NORTH IOWA OUTDOORS: Fall Fishing Tips and Top Spots

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Fall is a great time to catch fish with family and friends. The air is cool, the views are picturesque, lakes are less crowded and the fish are easy to catch.

“Fantastic fishing opportunities await both new and expert anglers, said Joe Larscheid, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Bureau. “Get out and enjoy them.”

Cooler temperatures and shorter daylight times trigger fish to actively search for food to build energy reserves to survive the long winter. These predictable movements make them easier to find.

“Yellow perch, muskies, crappies, walleyes, largemouth and smallmouth bass are more active in the fall,” explained Larscheid. “They eat more and more often to get ready for winter.”

The fall bite in lakes and ponds shifts to the main part of the day. Fish are more active during the day and will be close to shore. Target areas of a lake where the water is warmer, mostly in shallow water bays along the north shore.

“Use live bait, particularly minnows, small tackle and fish slowly when fishing in cooler water,” Larscheid said.

Look for panfish schools in open water near structure like a brush pile, underwater hump, drop-offs and rock reefs. Largemouth bass will be close to some type of structure during the fall like underwater brush piles, old road beds, rock reeks or weed lines.

Quickly find fish structure locations with the online fishing atlas or download structure location maps from the DNR’s Where to Fish website.

Fish in streams start to move to their wintering areas in October. Stream flow is often lower in the fall; allowing better angler access. Channel catfish will move downstream from smaller streams to the deepest holes they can find in larger streams. Walleyes will move to the next deepest holes and pike to the next deepest.

Find tips for catching yellow perch, crappie, walleye, bass and catfish on the DNR website at

Here’s our top fall fishing spots:

  • Big Creek Lake, Polk County – crappie will be close to the shoreline rock/rip-rap as the water temperature gets cooler. Use a small jig or jig head, tipped with a minnow, under a small bobber, around the rock edges of the jetties.
  • Big Spirit Lake, Dickinson County – fall is the perfect time to wade along the shore for walleyes. Use a crankbait or jig in the evenings and early morning. Perch fishing from a boat should be good this fall. Vertical jig around weed edges and move to the main basin later.
  • Black Hawk Lake, Sac County – good fall bluegill and crappie fishing along the shoreline; slowly jig around structure and any docks that are still in the water. You might get lucky and get into some perch around the inlet bridge.
  • Clear Lake, Cerro Gordo County – many Master Angler qualifying yellow bass (10 inches) are available to catch this fall. Use small jigs tipped with a night crawler, minnows or cut bait. Stay on the move to find schools of fish. Trophy size muskellunge are active in the cool fall water (40 inch minimum size on muskellunge).
  • Lake Anita, Cass County – slow troll over and around road beds, rock reefs, rock piles, brush piles, and points for 8 to 9-inch bluegill and 10-inch black crappie. Cast to the edge of the water lilies for trophy size largemouth bass.
  • Lake Belva Deer, Keokuk County – largemouth bass, bluegill and crappie move closer to shore as water temperatures cool. Use jig-n-pig combos around flooded timber, rip-rap shorelines, and underwater mounds for bass. A slow and steady retrieve of a 1/32 oz. jig with a half-inch paddle tail body will entice panfish to bite; tip your hook with a spike to encourage fish to hang on just a little longer.
  • Lake Miami, Monroe County – look for crappie and bluegill in brush piles and standing timber. Some days these fish can be caught suspended in the lower half of the lake. Catch bluegills up to 9-inches, 12-inch crappies and 12 to 15-inch bass (many up to 21-inches).