Embarking on a journey to Iowa’s trout streams during the crisp fall season is a distinctive way to appreciate nature and witness the breathtaking hues of Iowa’s prized trout. During this time, male brown and brook trout showcase their most vibrant spawning colors, creating a captivating spectacle.
Iowa stands as a haven for anglers, boasting some of the Midwest’s most picturesque and abundant trout streams. The Northeastern region, in particular, is a true angler’s paradise, adorned with hundreds of miles of trout streams. Whether you prefer easily accessible streams in state or county parks or the more secluded ones nestled in Iowa’s wild landscapes, there are ample opportunities to reel in rainbow, brown, and brook trout.
Mike Steuck, Iowa DNR fisheries supervisor for interior streams, attests to the bustling activity this season: “It’s a busy place this time of year. Anglers can test their skills with lots of wild fish in these streams.”
While the fall colors may be slightly past their peak, the bluffs, valleys, and rock formations still offer breathtaking views. Little Paint, located west of Harpers Ferry, provides an excellent starting point to witness some of Northeast Iowa’s best bluffs. Numerous overlooks offer stunning perspectives of the stream below.
Trout enthusiasts can find stream-reared brown trout measuring up to 18 inches and 10- to 12-inch stocked rainbow trout in the Maquoketa River. Public access spots line the river in Clayton and Delaware counties, providing ample opportunities for anglers. Rainbow trout tend to inhabit pools and runs, while brown trout prefer areas with wood habitat.
For those seeking a chance to catch all three trout species in one outing, Spring Branch Creek, southeast of Manchester, offers more than 1.5 miles of easily accessible cold-water stream with great public access.
A crucial skill for successful trout fishing is the ability to “read” a stream, identifying habitats that offer food and cover. Trout strategically position themselves along the edge of the current flow, near protective cover, where the stream carries food to them.
Fall is a time when trout actively seek to bulk up for the impending winter, and they are perpetually hungry. Brown and brook trout lay their eggs in nests called redds in October and November, staying in these cleaned gravel areas on the stream bottom until they hatch in late winter or early spring. Anglers should tread carefully to avoid disrupting these nests.
Stealth is key when targeting brown trout, as they are known to be wary. “If you can see them, they have already seen you and probably will not bite,” advises Steuck.
The choice of fishing gear and conditions can significantly impact success. On overcast and gray days, spin fishing gear is recommended, as trout are less wary of lures during such conditions. For fly fishing enthusiasts, midday on sunny and bright days is optimal, as the cooler fall temperatures can stimulate insect hatches. While dry flies can still be effective, nymphs may be a more reliable option.
Northeast Iowa attracts anglers from across the state to its cold-water streams, offering an exceptional trout fishing experience. Iowa’s trout season remains open throughout the year, providing anglers with continuous opportunities. However, a valid fishing license, along with the payment of the trout fee, is required to fish for or possess trout. The daily limit is set at five trout per licensed angler, with a possession limit of 10.