A thump with a “zing” to your line can only mean one thing; a smallmouth bass has taken your offering. Smallmouth bass live all over the state and are sought after very heavily, especially in the summer months. If you have fished in an interior river in Iowa, you have probably caught a smallmouth bass whether you were trying to or not. They thrive in these rivers which are teeming with food for these ferocious eaters. Small interior streams are not the only place to find these fun fish though. The large bordering rivers of Iowa have sections that offer great smallmouth fishing too. Throw in a few natural Iowa lakes and you have just about everything you would ever need to try and find some big Iowa Smallmouth bass.
If you are looking to hook into some smallmouth bass, the interior rivers of Iowa are your best bet. No matter where you live in Iowa you are not too far away from a public access to an interior river. Some of the larger ones include; Little Sioux, Raccoon, Des Moines, Skunk, Iowa, Cedar, Wapsipinicon, Maquoketa, Iowa, Turkey, and Upper Iowa rivers. All of these rivers, along with smaller ones not mentioned have the ingredients for smallmouth populations. Current is always present as well as minnows and crawdads. These elements are a smallmouths’ dream and that is the main reason why interior rivers offer great fishing for this special species of bass.
When fishing these smaller waters it is important to remember to adjust your bait selection. Most bass anglers in Iowa fish the many lakes scattered across the state that offer good largemouth bass fishing. The same baits that work well in those lakes to catch the green bass will not be the best choices in these smaller bodies of water. The smaller the body of water the smaller the bait should be when chasing smallmouth bass. The reason behind this is that their natural food sources will be smaller creatures. Small minnows, bugs, and crawdads will be the main source food so you will want to match those sizes with your baits. Small spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and plastic baits will work excellent in these smaller bodies of water. Another type of bait to consider once the water temperature rises over 55-degrees are topwater baits. Poppers, buzzbaits and floating jerkbaits are a great way to catch smallmouth in the heat of the summer. If you tend to fish the larger stretches of interior rivers located on the Cedar, Des Moines, and other bigger waters then the typical bass baits that work for largemouth should be just fine for the smallmouth.
Like most fishing on most days location is the key to catching bass. That is very true on these smaller rivers. To unlock the secret of these smallmouth bass you have to focus in on the current and the speed of the current. Smallmouth love to be in and around current as it brings them food all day long. Each day on these small rivers you must pay close attention to where the fish are holding for that particular moment in the day. Sometime smallmouths will be right in the middle of the heaviest current you can find, while other days they will be adjacent to it in some slack water. I tend to try a little bit of everything and let the smallies tell me where they are living and eating. Each time out is always a new adventure for smallmouth bass on interior rivers. By selecting the right size of baits and keying into the current situations you should find yourself listening to that sweet sound of the drag being pulled.
NATURAL IOWA LAKES
If fishing from a boat is more your speed, then you need to point your vehicle and trailer to the north. There are two fantastic lakes in the state of Iowa known for smallmouth fishing. West Okoboji Lake and Spirit Lake in Northwest Iowa are the places to go to catch numbers as well as large sizes of smallmouth bass. While most of the state would have to make a long drive to get there, trust me, the drive is worth it. I have made the four hour trip from where I live each year for the past five or six years, some years even twice. If you have never seen West Okoboji Lake, just think of it like no other lake in the state, because it is just that unique. It is more like a lake you would see in Minnesota or Canada. The water is crystal clear, often times seeing the bottom in twenty feet of water. It is gorgeous, but a bit intimidating too. Most anglers in Iowa are not used to fishing clear water, and it does take some adjusting. The biggest pointer I can share with you today is to make long casts. These fish are smart and they will see you. Once they see you, your chance of catching them is gone. Making long casts and downsizing your line will help you adjust to the clear water. Line diameter plays a big role in clear water situations. 6# to 10# line should be about the maximum you use. The smaller the line, the more bites you will get. The clarity at Spirit Lake is typically 3-5 feet, so you won’t have to worry so much about being stealthy there. The lakes are surrounded by rocks, docks and sandy bottoms. We can thank the glaciers from centuries ago for creating these marvelous smallmouth lakes found right here in Iowa.
Finding these smallmouth bass in natural lakes requires a lot of looking around. However, once you find the specific locations of these fish you can generally go anywhere in the lake with those same features and repeat the catching process. As mentioned above, these two lakes are filled with rocks, sand, docks, and weeds. Weeds will grow up from 20 feet of water and provide a perfect habitat for these bass for most of the year at Okoboji. These are top locations for smallies during most of the year at this particular lake. At other times at both lakes, you must look at the rocky shorelines and points, and always look under those boat docks. With hundreds of them floating on each of the lakes they create shade and ambush points for smallies to hide and attack their prey. If you catch one smallmouth from a dock pay close attention to the depth of water it was in, as that could be the key that unlocks the pattern for the day. As you can see there are many options on these natural lakes, so by trying each of these key areas you will be sure to find some groups of eager biting smallmouth bass inhaling your favorite lures.
The BIG RIVERS
The border rivers of the state can offer some great smallmouth bass fishing as well. With the size of these waters, it is quite obvious that location is once again key, as well as having a boat to navigate the large bodies of water. I have never fished the Missouri River, but a quick phone call to the DNR led me to some invaluable information. The best smallmouth bass fishing on this river can be experienced near Sioux City. Typical baits such as spinnerbaits, topwater baits, crankbaits, and soft plastics work well for smallmouth bass here. Once again, current was a key point in the conversation. Just like in the interior rivers anglers must dissect what the bass are holding on for that day. Do they want a lot of current? Do they want to be out of the current but close by? Those are the important questions whenever you are looking for bass when current is available.
Most of the above points for the Missouri River can hold true on the Mississippi River. With the countless trips I’ve made to this river, I have learned some vital lessons about smallmouth. Current is obviously important to smallmouth bass and will position them on particular days where you can easily catch them. I’ve also learned that a group of smallmouth bass can be piled up on an area one day and you won’t get a bite there the next day. These fish move more than any other fish I’ve ever chased in my life. The last lesson I will share is to throw the kitchen sink at them. Smallmouth will group together and can often be caught in large numbers in a very small area. Once you think the fish have stopped biting, just try a different type of lure, you will probably catch some more, then switch again. I am not sure why they do this, especially on the Mississippi River, but they do!
The best stretches of smallmouth bass on the Mississippi River include Pool 9, Pool 10, and the northern part of Pool 11. Smallmouth can literally be caught on every mile of those areas. The main channel, which is often lined with rock on the current holding sides would be the best percentage to catch smallmouth on these pools. In many scenarios you don’t have to be on the main channel, side chutes with current will hold smallmouth bass too. Here, they may lay up against downed logs or be hiding in the weeds. Smallmouth really like to stay on the edge of weeds and come out to prey on food passing by or being swept past them by the current. Some key baits I like to throw at Mississippi River smallmouth include swim jigs, crankbaits, topwater baits, and Hot Rod Bait Tubes. When you find where the smallmouth are hiding or eating, throw a variety of baits at them and you will most likely have your best day of fishing action.
As you can see, Iowa has many opportunities to catch smallmouth bass. The natural lakes, smaller interior rivers, (which are perfect for canoes or smaller boats) and the big rivers that border this great state are the top places to find these bronze beauties. Current is everything when you are searching for smallmouth, so keep a keen eye out for it and let the smallmouth tell YOU where they are living.