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Getting Started: Fly Fishing Iowa

One of the best ways to start fly fishing in the Midwest: targeting panfish in urban ponds

When you think back to the first fish that you ever caught, it likely incites memories of joy, bliss, and maybe some fear of fish slime.

Shannon's first fish ever, and one she caught on the fly rod

The first fish I ever caught was memorable (and sad). Dad would always take us trolling out on the lake in Montana, and most days, we wouldn't touch a fish. Us kids would always mistake the inevitable jolts of the rod while trolling for bites, and if dad would have let us, we seldom would have kept our lines in the water more than a few seconds ("DAD, I got a bite!".... "No, you can't reel in just yet..."). One afternoon, I kept telling dad, "I'm getting a bite..." and he kept dismissing my notion. Well, when it came time to reel in our lures for the day, we reeled in to find out that my line had been dragging around a poor six-inch trout (or possibly a kokanee salmon, don't quite remember) for who knows how long. After getting the fish unhooked, I remember very distinctly the fish going belly up and going under the boat... we never saw him again, but I'm sure he didn't make it after being pulled around by the boat for quite some time. How's that for a first fish memory? Poor fish.

One of the amazing things about the Midwest is the access to waterways with kid and beginner-friendly fish species: bluegill (and other panfish) and bass. Growing up in Montana, it took me quite a few years before I was able to pursue and catch fish on my own. In Iowa, the opportunity and access to fisheries is incredible. Much of this is due to the countless stormwater basins that exist in urban and suburban areas and have, at one time, been stocked with fish. Many of these waters are open to public fishing and have wild, naturally-reproducing populations of bluegill, crappie, and bass, among other species.

I love that when I explore some of the urban ponds in the Des Moines area, there are often young kids and their friends probing the waters to see if they can coax a nice largemouth from the depths or catch some of the numerous bluegill in the ponds. Opportunities are endless, and many of their first catches will be bluegill.

Austin with a nice crappie on the fly

Fly fishing these ponds is a fantastic way to learn the craft of fly fishing for a few reasons:

  1. Many of these ponds are in public parks with limited trees/vegetation around them to hinder casting (not the best environmental practice, but makes for easier access)

  2. You can learn the fly patterns that work (and those that don't)

  3. Fish populations in these ponds are usually good- it is always more fun when you’re catching fish, right?

Once you understand the basics of how fly fishing works, and you have had your fill of the urban fisheries, then you will be more prepared to branch out and explore other opportunities (trout, smallmouth bass, catfish, carp, among other species). Having a good foundation because of the time you put in chasing these fish close to home, you will be adequately prepared for additional challenges in the realm of fly fishing.

If you can catch panfish, the foundation is there. Go chase some other species!

If you're interested in learning to fly fish, or want to get one of your kids involved in fly fishing and help them catch their first fish on the fly rod, get in touch with us. Fishing will remain good for another month or two, depending on the weather, and opportunities abound for fly fishing in Iowa.

When it comes to fly fishing, in my opinion, there is no better place to start fly fishing than right where you live - and there may be an urban pond closer than you think. Thanks to Tyler Stubbs and the Iowa DNR, Fish Local is a resource that can be utilized to discover many of the publicly-accessible urban fisheries that exist in neighborhoods and across Iowa.

Fishing Report

Click here for the Iowa DNR's Fishing Report (9/22/2022)

Saylorville/Big Creek: Wipers/white bass active in mornings and evenings.

Local Ponds: With decreasing water temps, we should see a decline in some of the excess vegetation on many ponds and an increase in fish activity.

Des Moines River:

**Use Caution below Saylorville; flows may fluctuate as work is being done to clear debris from the spillway. For more info on this project, see this link.

Get in touch with us to book a fly fishing trip in Iowa!


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