116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Clear Lake, a natural, spring-fed lake in Cerro Gordo County, may be the state’s top ice fishing destination.
“It’s definitely one of them,” said Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Scott Grummer, who has overseen the $40 million renovation that has improved water quality and fueled a surge in fish diversity and quality.
In addition to its consistently good fishing, the 3,700-acre lake can accommodate hundreds of anglers without crowding; it’s easily reachable on a good road system; and its situation in northern Iowa, where winter arrives early and stays late, ensures a lengthy ice fishing season.
The city of Clear Lake officially declared the lake “Iced in” on Dec. 7. Though ice covers the lake’s entire surface, it’s far from safe to walk on, Grummer said,
Grummer said the lake’s healthy populations of bluegill, crappie, yellow bass and yellow perch have flourished despite growing angler pressure.
New regulations for Clear Lake walleyes, which are not heavily targeted by ice anglers, will take effect Jan. 1, Grummer said. The existing 14-inch minimum size limit will end, replaced by a protected slot limit requiring the immediate release of walleyes between 17 and 22 inches in length, he said.
Winter’s severity will likely determine the extent to which anglers will enjoy southeast Iowa’s potentially excellent ice fishing this winter, DNR fisheries biologist Chad Dolan said.
Whereas the ice fishing season in northern Iowa may last three months or longer, it starts later and ends sooner in southern Iowa, Dolan said. In a typical winter, “we would have about six weeks of safe ice,” he said
When safe ice arrives, Belva Deer (in Keokuk County) and Darling (in Washington County) “should be stellar for both bluegills and crappies,” Dolan said. In both lakes, anglers have been consistently catching bluegills in the 8-to-10-inch range, he said.
In southwest Iowa’s Union County, where ice fishing season seldom exceeds six weeks, the recently renovated Three Mile Lake stands out with strong populations of keeper-sized crappies, bluegills and walleyes, said DNR fisheries biologist Andy Jansen.
Lake Delhi, a Maquoketa River impoundment in Delaware County, is another Eastern Iowa lake with good fish populations and a reputation for sketchy ice.
The ever-present river current delays the formation of solid ice and results in inconsistent ice thickness, said DNR fisheries biologist Dan Kirby.
In the five years since the lake was refilled following a catastrophic dam failure in 2010, it has developed strong populations of keeper-sized crappies and bluegills, he said.
Ice angling opportunities should be good in two of Eastern Iowa’s most popular lakes, MacBride and Pleasant Creek, said DNR fisheries technician Chris Mack.
MacBride has “decent numbers of 10-to-12-inch crappies” and abundant small bluegills, he said
“Catching numbers (of bluegills) is not a problem but the top end is not there,” Mack said.
Ice fishing at Pleasant Creek should be the best it’s been since an extensive lake restoration project was completed in 2017, Mack said. The lake has a cohort of 8-inch crappies and another in the 10-to-12-inch range, he said. Though less numerous than MacBride’s bluegills, those in Pleasant Creek top out around 9 inches, he said.
With specimens up to 9 inches long, Hannen Lake in Benton County “is one of our best bluegill lakes,” Mack said.
Perch fishing looks good now and for years to come on the Upper Mississippi, said veteran DNR fisheries biologist Scott Gritters.
Perch populations cycle up and down, and they are now at or near a peak, said Gritters, who targets the tasty panfish in open and hard water seasons.
Perch need aquatic vegetation to flourish, and they’ve had perfect conditions the past two years, yielding excellent reproduction up and down the river, he said.
Though the definition of “jumbo” perch varies from one angler to another, Gritters, who knows one when he sees one, said Mississippi ice anglers will catch plenty this winter.
In Pool 9 above Lansing, Gritters said recently completed habitat enhancement projects are expected to improve ice angling in Phillipi Lake and Shore Slough.