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02/22/2018 @ 06:28 PM

Bring On the Trout


By Joe Wilkinson
Iowa Department of Natural Resources

We may be just a few weeks removed from massive snow drifts and
freezing rain, but spring has officially arrived in Iowa. For many
anglers, the spring season doesn’t start until they see something more
tangible...like the hatchery truck rolling up to their favorite trout

There are 50 some streams throughout northeast Iowa which hold trout
year-round, but those fish are ultra angler-wary through the winter.
That’s why they haven’t been caught yet. And that’s why most trout
anglers cross off the days until April 1; the target date for Iowa’s
three hatcheries to load up and meet that pent up demand. Actually,
weather permitting, the first stocking will be Saturday, March 31 on two

“We’ll stock approximately 350,000 catchable sized fish this
year,” says Dave Marolf, Manchester hatchery manager for the
Department of Natural Resources. “That’s about a 90:10 split between
rainbow trout and brook trout. We’d eventually like to get that ratio
to 80:20.”

That marks a significant change in the trout program. Catchable brown
trout have been a staple for years. Now, though, natural reproduction
and improved growth have proven sufficient for brown trout. Future
keepers will come from fingerling stockings from the hatcheries and
naturally occurring brown trout. “We have seen our wild brown trout
populations flourish over the last decade,” underscores Marolf. “We
now have over 100 miles of trout water with good enough conditions
(habitat, water quality, temperature, food sources) to support brown

Those rainbow trout going into the streams this spring will be about 13
to 14 months old; spawned at mid-winter 2006, and raised since then
under watchful hatchery eyes. All hatchery trout are spawned at
Manchester, with fish being shipped to rearing stations in Decorah and
Big Spring (near Elkader) at various points in their development. Each
of the three facilities stocks catchable sized (about a half-pound now,
heavier toward the end of the season) trout at the streams closest,
throughout the nine northeast counties in Iowa’s ‘Trout Country.’
That labor/facility/feed-intensive program is provided through the $11
trout fee paid by anglers who fish for trout ($13 for nonresidents) each

Depending on the angler pressure, streams are stocked from twice a week
to twice a month. They offer you just about any degree of difficulty
desired; from ‘curbside’ pools where you can see trout from your
vehicle...to bluff country hiking and trout so spooky that they
disappear when ever your shadow falls across the water.

On many streams, it’s not hard to take home a limit of five
freshly-stocked rainbows; providing you get there early and don’t mind
a crowd. That’s pretty much a situation created by geography. Most
streams in the southern ‘tier’ of trout territory; in Dubuque,
Jackson, Delaware and maybe southern Fayette counties, are within an
hour or so from Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, the Quad Cities, Waterloo, and
Dubuque. There are simply more anglers, coming out more often to those
nearby streams.

However, you can also wade into a backcountry setting and increase the
challenge by getting away from the crowds. The best way to get there?
‘Go North!’

As the trucks leave the hatcheries, the hatchery workers know how many
fish they have on board. As they drop fish along the stream, they are
also counting heads; to determine how many anglers were seen. “If you
have the time, it is worth your effort to drive further north, closer to
Minnesota,” suggests Marolf. “We stock maybe 10 to12 trout per
angler seen around Manchester, for instance. “It’s closer to 20, 25
per angler up north.” Though acknowledging that fuel prices and time
constraints might work against that strategy, Marolf says the quality is
hard to beat. “Some of Iowa’s better and bigger streams are in the
northern counties. There’s a better wild population of trout, too.”

Your best prospects might even mix the two extremes. A dozen or so
streams are stocked on an ‘unannounced basis.’ In Delaware County,
for instance Twin Bridges Park lies along well-traveled Highway 3,
yet-as an ‘unannounced’ stream--gets only a small fraction of the
‘announced’ stocking day traffic on the gravel roads leading to
Fountain Spring Park, just a mile or two southwest. Several others,
Little Turkey, Grannis, Upper Swiss Valley among them, are either
‘unannounced’ or just require a noticeable hike past the easy
access anglers to get to some great holes.


You can reach those lesser-known streams with a copy of Iowa’s Trout
Guide in your fishing vest. It gives locations of all trout streams, as
well rules for fishing private property, tips for catching trout,
artificial lure-only streams, catch-and-release stretches or other
special regulations and other information. The Trout Guide is being
updated and reprinted this year. Guides are available at DNR locations
in northeast Iowa, as well as retail fishing outlets in or near the
area, too. Most of the trout information, including a Manchester
stocking schedule are also available on line at www.iowadnr.gov, click
on Fishing, then Trout Stocking.


While most trout anglers are just breaking out their gear for the
season, the state’s urban trout program is winding down its stocking

Catchable sized trout will go into the south lake at Sommerset State
Park, Thursday, March 29, south of Des Moines. In Sioux City’s Bacon
Creek, the last stocking of the season will be Friday, March 30. In
Cedar Falls the next day, March 31, North Prairie Lake gets its last
supplement of trout.

Those urban locations allow anglers from across the state to try their
hand at trout fishing, without having to make the drive all the way to
the nine northeast Iowa counties, which support year-round trout
populations. Trout thrive in cold water, which opens up the urban
fisheries in the winter. Warmer water through the rest of the year,
though, severely reduces trout survival.

For more information, contact Dave Marolf, manager, Manchester trout
hatchery, at 563-927-3276.


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