Peak experiences await Iowa ice anglers this winter.
Several recently rehabilitated lakes — among them Darling, Delhi, Rice, Silver and Crystal — offer strong populations of mature panfish, according to Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologists.
“Lake Darling is at the top of its game right now,” said Chad Dolan, who has managed the Washington County lake during and since its multimillion-dollar restoration.
Stocking began in 2014 after the 300-acre lake was drained and refilled. Bluegills are now in the 8-plus-inch range and crappies are in the 10-11-inch range, Dolan said.
While anglers targeting the crappies often bait with minnows, Dolan recommends a small ice jig tipped with spikes or wax worms.
“The crappies and bluegills are often found together, and the minnows are too big for the bluegills’ little mouths,” he said.
Dolan also recommends anglers target the upper arm (near the campground), which is filled with wood and rock habitat installed during the renovation. A map featuring GPS coordinates for key structures is available at the park office, he said.
Ice fishing on Lake Delhi — which was empty for six years following the 2010 failure of the dam impounding it — is expected to be good this winter and even better next winter.
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Beginning in 2015, even before the lake was refilled, the DNR began stocking bluegills in the Maquoketa River, which forms the lake. About 450,000 bluegill fingerlings were stocked in 2016, with adult crappies added in 2017.
“We were out there in June and found a lot of bluegills in the 6-inch range and a lot of crappies in the 7- to 8-inch range,” DNR fisheries biologist Dan Kirby said.
With most of an additional growing season behind them, many of those fish are now big enough to keep, Kirby said.
“I’ll probably be down there a lot this winter,” he said.
Neither Darling nor Delhi had safe ice as of last week.
Darling, which is in the warmer southern third of the state, and Delhi, which has flowing current, need sustained cold weather, which typically occurs after Christmas, the biologists said.
Clear Lake in north-central Iowa, long one of the state’s foremost ice fishing destinations, will be good again this winter, said DNR fisheries biologist Scott Grummer.
The yellow bass bonanza, during which anglers often caught 100 of the tasty panfish per day, is past its peak, but increased numbers of bluegills, crappies and perch provide ample compensation, Grummer said.
“Some days we see as many license plates from Minnesota (arguably the ice fishing capital of the world) as we do from Iowa,” he said.
In addition to its diverse fishery, Clear Lake’s location — near Interstate 35, which provides easy access, and in northern Iowa, which typically has a four-month ice fishing season — accounts for its popularity, Grummer said.
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Last weekend the lake was covered with anglers “who just want to stand on ice and fish,” he said.
Within easy driving distance of Clear Lake, he said, are three other outstanding, recently rehabilitated fisheries — the 1,000-acre Rice Lake near Lake Mills, noted for perch, walleye and bluegill; the 330-acre Silver Lake near the Minnesota border, noted for pike, perch and bluegills; and the 260-acre Crystal Lake in Hancock County, noted for pike, walleye, crappie and bluegills.
“It’s as good as it’s been in north-central Iowa,” Grummer said.
Two of the most popular lakes in the Corridor — Macbride and Pleasant Creek — will provide steady if not spectacular ice fishing this winter, DNR fisheries biologist Paul Sleeper said.
Pleasant Creek near Palo, which is back to full pool after an extended drawdown for habitat improvements, has “good numbers of bluegills,” and Macbride, in northern Johnson County, should provide good crappie fishing, he said.
The fish are there, but Pleasant Creek is full of forage, which may make them hard to catch, Sleeper said.
Though the year class is past its peak, 10- to 12-inch crappies will be the main attraction at Macbride, he said.