Iowa is full of fishing destinations throughout the winter months. When ice fishing is mentioned, most people around the Midwest think of Okoboji Lake as the top place to try their luck. The glacier lakes of northern Iowa probably deserve the credit for the best place to ice fish in Iowa, but what about all the other opportunities, what is the next best thing after the IGL’s? The five lakes mentioned this month all have special attributes that put them near the top of the most traveled ice anglers in the state. I hope you live close enough to a few of these to give them a try this winter, or plan ahead and make a weekend out of it with some ice fishing friends.
Badger Creek Lake (280 acres)
This little off the beaten path lake has a good population of crappies awaiting ice anglers this year. Badger Creek Lake is located on the southwest side of Des Moines. It is only 280 acres and has parking and boat ramps on opposite sides of the lake to access the ice. The most popular area to ice fish is the roadbed that crosses the lake in this general area. Fish seem to be caught here pretty regularly and is a very short walk from the parking lot. However, venturing north or south of here near the old creek channels can offer much better fishing consistently. The creek channels are lined with old tree trunks and brush that offer crappies a fantastic place to suspend and feed. Since the crappies are the most sought after fish here, using your electronics to find schooling fish will up your catches significantly. Better than average sized crappies can be caught here, and some true monsters, making this a popular crappie fishing area. If you want to target those keepers for a fish fry, tie on a spoon tipped with waxies, this will call in the bigger ones. Move often and keep looking until you see active fish on the Vexilar before setting up camp to fish.
Big Creek Lake is a long, narrow, deep lake by Iowa standards. It is located near Polk City, north of Des Moines. This lake was once known for the walleye and crappie action is produced, but in the past few years things have changed. This destination is now getting a lot of attention of the bluegills that live in the lake. The number of bluegills scattered around the lake has been on the rise lately. Dozens of brush piles and shallow flats dot this lake and can have some of the best congregations of bluegills around, and some giants too. You don’t have to get very fancy to catch these fish, a small jig and some live bait or piece of plastic and you are set for some bluegill action. If this is a new lake on your list, you will want to do your homework on the DNR website. Here, you will be able to see the locations of many of these brush piles and a good idea of how deep the water is too. Some days the gills might be eating in less than 15 feet of water, while other days they may be out deeper in 25 feet of water. Having the idea of depths and where you are fishing can be vital in this lake. Drill several holes and let your Vexilar tell you the depth, if brush is present, and most importantly if fish are active in the area. The lake has many parking lots and boat ramps around it, making a short walk to many of the mentioned brush piles.
Brushy Creek Lake (690 acres)
This is one of the best bass fishing lakes in the state, however it isn’t too shabby for ice fishing either. If anglers in the southern and eastern part of the state don’t want to travel to the far north on the IGL’s for perch, Brushy Creek has plenty of perch closer to their home. Perch are a rare thing here in Iowa and there might not be a prettier fish to catch through the ice. Brushy Creek Lake has plenty if you are up for the challenge. I say challenge, because it can be just that. However, the massive numbers of perch located in the lake can’t go without notice here. Many times anglers hoping for bluegills or crappies at the end of their line will reel in perch. The population is large and growing into nice keeper sized perch. Bluegills are very abundant here too making it a great place to set up a shack and introduce anglers or young ones to the sport of ice fishing. Typical baits like small jigs and live bait seem to have been the best producers of these two species last year, but perhaps a small spoon will catch your share of perch too. The lake has many ramps and parking lots to limit the amount of walking a person has to do to find productive fishing areas in the winter. The north boat ramp gets the most attention, and for good reason as many good areas are located up along the ole creek channels. Using your Vexilar once again to find the deepest water and to get your jig through the trees will be essential here. My greatest successes here have come in 25 feet of water or less. Grab yourself a map and find those channels, and you will soon be catching perch or gills at Brushy Creek.
Clear Lake (3700 acres)
When a discussion starts out about ice fishing in Iowa, Clear Lake will no doubt become part of the conversation. It has become the hottest lake in Iowa to drill some holes and catch some fish. Most often those fish will be the Yellow Bass. This species is an invasive species, so there is no limit on them, keep as many as you like…and guess what, they taste GREAT! I have fished all over this state, but catching yellow bass at Clear Lake has to be the most fun an angler can have. These fish are schooling fish, and at times your Vexilar will be solid fish for six feet. They just keep biting and biting until they swim on, it is a load of fun. This brings most people to this lake in the winter, but local guide and owner of the Clear Lake Bait and Tackle shop Kevan Paul says crappies and walleyes are worth fishing for too. “Crappies will be in the 10-inch range this winter with some 12-inch fish too, and there is a nice class of 13-17 inch walleyes awaiting anglers.” Kevan also suggests a gold or chartreuse spoon like the Clam Rattlin’ blade to coax in the walleyes and crappies when visiting Clear Lake. Tips, tackle, live bait, and guide service are all available from Clear Lake Bait and Tackle, which is open all day long during the ice fishing season. While visiting Clear Lake be sure to know the special fishing regulations; no limits on Yellow Bass, 25 Crappies per day, and three Walleyes over 14 inches (only one over 22 inches) are allowed per angler.
Rock Creek Lake (470 acres)
Most ice anglers have heard of this lake in one facet or another. It was for years the home of the largest ice fishing tournament in the state of Iowa benefiting the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation. The close proximity to the center of the state near Kellogg also makes it a popular place for anglers to meet up from across the state. This lake is the lake on the list that I have fished the most, once living only twenty-five minutes away from it. The lake is a “numbers” lake in the winter. You will catch dozens of crappies and some bluegills while fishing here during the winter. Many families choose this lake to enjoy a day on the ice for this reason. A typical day will have fish moving through on your electronics pretty consistently. If you are looking for a trophy, then this isn’t the lake you want to spend time at. However, if you want to spend time on the ice catching crappies without the worry of snags or moving too much, then this is the lake for you. Jigs and eurolarve seem to have always been the top producer for me at this lake. Spoons will not catch near the numbers of crappies as a jig and live bait. On those perfect days during the winter, no live bait is needed, your favorite plastic will do the trick. The lake has only a couple access points near the center of the lake, so walking a good distance is required to access deeper water. This lake is extremely shallow, so “deeper water” here is anything 8 feet or greater. Fish roam the large flats looking for their next meal and often when you are in the right spot, you can sit there all day and catch crappies. It is a fun place to go to catch crappies, and you just never know what you might reel in as the lake has many species…carp, drum, bluegill, walleye, bass, catfish, shiners, and bullheads.
There you have it, five of the top lakes in the state to hit this winter for a variety of species along with a mixture of great numbers and a few lakes to try for a trophy gill or crappie. Remember, no ice is safe ice, use the buddy system, flotation devices and rope to ensure a safe and secure day on the ice.