It’s often said that good things come in threes. Whoever established that had to have trout fished in Iowa’s trout country because that number certainly has some significance when we’re talking about Iowa trout. One of the most obvious trinities is the three species of trout; brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout that are stocked in the cold water spring fed streams scattered throughout northeast Iowa. Although the brook trout is the only fish native to Iowa, rainbow and brown trout have made themselves right at home, with brown trout actually establishing self-sustaining populations in several streams. The other trinity associated with Iowa trout fishing is the three rearing stations/fish hatcheries that provide all the fish that get stocked into Iowa’s streams either as a supplement to natural reproduction or as a sole means of providing a viable fishery in a stream. Of these three facilities, only one, the Manchester Hatchery, is a true hatchery in that they actually spawn, incubate and hatch trout fry. Once the fry reaches a sufficient size (2 to 3 inches), they are transported to the other two facilities, one at Elkader on Big Spring and one in Decorah on Siewers Spring to be raised until they reach stockable size of ten to twelve inches. Each of these facilities is responsible for stocking a dozen or so streams in their area. Since Manchester Hatchery is essentially at the top of this trout stocking triad, I will start with it, providing general information about the hatchery and then discussing each of the streams it has stocking responsibilities for and giving greater detail on the streams I have fished personally. Stay tuned to future issues for parts two and three where we discuss the other two trout rearing stations in the state.
The Manchester Fish Hatchery
Located just outside of the town of Manchester, Iowa, the Manchester Hatchery was originally a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Facility from the late 1800’s until the mid-1970’s. Since then it has been Iowa’s only trout facility that actually maintains a population of brood stock trout that provide the eggs and milt that are combined to produce the fertile eggs that are then incubated and hatched into fry trout. The Manchester Hatchery is responsible for producing over a half-million trout every year for stocking in its area streams, stocking several of the “Urban Trout” program’s bodies of water and providing fry to the other two trout rearing stations in the state. The Manchester Hatchery may well be on the southern end of Iowa’s trout country, but it is located right amongst some of the best trout streams in the state!!!
Spring Branch Creek – Spring Branch and the Manchester Hatchery are synonymous with one another. A lot of that may have to do with the fact that Spring Branch Creek flows right through the hatchery, and in fact, is the source for all of the water that flows through the runs of the hatchery. Spring Branch is also a great chance to catch a MONSTER trout. Many of the spent brood stock go right into the stream, so there are plenty of big fish in there. Even the average fish in Spring Branch are good sized fish. Spring Branch has also received a great deal of habitat work, and its multiple bank hides are home to many of those giant trout. Another unique feature to Spring Branch is “The Wall”. So named for its Civilian Conservation era stone wall that lines the creek here, this is the section that goes through the hatchery grounds. It is always chock full of fish, so it’s a great chance to just observe trout behavior. The fish along the wall are a true challenge to catch too, because they get lots of fishing pressure due to their location and the water is usually ultra-clear so they can see everything that goes on streamside.
Further downstream, Spring Branch enters a county park called Bailey’s Ford. This is a great place to camp and fish, and the stream is very accessible all throughout the park. There are even handicap accessible fishing pads on the upper reaches of Spring Branch in Bailey’s Ford. Because of its accessibility, however, Bailey’s gets fished hard by fly anglers, spin fisherman and live bait fisherman alike, so don’t go to Bailey’s Ford expecting to catch a trophy or pursue a wild or holdover trout. If you are looking for a place to take the kids and catch some stocker-sized trout for the dinner table, Bailey’s Ford might be right up your alley.
Richmond Springs – Many Iowans probably have been to Richmond Springs, or at least know of it without even realizing it. Since Richmond Spring is the creek that flows through Backbone State Park, many folks simply call it “Backbone”. Because Richmond Spring flows through Backbone, however, it is one of the more scenic streams in the state with forested limestone bluffs, and exposed outcroppings. Richmond Spring also has a nice mix of accessibility and out-of-the-way places. There is a nice handicap accessible stretch as well as many places to sit on a bench and fish, but the angler willing to wade its entire length, fish in the spots between the community holes or go downstream away from the crowds is often rewarded with a nice holdover trout or a big brooder from one of the creeks many deeper pools. Camping is available in Backbone Park, but it is a long way from the stream, so it’s usually not my first pick if I’m camping while I fish.
