The 5 Best Fish to Catch in Iowa This Summer

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: September 16, 2022
© Mikhail Blajenov/
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Iowa may be considered one of the flyover states, but it’s a great place for fishing. This state is bordered on the east by the Mississippi River and on the west by the Missouri River. Also, Iowa is home to many lakes and streams that are brimming with life. Whether you live here and want to start fishing or you plan to visit the state on vacation, it’s always good to know about the best fish to catch in Iowa.  

We’ll show you five of the best species you can hook the next time you’re out on the water!

What Are the Best Fish to Catch in Iowa?

Our list of the best fish to catch in Iowa includes a variety of creatures. We wanted to provide options for all types of anglers. So, you’ll find a mix of large, small, strong, and downright interesting fish on this list. The goal is that you find at least one fish that makes you want to break out your tackle and rod and spend some time fishing!

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1. Rainbow Trout

What Do Trout Eat - Rainbow Trout Bursting from Surface
Stocked throughout Iowa, rainbow trouts prefer cold streams.


Rainbow trout are iconic in Iowa, so they have to be included on the list of the best fish to catch in Iowa. People flock to northwest Iowa to fish for rainbow trout every year. This part of the state is filled with cold streams that trout prefer.

Rainbow trout are wild and stocked throughout the state. You’ll find them in streams like Bear Creek, Big Mill Creek, Mink Creek, Little Turkey River, and more. You can fly fish for rainbow trout while wading or you can simply fish for them from the shore.

Rainbow trout love having the cover of the riverbank, and they tend to hang out in places where the current is strong enough to bring them food. You may find it difficult to drift your baited hooks into the areas with some cover such as aquatic vegetation and fallen trees, but they frequently live in those locations.  

2. Channel Catfish

Channel catfish
The channel catfish is widely available in Iowa.

©Aleron Val/

The channel catfish is a great fish to catch in Iowa because it is abundant and can grow to be rather large. It’s not unusual for these fish to measure about 2 feet in length, but they can grow upwards of 4 feet in length as well.

Channel catfish are widely available in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and they can be true monsters. They’re not the only species of catfish in these waters, though. You will also find flathead and blue catfish living in these waters.

These fish will often live in deeper parts of the water, but they move to shallower waters at dusk to feed. You should try placing your bait upstream of snags and logs in the water where they’ll look for food. Remember, they like extra-smelly bait. Bring some shrimp, leeches, nightcrawlers, or commercial stink bait to get them to bite!

3. Bluegill

With vivid colors, the bluegill is all but common throughout the USA. Its a great sporting fish, with healthy populations found in lakes, ponds and rivers.
Bluegill is a common fish that can be caught by beginners.

©Stacey Ann Alberts/

The bluegill is a rather small fish, but it is known for putting up a good fight despite its size. They’re also known for being incredibly widespread throughout the state. You’ll find them in the Missouri River, the Mississippi River, and many different lakes, ponds, and streams in between.

These fish only grow between 6 and 7.5 inches on average and weigh less than a pound. The largest members of the species may weigh 2 pounds and grow up to a foot in length, though.

Despite being small, they’re one of the best fish to catch in Iowa because they’re plentiful and easy to catch for anglers of all ages. These fish don’t require fancy bait or boats to take you to their breeding grounds. You can usually catch them in a few feet of water near nests in the summer.

Their nests are usually in sandy, rocky areas of the water, making it easy to spot them. They also live in groups, so you can usually see them. Once you’ve spotted an area where they are likely to live, simply drop in a small hook baited with a bit of worm or nightcrawler and watch as they fight over the meal.  

4. Walleye

Walleye fish - catch and release.
The walleye fish can be quite challenging to catch.


Walleyes are known for their unique whiteish eyes. They are a great game fish in Iowa, known for fighting hard once they’re on the hook. These fish can weigh over 20 pounds at their largest, but they are typically 10 pounds on fewer in Iowa.  Still, they are found in many places throughout the state.

For example, you can catch walleyes in the Des Moines River, Big Creek Lake, Black Hawk Lake, and other places that have deep water. A good method of catching these fish is to start in deep water and then cast toward shore with a crankbait. Slowly reel it back into the deeper waters and see what bites!

These fish can be challenging to catch, and that makes them all the more enticing for anglers. Try using nightcrawlers and minnows as bait, too.

5. Longnose Gar

Portrait of longnose gar swimming among seaweed.
To catch longnose gar in Iowa, you would need to have a gear that accounts for its large size.

©Mikhail Blajenov/

The longnose gar is a long fish that is found in both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers as well as other streams and rivers that serve as tributaries of them. People love catching the longnose gar because of its size and rarity.

They can sometimes be found by riverbanks where there’s a lot of brush. Your best bet is often to spot the fish’s fins jutting out of shallow water and then cast in its direction. You need to have gear that can handle a fish that weighs over 20 pounds and regularly reach lengths of more than 3 feet.

Setting the hook on these fish can be difficult, so you may not catch one on your first shot. Also, make sure to bring a pair of thick gloves to help you remove the hook.

We have covered a few of the best fish to catch in Iowa this summer. These aren’t all the fish that you should focus on catching, though. This state is filled to the brim with great species and places to catch fish. As always, make sure you are aware of any regulations on licenses, bait, and seasons before you head out on the lakes and rivers in Iowa!

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Portrait of longnose gar swimming among seaweed.
© Mikhail Blajenov/

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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