Iowa Ice Fishing: Destinations, Tips and More!

Iowa is full of great opportunities for ice fishing. Whether you want to catch a record-setting walleye or just head out after some panfish, you’re sure to have a great time ice fishing in Iowa.

Of course, a few tips and tricks always help you catch more fish. It’s also helpful to know where to go ice fishing in Iowa and if you want to participate in a few tournaments, you better know when and where.

Best Iowa Ice Fishing Destinations

Before we get into tips and tricks for ice fishing throughout Iowa, it’s best to start with a few of the top places to go. With the top destinations below, you will have the opportunity to catch more fish and you might just break a state record for walleye, yellow perch or another type of popular catch during the season.

Big Spirit Lake

One of the most popular spots in northwest Iowa, Big Spirit Lake has set records for the number of o walleye and yellow perch caught during the winter season. Even during the summer, this lake tends to set records and remains one of the top fishing destinations in the state.

Big Spirit is known as a hotspot due to a multi-species fishing boom. With plenty of yellow perch, crappie, bluegill, walleye and even other types of fish, this is the place to go. Perch have gone through a boom, which also causes predator fish, such as northern pike, walleye and smallmouth bass to book, as well.

Mississippi River

In the northeast of the state, you will find the backwaters of the Mississippi River as a top destination for bluegill, crappie, and yellow perch.  A few of the largest yellow perch in the state have been caught within this area of the river.

The best locations along the Mississippi River include the backwaters near the eastern border of the state and those found near Davenport north. A yellow perch coming in at more than 15 inches in length set a record in this area. However, to fish the river an angler must understand the topography and the behavior of the fish.

The backwaters of the river are known as a very popular spawning location and a nursery habitat. However, the shallow water makes it hard for fish to overwinter throughout the river. Mows will head to areas of the river ranging from five to ten feed in-depth, which is enough to keep the waters moving and oxygenated.

The dredged areas of lakes, such as Bussey Lake and Brown’s Lake will provide some of the best ice fishing in all of Iowa. Many fish migrate to these areas during the winter including huge bluegill and crappies.

East and West Okoboji Lake

The East and West Okoboji lakes provide plenty of great places for great Iowa ice fishing. They may not produce huge numbers as some of the other lakes, but the quality of the fish is amazing. Many are larger and plenty of shallow bays provide excellent fishing for bluegills.

Millers Bay, Smiths Bay, Emersons Bay, and the Tirboji area all provide the depth necessary for fish and bluegill are even found as deep as 15 to 20 feet in these areas.

Big Creek Lake

Found north of Des Moines, Big Creek Lake is a popular spot for walleye, bluegill, and crappie. There are even a few yellow perch found here, but many come here for the crappie and bluegill. The east area of the lake found south of the beach is a very popular spot.

Clear Lake

Another strong spot for ice fishing in Iowa, Clear Lake is popular for yellow bass and walleye. Both are found throughout the lake and are doing very well due to a large renovation project. Clear Lake even provides restaurant and motel facilities open year-round. This allows for anglers visiting from other areas to enjoy ice fishing without any issue.

Other popular spots for Iowa ice fishing include:

  • Crystal Lake in Hancock County
  • Rice Lake
  • Storm Lake
  • Badger Creek Lake
  • Sunfish Lake
  • Twelve Mile Lake
  • Lakes of Adair County

Gear You will Need for Iowa Ice Fishing

If you want to head out to enjoy some ice fishing or you are looking for the perfect gift for the angler in your family, you need to know what the right gear for Iowa ice fishing includes. All you really need is a good ice fishing pole, an ice auger and a five-gallon bucket to sit on. However, if you want to take it a bit more seriously, you might want more than just the bare necessities.

Some of the things to get for ice fishing in Iowa include:

Sonar Fish Finder

Without a good fish finder, you are just going at it blind. You may still get to enjoy the beer, but without a bite, you may not really enjoy the day. One of the best fish finders for ice fishing is the Vexilar Ultra Pack Fishing System.