Bankston – Bankston is one of my favorite streams to fish if I’m in or around Dubuque. Bankston Park is near the small town of Holy Cross. It’s not a terribly long stream so it’s a great choice if you only have an afternoon or a morning to fish, and it seems like I can always catch fish here. The large pool at the entrance to the park almost always has fresh stocked fish in it, and I can almost continuously get into some holdover fish as well as stockers as I wade downstream. There is also a nice primitive county campground on the other side of the stream which makes Bankston a great choice if I want to camp while I fish.
Swiss Valley – I’ve never had really great luck at Swiss Valley. I do manage to catch a fish or two on most trips there, but it’s never really been a great stream for me. That being said, it keeps me coming back. Luckily, the portion called Upper Swiss Valley, which is located just outside of Dubuque, is in a beautiful setting and is relatively easy to fish. The lower portion, or Lower Swiss Valley, isn’t quite as picturesque, and doesn’t fish quite as well but it does have a conveniently located campground if you’re looking for a camping spot. Of the two sections, Upper Swiss has definitely been better for me. The parking lot for Upper Swiss overlooks the valley below where the stream winds its way to the Mississippi River. The hike down goes quickly and can be pretty strenuous coming back out due to the grade. Just the view from the parking lot is worth the trip. It’s also a great place to stop and fish before or after a stop at Bankston Creek.
Joy Springs – I have had some phenomenal days at Joy Springs. I have also seen some decent sized fish in it. There is one nice pool at one of the crossings that gives great wading access to water that usually flows at just the right speed to get a perfect drift with my fly. There always seems to be lots of fish in this pool and a fair number of them are rising every time I’m there. Located North of Strawberry Point, Joy Springs is a great stop after a day of fishing in Backbone State Park. It seems like more often than not, I’m there fishing as the sun is setting, so I’ve made my fair share of stops there after fishing Spring Branch or Backbone. The stream is not immediately evident from the parking area and a short hike will take you to the first stretch that encircles the primitive campground. I usually see lots of fish in this stretch, but never have much luck catching them. In fact, I have donated more flies to the trees along that stretch of stream than I like to think about. Taking the longer hike along the park boundaries and past the picnic area will take you to the stretches of stream where the fishing is usually much better for me.
Fountain Spring – I have had really good days at Fountain Spring, and then I have gone home skunked as well. High water a year or two ago destroyed the road through the park, not long after it had just been re-built, so that has definitely cut down on the traffic along the stream, but with a good access at either end, the stream still gets a fair amount of pressure. The deep pools have been most productive for me at Fountain, but some of the flatter water at the lower end of Fountain can be dynamite dry fly water if the fish are rising. There is one deep pool near the lower gate to Fountain Spring that you will definitely want to fish as well. If you park at the top side be ready for a hike because most of the good water at that end is not very close to the parking area.
Others- There are still a handful of Manchester-stocked streams that I have not yet been able to fish. I did some scouting last fall on Big Mill, Brush Creek and Little Mill and I was very impressed with what I saw. They are definitely on my short list for a visit. Who knows, maybe this year will be the year? I have driven by Twin Bridges on my way to Fountain Spring and it looked like water that is bigger and wider than I am comfortable fishing with a fly rod. If anyone has fished it productively on the fly, I’d love to hear about it. Dalton Pond is also stocked by Manchester, and isn’t a stream but a stream fed pond. I watched some YouTube videos and am definitely interested in fishing it in the future, but not until I explore Big/Little Mill and Brush Creek a bit.
The streams serviced by the Manchester Hatchery are so varied that no matter what your style of trout fishing, you can find water to suit your needs; whether you’re catching fish for the table or chasing a trophy, fishing community holes or looking to get away from the crowds, fishing with dry fly, nymphs, streamers, spinners, or live bait, there is water somewhere in the area that is an exact fit. It’s also pretty cool that even for someone that spends as much time there as I have, I have yet to explore every stream up there. The opportunity for catching trout in this area has me chomping at the bit to get back up there! Even if you fish some of these streams regularly, hopefully you’ve learned about some of the other streams in the area. Be sure to check in next month to learn about all the streams serviced by the trout rearing station at Big Spring near Elkader. Thanks for reading!