on weed beds, rocky structures, and submerged timber, with suggested fly patterns like Poppers, Kaufmanns Stimulators, and Slump Buster.

12. Lake Okoboji

  • Located in northwest Iowa, a part of the Iowa Great Lakes.
  • Several fish species is present in this area, including walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, panfish and northern pike.
  • Focus on targeting bass near weed beds and rocky areas, and use small nymphs and dry flies to catch panfish.

13. Missouri River

  • Originating in Montana, the Missouri River flows through multiple Iowa locations, including Harrison, Fremont, and Pottawattamie counties.
  • Abundant smallmouth bass, walleye, and catfish populations make it famous for fly fishing.
  • Recommended fly patterns include Zebra Midge Red (Size 20), Prince Nymph (Size 14), and Parachute Adams Indicator (Size 16).

14. Paint Creek

  • Located in Yellow River State Forest, 3 miles west of Harpers Ferry in Allamakee County, Iowa.
  • A special trout stream stocked with rainbow and brown trout, with chances to catch trophy-sized fish.
  • Suggested fly patterns include Disco Midge – Pearl (Size 18), Flashback Hare’s Ear in Natural (Size 20), and Formerly known as Prince (Size 14).

15. Swiss Valley

  • Situated 4.5 miles southwest of Dubuque off Highway 20 west or Highway 151 South in Dubuque County.
  • Famous for wild brown trout in crystal-clear water and rugged terrain.
  • Swiss Valley’s seclusion and picturesque setting provide a serene fly fishing experience.

16. Trout River

  • Located just 5 miles southeast of Decorah off 133rd Avenue.
  • Characterized by its high population of wild brown trout, making it a must-visit destination for trout enthusiasts.
  • Fishing in this area is challenging but rewarding due to the crystal-clear and rugged terrain.

17. Turkey River

  • A 153-mile-long tributary of the upper Mississippi River.
  • Offers a rewarding and scenic fly fishing experience in northeast Iowa, targeting smallmouth bass, walleye, and catfish. Fly patterns like Kaufmann’s Stimulators in Yellow (Size 12) and Parachute Adams Indicator (Size 16) are effective.

18. Viking Lake

  • Situated in Montgomery County, Iowa, approximately 4 miles east of Stanton.
  • Excellent largemouth bass and bluegill fishing opportunities.
  • Use fly patterns for bass and bluegill, including Hair Bass Bug (Size 6) and Double Bunny Olive & White (Size 6).

19. Waterloo Creek

  • Found in Allamakee County, Iowa, with upper and lower sections for fishing purposes.
  • Known for wild brown trout and offers a serene setting with pastures.
  • Use fly patterns like Parachute Adams Indicator (Size 16) and Copper John (Size 12) to target trout.

20. Yellow River

  • Located in northeastern Iowa, primarily in Allamakee County, and is a tributary of the Mississippi River.
  • A designated trout stream with clear waters and abundant rainbow and brown trout populations.
  • Accessible by canoe or kayak, use fly patterns like Flashback Pheasant Tail (Size 18) and Beetle-Black (Size 14) for successful fly fishing.

When is the optimal time for fly fishing in Iowa?

When is the optimal time for fly fishing in Iowa

The best time to go fly fishing in Iowa is during the summer season. Summer is the prime period for fly fishing, primarily due to the common and robust natural insect hatches during this time. This season offers excellent opportunities for catching a variety of fish species in different locations across Iowa.

In particular, you can expect strong fly fishing prospects for wild brown trout in places like Bailey’s Ford, Big Mill Creek, and Fountain Springs, which are known for their clear, cold water and gentle currents. 

Additionally, summer is ideal for targeting largemouth bass and bluegill in lakes like Hannen Lake and Lake Darling. The abundance of natural minnows during summer also makes it a peak time for fly fishing with spinners to imitate minnows, especially in the lakes and rivers of Iowa.

Just keep in mind that as temperatures rise, factors like water temperature and oxygen levels become more critical, so it’s essential to pay attention to these elements for successful fly fishing adventures in the Hawkeye State.

What fish species can you catch in Iowa through fly fishing?

In Iowa, you can target several fish species through fly fishing. The diverse waters of the state offer opportunities to catch various fish, including smallmouth and largemouth bass, wipers, pike, and bluegill.

Additionally, Iowa’s fisheries support trout species, such as rainbow, brook, and brown trout, and some locations in the bluff country of the Mississippi River basin are known to contain wild brown trout.

The specific species you can catch will depend on the location you choose to fly fish in, so Iowa is good for fly anglers looking for variety.

What are the fly fishing regulations in Iowa?

In Iowa, the regulations for fly fishing are overseen by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), ensuring that anglers enjoy this outdoor activity while adhering to guidelines that promote responsible and sustainable angling. Here’s the key fly fishing regulations you should be aware of:

Free Fishing Days: Iowa residents can participate in free fishing days on June 2, 3, and 4, during which no fishing license or trout fee is required.

License and Permit Requirements: Iowa has specific criteria for needing a fishing license, with exceptions for minors and residents in particular situations. Licenses are required for both residents and non-residents.

Special licenses are available for low-income residents and disabled veterans, providing specific opportunities for these groups to engage in fishing.

Littering and Threatened Species: Littering in public waters is prohibited, and the rules concerning threatened and endangered species, such as fish, frogs, turtles, mussels, and salamanders that cannot be taken or possessed, are outlined.

Fishing Tournament Permits: Fishing tournament permits are required, and the regulations differentiate between traditional and virtual tournaments.

Fishing in Private Waters: If you plan to fish in private ponds and lakes, it’s essential to obtain permission from property owners.You should refer to the Iowa DNR website for the most current information regarding fishing regulations.