Sea Monsters! The 10 Biggest Trophy Fish Ever Caught in Iowa

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: April 24, 2023
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The entire eastern border of Iowa is the Mississippi River so you can imagine this is where some of the biggest fish in the state is. There is also the Missouri River, the Des Moines River, and a scattering of lakes throughout the state. For a state that is 85% farmland, there are some surprisingly big trophy fish in the state. Here are the 10 biggest trophy fish ever caught in Iowa (three are more than 100 pounds!).

10) Common Carp: 50 pounds

General Summary of the Biggest Trophy Fish Caught in Iowa, USA

Carp are heavy-bodied fish with barbels on the side of their mouths. There are several carp species that can be found in Iowa waters including the common, silver and bighead carp. The biggest common carp ever caught in Iowa was pulled from Glenwood Lake back on April 1, 1969. It was no April Fools that this carp was officially weighed at 50 pounds. Imagine pulling 50 pounds of dog food into your boat. That is a good sized catch. Fred Hougland landed this catch in the small Glenwood Lake which is in western Iowa almost to the Nebraska border.

man holding giant common carp

Common carp are heavy bodied fish.

©Fabien Monteil/

9) Muskellunge: 50.38 pounds

Just a tad bigger than Hougland’s carp was a muskellunge (muskie) that weighed 50.38 pounds. On August 21, 2000, Kevin Cardwell bagged this Muskie on Spirit Lake. Spirit Lake is one of the lakes that is part of what is called the Iowa Great Lakes, a cluster of lakes centered around the town of Okoboji. This is a popular area for recreational activities like camping, boating, swimming and excellent fishing! While carp are heavy-bodied, Muskie are long and torpedo shaped so it is not surprising that this one was measured at 52 inches long! That is more than four feet long.

Musky or Muskellunge

Muskellunge (aka muskies) are long, torpedo-shaped fish.


8) Silver Carp: 62 pounds

Another carp species in Iowa is the silver carp which has tiny silvery scales. One of the interesting characteristics of silver carp is that while you are out casting from your boat you may witness one leap out of the water. They seem to get spooked easily and react with an instinctual leap and impressive splash. You may be picturing one single carp leaping from the water but there are videos of hundreds of them jumping out of the water all at the same time!

The biggest silver carp ever caught in Iowa was a 62-pound carp caught by Billie Summers on June 2, 2018. He was fishing on the Des Moines River, from Red Rock to Ottumwa when he caught this record breaker. His catch measured 49 inches, so just an inch more than the four-foot mark.

Fisherman holding silver carp

Silver carp have tiny silver scales.


7) Black Buffalo: 63.38 pounds

The next two trophy fish are buffalo fish which are the largest of the suckerfish species. They have a similar body shape to carp and are sometimes confused with carp from a distance. Buffalo fish are more gray than carp which tend to be brownish or bronze in color. Buffalo fish have smaller mouths and their mouths are turned downward.

The biggest black buffalo ever caught in Iowa was a 63.38-pound buffalo caught by Jim Winters. Winters was fishing in Pool 9 along the Mississippi, in the NE corner of the state, when he reeled in this beauty on August 14, 1999. His catch measured 48.50 inches, another four-footer.

6) Bigmouth Buffalo: 64.38 pounds

As you can guess by the name, bigmouth buffalo fish have larger mouths than black or smallmouth buffalo. The biggest one ever caught in Iowa was just a pound more than the biggest black buffalo. On April 18, 2007, Ronald Anderson was fishing on Lake Manawa when he bagged a 64.38-pound bigmouth. Lake Manawa is a popular recreational lake near Omaha Nebraska but on the Iowa side. The Missouri River serves as the border between Iowa and Nebraska and is also a great place to find good-sized fish.

Angler holding bigmouth buffalo fish

Is vulnerable and in decline.

