If you prepare right and have the proper equipment, ice fishing in Iowa can be an enjoyable winter experience. Bass, walleye, crappie, bluegill and catfish can be caught for those willing to put up with the cold temperatures. But before venturing out, there are important things to keep in mind, some related to safety, others to fishing success.
The Ice Fishing Season
Though there is no set date for ice fishing, Iowa generally receives cold enough weather for the sport by the middle of December, and the ice usually lasts to some time in March. Fishing at the beginning of March might be safe, but it is important to check ice depths no matter when you venture out (see Resources).
In general, three inches of ice will support the weight of a person. Four inches allows for more substantial gear or more than one person in a single file line or spread out. Five inches allows a snowmobile. Thickness of 10 inches or more allows the opportunity to drive your vehicle onto the ice, though many might not want to do this for obvious reasons--most states recommend against it.
Many anglers do their fishing in Iowa in a temporary shelter known as an ice house. These can be left on public waterways as long as they are removed by Feb. 20. In warmer winters, they might be required to be removed earlier. They also must be marked with reflectors and the owner's name and address.
Iowa Fishing Reports
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources may update ice thickness by region in some of its weekly fishing reports (see Resources, but this does not mean anglers should not check. "Ice thickness is not uniform in any body of water and there is no such thing as safe ice," said Mick Klemesrud with the Iowa DNR. The fishing reports also provide some of the best hot spots in the state from week to week.
It is legal to use a fish finder in Iowa to find the fish and if fishing from a shelter, the shadows of fish can even be seen with the naked eye. In general, the most-sought fish in Iowa are bass, bluegill, crappie and walleye. These four species tend to stay relatively deep, with bass and walleye often being found at 30 feet. Using a live minnow on a hook and jigging it is often the best way to catch both species.
Iowa Fishing Regulations
All general fishing regulations in Iowa apply to ice fishing. Statewide, there is a 15-inch size limit on bass and a daily bag limit of three. For walleye, the size limits vary by area, with a bag limit of three. Crappie and bluegill both have a daily bag limit of 25.