With mixed emotions, I sit down to write this third and final installment in the Trinity of Trout trilogy. On the one hand, I’m excited because I finally get to share some of my favorite streams in the entire state with you. But on the other hand, it’s a bit sad to realize that we’ve come to the end of a journey. Thanks for following along!
The Decorah Fish Hatchery
The trout hatchery (rearing station, technically) in Decorah is probably my favorite of all three in the state. The runs that the trout are raised in are more accessible than the runs in the other two facilities. The park-like setting is enhanced by the Civilian Conservation Corps era architecture of the buildings on the grounds. The spring head for the spring that feeds the hatchery is also especially striking with its stair-step design, and it’s downright beautiful when the spring is flowing at full force. As if that weren’t enough, the world famous Decorah eagles are situated in a large old tree directly across the road from the entrance to the hatchery. The Decorah hatchery rears around 130,000 stockable-sized rainbow trout every year and around 20,000 brook trout of the same size. For those of you that like to fish the urban trout fisheries in Des Moines, Bondurant, Ames, Mason City, Sioux City or Spencer, those fish are all supplied by the Decorah facility.
Trout Run – Trout Run begins at the springhead within the Decorah rearing station. Technically this section of stream is only a tributary that empties into Trout Run, but since its confluence with Trout Run marks the eastern-most fishable portion of Trout Run proper, it is essentially considered part of Trout Run. The first couple hundred yards of the stream are very accessible and easy to fish. In fact, from the spring head to the first bridge, there are some very comfy park benches along the stream to take advantage of. It’s very rare for me to fish that section and not pull at least one trout out of there. The short stretch from the bridge to the outlet from the hatchery almost always has trout in it as well, and I can usually catch fish there if I can’t find them anywhere else.
The next short stretch from the outlet until the stream curves to the northeast can also have lots of fish in it, although access becomes more difficult the further downstream you get. Between that point and the road, the stream becomes very shallow and doesn’t offer many trout holding opportunities, but after it crosses under the road and dumps into the main part of Trout Run, the characteristics of the stream changes altogether. At this point the stream widens considerably and deeper pools become more commonplace. Access can be very difficult along these segments of the stream, so look for the more easily accessed “community” spots along here that are very easy to identify. Trout Run continues northeast towards Decorah from here, and there is another access at the most upstream point, but it is very rare for me to fish this end. I usually prefer to fish smaller water and by this point Trout Run is less like a small stream and more like a small river, so I look for other options.
Bigalk – Bigalk is somewhat of a hidden gem in this area. It is also one of the most often mispronounced. Although it looks like it should be pronounced like a shortened version of “big-alcohol”, it actually sounds more like “bee-yalk”. Because of its short length, Bigalk is often overlooked. This means it doesn’t get nearly as much pressure as a Coldwater or Waterloo does, but thanks to the amount of habitat work done here, it’s definitely worth spending at least part of a day here. The fact that it’s so closely located to Coldwater also makes a great side trip. Like I said before, a hidden gem!
Coldwater – I have to admit that I’m dying to see the cave from which Coldwater Creek originates. Unfortunately, I have yet to make it that far upstream. Coldwater is rather unique in that no one has ever actually seen its headwaters because the stream originates deep within a cave. Coldwater also has the distinction of being one of only a couple of streams in the state where rainbow trout appear to be reproducing, and rainbows are what I catch the most of while I’m there. At the westernmost access point there is some parking available, but it is a decent hike down to the creek. There has obviously been some habitat work done there, and is one of the better spots to fish. A short distance upstream and downstream from there also have decent fish holding water, but as you continue downstream, those areas become fewer and far between until you get near the Eastern-most access. There is considerably more parking here and the stream is so close you could probably fish it from your car if you wanted to. There has also been some considerable habitat work here as well, and the bank hides right before the creek crosses under the road are one of my favorite places to drift a nymph under an indicator. There is also a large deep pool immediately adjacent to the parking area that is always worth dragging a streamer through.
Twin Springs – Twin Springs is a short section of stream located on the west side of Decorah. I had driven by it several times before I even realized that it was a trout stream. Twin Springs flows east through a wildlife area and for most of its length looks too shallow to fish. There are a few deeper pools that hold fish, and are easy to see from the road due to the amount of traffic these spots see. There is a deep pool that usually holds a lot of fish where Twin Springs goes under the road, and it’s almost always occupied when I get there. Long story short, it’s hard to get to good water on this stream because the best spots are usually taken. I wouldn’t make this a destination stream, but if you have an hour to kill and happen to be in the area, it’s definitely worth a look.
North & South Bear Creeks – You won’t find either one of these streams on the stocking schedule and there are a couple of reasons for that. Despite the fact that neither of these streams receives weekly scheduled stockings, I have included them in this list because you can’t talk about the Decorah-stocked streams without including this pair. The first reason neither is on the stocking schedule is that any stockings at the Bear Creeks are unannounced. The other reason is that the brown trout population in N/S Bear is self sustaining. That means that other than an annual stocking of fingerling browns, the only other stocking that takes place is unannounced stocking of catchable sized rainbow trout and brook trout. Without a doubt, “The Bears”, especially North Bear, are my favorite places in the state to catch brown trout! What’s really appealing about these two streams is how different they can be even though they’re only a few miles apart. North Bear tends to be more pastureland or tall grass. Access can be pretty good on North Bear as long as you don’t mind crossing a few stiles, since most of the public fishing is on private land. South Bear on the other hand, has only a little bit of pasture land and is mostly timbered with several beaver dams along its length. The Bears are also where I usually have my best luck with a dry fly. It seems that I can almost always find an active hatch somewhere along North or South Bear and hungry browns that are more than willing to rise to a matching dry fly.
Waterloo Creek – Waterloo Creek is probably one of the top three trout streams in the state (the other two being North/South Bear Creek and French Creek). Of all the streams in the state, Waterloo feels the most like a small river out west. It’s shallow and wade-able and in its widest stretches give you a chance to really open up and test out your overhead cast. At the same time, Waterloo also has narrow windy stretches that fish as small as some of the smallest streams in the state. One of the reasons that Waterloo is such a great stream is the special regulation section at the southern end of the stream, which is basically the segment of the stream that flows along the east side of highway 76. In this stretch, all fish must be released immediately after being landed and only artificial baits and lures may be used. This is also the section that tends to be more like other streams in Iowa; small and narrow. Access along here is very good though as most of it is pasture land or grassy fields. In contrast, the section further north that flows through the town of Dorchester is a little more closed off with a fair amount of trees surrounding the stream and is the wider shallower section that I mentioned earlier.
The Rest – There are SO many great streams that are stocked by the Decorah hatchery that it would be impossible to fit them all in one article. Streams like West Canoe, Patterson, Bohemian, Turtle, Spring and The Wapsi all offer excellent trout fishing. I guess that’s one of the things I like so much about the trout streams in this area; they are all world class trout fisheries. With such quality all found in such close proximity to one another, all you have to do is pick one and start casting. You can’t go wrong!