Imagine Northeast Iowa

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Trout Fishing For Dummies: Part II
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Trout Fishing For Dummies: Part II

Part II: The Water

Trout Unlimited published a book highlighting the top 100 trout fisheries in the country. They completely overlooked Northeast Iowa. Good. Northeast Iowa has some extremely productive and breathtakingly scenic trout waters and I don't mind that it's our big, beautiful, local secret.

Northeast Iowa has such an abundance of trout streams because there are literally hundreds of miles of water that contain the perfect elements for trout to thrive and survive; oxygen, temperature, things to eat and places to ambush food from. Oxygen gets into water from two sources; aquatic vegetation and turbulence. Good trout waters have both of these things. Trout's temperature tolerance ranges from 32.1 degrees Fahrenheit to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Trout will still remain active during winter. I have caught trout knee-deep in snow, dropping my bait on a floating ice-sheet and jerking it off into the water at just the right time. Optimal range for growth, breeding and continuous feeding is a smaller window and varies by species, but is approximately 44-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Trout eat mostly bugs. Does your chosen stream have bugs? I hope so. Look under some stream-side rocks. See bugs? Good. There's trout-food there. Finding the places trout hide for ambushing their prey from can be the big key to turning "fishing" into "catching".

Running water, be it the Cedar River or Trout Run Creek, is made of a repeated cycle of runs, riffles, and holes. Runs are long, wide, shallow stretches that usually harbor vegetation and a soft bottom. Riffles are the agitated water created when the bedrock or a boulder-field comes up out of the soft bottom. After the riffles either the banks narrow (increasing hydraulic pressure), the rock-bottom has eroded out a shelf, or the water hits a curve the flowing water then creates a hole. A Holy, Holey, hole. While trout can and will hide in any calm water or under an overhanging bank or fallen log anywhere along a run or riffle, it's The Hole that will hold trout in numbers. The most aggressive feeders often stage themselves at the pool's head. Trout actually fight for feeding position in a hole and it's rather fun to watch.

This is the part where I share a secret. Two, actually. #1) If you work a pool's head and don't get a single hit of any kind...present your offering to the tail-out of the pool, just before it turns into a run again. On several occasions I've found that a hole that looks promising but yields nothing at the head is being dominated by One Big Bad Mother of a trout who hangs out at the tail of the pool, runs off all competition, and surveys its entire kingdom for food. Catch one of these...and you'll have a story to tell. #2) You see a riffle turn into a pool, but you can't seem to find the drop-off. Finding the drop-off is analytical hydraulics. AKA "throwing a stick in the water". Quietly walk upstream around the riffle-pool transition, and throw a smallish dry stick into the riffle, close one eye, make a ruler out of your fingers in front of your eyes and start counting. In the riffle, the stick may traverse three knuckles in one second then abruptly slow to one knuckle in three seconds. That's your drop-off. The water's flow has decreased in speed as its volume was allowed to expand down.

When I show people a picture of a fish my kids or I have caught, the invariable question is "Where?" and my standard reply is "local stream". Well, as a reward for reading this far, I'm going to tell you my three favorite Trout Streams in Northeast Iowa. These are my favorites because the best holes are hard to get to, requiring competent outdoor skills, a sense of minimalism when it comes to tackle & packed gear, and a sense of adventure that borders on the ridiculous.

#1) Big Paint Creek, Yellow River State Forest – Alamakee County. This one almost killed me, but I would have died with a four pound Brown Trout on my back. #2) Trout River - Winneshiek County. Ever quietly prowl a deer-trail through an eight-foot high forest of nettles and wild-parsnip? It's worth it. #3) Bigalk Creek - Howard County. I like this one because once you get out of your vehicle and get're committed to negotiating swamps, cow-pies, angry Red Wing Black Birds, and if you make it to where Bigalk flows into the Upper Iowa (my favorite spot), quicksand.

There are many more, probably one near you. Here's a list from the Iowa DNR

"Rob...what do I do when I get to these places? What will I need?" Good question. Find out in Trout Fishing For Dummies: Part 3 – Gearing Up (or down).


  1. cjcooley
    Rob, those holes are ridiculous. I think you're just trying to weed out the competition!
    1. Rob C
      Rob C
      Thank you for reading that far. You also saw the link to the Iowa DNR Trout Stream List. Some of them even have barrier-free wheelchair access. Most, however, are very easily accessible. Please note The Toddler in the article photo. She caught that Brookie herself; her hike, her cast, her hookset, her landing. And it was delicious. Wanna know where we caught it? A local stream. :-)

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