The rising sun reflects off the newly formed ice along the shore of the Wapsipinicon River on December 10. A blanket of ice blanketed Clear Lake, one of the state’s top ice fishing destinations on December 7. But after unusual warming last week, ice fishermen are urged to proceed with extreme caution. (Orlan Love / correspondent)
Clear Lake, a natural spring-fed lake in Cerro Gordo County, is perhaps the state’s premier ice fishing destination.
“He’s definitely one of them,” said Scott Grummer, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, who oversaw the $ 40 million renovation that improved water quality and fueled a increase in the diversity and quality of fish.
In addition to its consistently good fishing, the 3,700 acre lake can accommodate hundreds of anglers without crowding; it is easily accessible on a good road network; and its location in northern Iowa, where winter comes early and stays late, guarantees a long ice fishing season.
The town of Clear Lake officially declared the lake “Frozen” on December 7th. Although ice covers the entire surface of the lake, it is far from safe to walk on, said Grummer,
Grummer said healthy populations of bluegill, crappie, yellow bass and lake perch have thrived despite increasing pressure from anglers.
New regulations for Clear Lake walleye, which are not heavily targeted by ice fishermen, will come into effect Jan. 1, Grummer said. The existing minimum size limit of 14 inches will end, replaced with a protected slot limit requiring the immediate release of walleye between 17 and 22 inches in length, he said.
The harshness of winter will likely determine how well anglers enjoy the potentially excellent ice fishing in southeast Iowa this winter, said MNR fisheries biologist Chad Dolan.
While the ice fishing season in northern Iowa can last three months or more, it starts later and ends earlier in southern Iowa, Dolan said. In a typical winter, “we would have about six weeks of safe ice,” he said.
When the safe ice comes in, Belva Deer (in Keokuk County) and Darling (in Washington County) “should be great for sunfish and shit,” Dolan said. In both lakes, anglers have consistently caught 8-10 inch sunfish, he said.
In southwest Iowa, Union County, where the ice fishing season rarely exceeds six weeks, the newly renovated Three Mile Lake is notable for high populations of crappie, bluegill, and walleye, said Andy Jansen, DNR fisheries biologist.
Lake Delhi, a reservoir for the Maquoketa River in Delaware County, is another lake in eastern Iowa with good fish populations and a reputation for patchy ice.
The ever-present river current delays solid ice formation and results in inconsistent ice thickness, MNR fisheries biologist Dan Kirby said.
In the five years since the lake was filled following a catastrophic dam failure in 2010, it has developed large populations of sunfish and keeper-sized sunfish, has he declared.
Ice fishing opportunities are expected to be good at two of eastern Iowa’s most popular lakes, MacBride and Pleasant Creek, said Chris Mack, MNR fishing technician.
MacBride has “a decent number of 10 to 12 inch shit” and abundant little sunfish, he said.
“Catching (crappie) numbers isn’t a problem, but the high end isn’t there,” Mack said.
Ice fishing in Pleasant Creek is expected to be the best since a major lake restoration project was completed in 2017, Mack said. The lake has an 8-inch cohort of poop and another 10 to 12-inch cohort, he said. Although less numerous than MacBride’s panfish, those at Pleasant Creek are about 9 inches tall, he said.
With specimens reaching 9 inches in length, Lake Hannen in Benton County “is one of our best bluegill lakes,” Mack said.
Perch fishing looks good now and for years to come in Upper Mississippi, said Scott Gritters, MNR’s veteran fisheries biologist.
Perch populations rise and fall, and they are now reaching or near a peak, said Gritters, who targets the delicious panfish during open and hard water seasons.
Perch need aquatic vegetation to thrive, and they have had perfect conditions for the past two years, providing excellent breeding along the river, he said.
Although the definition of a ‘jumbo’ perch varies from angler to angler, Gritters, who is familiar with one when he sees one, said Mississippi ice anglers would catch a lot this winter.
In Basin 9 above Lansing, Gritters said recently completed habitat improvement projects are expected to improve ice fishing in Phillipi Lake and Shore Swamp.