Underwater Viewing System

While it’s not necessary to catch fish, if you want to catch the big one, an underwater viewing system will show you right where that trophy fish is lurking. The best choice for Iowa ice fishing is the Aqua-Vu 760c HD Color Underwater Viewing System.

Ice Scooper

An ice scooper makes it much easier to keep your hole good and ready for fishing.

Rod Holder

Unless you want to hold your rod in one hand and a beer in the other, a rod holder should be a part of your gear. The Hot Rod Holder mounts right on your bucket and provides the perfect choice.

A Good Bobber

For ice fishing, you need the right bobber.

If you’re new to ice fishing, you may want to consider a kit with bobbers, lures and more. One of the most popular choices is the Celsius Ice Fishing  Kit. It comes with everything you will need for your rig.

Along with getting the right gear listed above, you will need the right ice fishing rod and reel. Some of the top choices include:

  • Croix Legend Gold Ice Rod
  • Berkley Lightning Rod & Reel
  • Celsius R2F MultiSpecies Kit – Perfect for Beginners!
  • Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2
  • Frabill Fin-S Pro Ultra-Light Combo

Top Tips for Ice Fishing in Iowa

Along with the right gear for ice fishing, you will want the best possible tips. Whether you are going after bluegill or walleye, the right tips make a huge difference. Make sure to check out our tips for catching walleye here.

Safety Always Comes First

Ice fishing comes with dangers and you want to make sure you are enjoying the sport in a safe manner. Always proceed with caution on the lake and make sure the ice is thick enough and provides enough stability.

It takes at least four inches of ice to support an average person’s weight. If you plan to use a snowmobile, you will need at least six inches of ice. Those planning to drive their vehicle on the ice need a thickness of at least 10 inches.

Timing Makes a Difference

Ice fishing season in Iowa generally runs from about mid-December through February. Sometimes, the season will go into March, but you will want to plan your trip accordingly.

Time of day will also make a difference. Many anglers have found that fishing for crappie from 10am to 3pm isn’t a good idea. Different fish will bite at different times of the day. Make sure you know what you are after and time your fishing trip properly.

Use an Ice Fishing House

For the die-hard anglers, temporary shelter is a great choice. You can spend the money on a permanent house or you can choose a portable shelter. The portable ice fishing shelter is a great choice simply because you can move it from one location to another much easier.

Make sure you compare the sizes and benefits of different ice fishing shelters before you buy one. Of course, you can build your own, but it’s quite a bit of work and may not provide the same type of heat or environment for enjoying Iowa ice fishing. A couple of the top choices for portable ice fishing shelters include the Eskimo Quick Fish 2, the Clam Bigfoot XL2000 and the ArcticShield Double Layer Shelter.

Understand the Iowa Fishing Regulations

The last thing you need is an issue with the law. Make sure you understand the fishing regulations of the state of Iowa before heading out to enjoy ice fishing. It’s legal to use a fish finder, but you will need to make sure you have the proper license for the fish you plan to catch.

Know the Fish

Every species of fish is a little different. Bass, bluegill, crappie, and walleye tend to go to deeper waters in the winter, even up to 30-feet deep. Perch may not go nearly as deep, but most fish will be found in deeper waters than normal.

The type of bait you use will matter for the type of fish you are after, too. A live minnow with a jig is perfect for walleye, bluegill, crappie, and bass. It’s a good idea to use bright colored lures and rigs such as the  Lunkerhunt Magic Beans Spinner Bait or the Clam Bomb Spoon.

If you’re very new to ice fishing, you may want to enjoy one of the clinics found in Iowa. Jester Park will hold one on January 10th, while Ester Lake Park will have an ice fishing clinic on February 21st.

Now you have some of the top destinations in Iowa for ice fishing, along with some great tips. Get your gear together and head out after your next trophy fish this year.