© – License

5) Flathead Catfish: 81 pounds

One of the older records on our list was set back on June 1, 1958, some 64 years ago! Joe Baze caught this enormous flathead catfish, which weighed 81 pounds, while fishing on Lake Ellis in Chariton, IA. This is not just a fish tale passed on from generation to generation, there is a photo on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website verifying the record catch. The giant flathead was 52 inches long and had a girth of 33 inches around.

Catfish, Fish, Mississippi River, Underwater, USA

The head of the flathead catfish is wider and flatter than other catfish in the US.


4) Grass Carp: 85.50 pounds

Grass Carp are more slender than common carp and they have a single dorsal fin vs a long dorsal fin along their back. You also won’t find barbels on the faces of grass carp. They do get to be just as big or bigger than common carp. The biggest grass carp ever caught in Iowa was an 85.50-pound carp caught by Jesse Lane. Lane fished this giant carp out of Greenfield Lake on May 1, 2007. We’re not sure how such a big fish got into such a small lake as Greenfield is only 56 acres. However with a life span of up to 20 years, perhaps this one just grew up in the lake and was near that 20-year mark. Greenfield Lake is about an hour SW of downtown Des Moines.

grass carp

Grass carp are more slender than common carps.

©Rostislav Stefanek/

3) Blue Catfish: 101 pounds

Now we cross over to the anglers that can brag about bagging a 100-pounder! Blue catfish are the largest of the three most common catfish in the US. Flatheads tend to be a little smaller and channel cats are smaller still. The biggest blue catfish caught in Iowa just barely tipped the scales past 100. It weighed in at 101 pounds and measured 53 inches long. Another photo on the DNR website shows how it took two people to hold up this prized fish. One of the men is Mike Rush, the angler that holds the record. Rush caught the blue cat on June 8, 2004. Not a bad way to start out the summer!

Blue Catfish

Blue catfish have four pairs of barbels that resemble whiskers near their mouth.

©M Huston/

2) Paddlefish: 107 pounds

The Paddlefish is a very unique-looking fish with a long paddle-shaped snout. While they can reach impressive lengths of 50 inches or more, almost a third of that is their snout. They are still a heft fish and can reach weights of more than 100 lbs, like the record breaker that weighed in at 107 pounds. Robert Pranschke caught this paddlefish on May 1, 1981, while fishing on the Missouri River. Including its paddled snout, this catch was 69.50 inches long! That is five feet nine and a half inches long, almost as far as the familiar six feet we are all supposed to keep our distance from everyone during the pandemic. That is a long (and heavy) fish for sure!

The American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula)

Paddlefish have long, paddle-like snouts.

©Marina Veder/

1) Bighead Carp: 112 pounds

Now for the biggest trophy fish ever caught in Iowa. You can guess where much of the weight of this next species is based on its name. The bighead carp does have a head that is proportionately bigger than other carps. Its scale-less head looks as though perhaps its eyes were put in the wrong place with the eyes set back and a little lower than expected. It has a darker coloration than the silver carp. The biggest one ever caught in Iowa was 112 pounds, caught by Randy Conover on May 28, 2018.

Conover was fishing on the Missouri River, between Red Rock and Ottumwa, the same area where the biggest silver carp was caught. After getting his official measurements, he released the bighead back into the river. If you want to break this record perhaps you can count on this one has grown a bit in the past four years and relocated downstream. It is worth a shot at breaking the all-time biggest fish in Iowa!

Bighead carp eyes face downward.


Fish SpeciesWeightLocation
1. Bighead Carp112 lb.Missouri River
2. Paddlefish107 lb.Missouri River
3. Blue Catfish101 lb.Iowa, USA
4. Grass Carp85.5 lb.Greenfield Lake
5. Flathead Catfish81 lb.Lake Ellis
6. Bigmouth Buffalo64.38 lb.Lake Manaw
7. Black Buffalo63.38 lb.Pool 9
8. Silver Carp62 lb.Des Moines
9. Muskellunge50.38 lb.Spirit Lake
10. Common Carp50 lb.Glenwood Lake

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © M Huston/

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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  1. Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Available here:
  2. Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Available here:
  3. Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Available here: