If you're like me around this time of year and you love to fish, ice fishing just doesn't fulfill the desire for a rod and reel. Even though safe ice is difficult to find this year, during the winter months you may be searching for ways to be making casts instead of dropping your offering down a hole. There are several avenues to head down yet trout stream fishing is one of the favorites for beating the blues of a long winter season.
We are lucky enough in northeast Iowa to have an abundance of streams to choose from that are close by. Most destinations from the Cedar Valley are less than an hour and a half and offer good populations of Brooks, Browns, and Rainbows. Choosing a location can be easy depending on what you would like to accomplish with the day. Do you enjoy the scenery as much as the fishing, are you taking the family and need convenient stream access, or are you heading up stream alone into parts unknown to find a giant brown under a secluded bang hide? Iowa streams have a complete diversity depending on your goal.
The first thing to remember is that Iowa has a separate fee that must be paid along with your fishing license to pursue trout. Trout are a species that doesn't have ample spawning success in most locations to replenish numbers. The Iowa trout fee goes towards hatcheries and rearing stations for creating better stream access and also habitat for the fish. The secluded bank hide mentioned prior is the most common habitat that the IDNR will build on streams. Also pay attention to special regulations on the stream you're heading to. Many streams in Iowa have laws like artificial lures only or minimum length limits. The best place to start is getting an Iowa Trout Fishing Guide which shows locations, regulations, handicap access, and ways of identifying Iowa's three trout species.
One thing that is great about stream fishing is exercise. The winter can bring out the inner couch potato in all of us at times and add to that trying to work off Thanksgiving and Christmas' bountiful meals. The typical day of stream fishing includes several miles of hiking and even a little climbing on certain streams. The other advantage to the exercise is keeping your blood flowing and the overall warmth that comes along with it. Try not to over exert yourself however. Getting sweaty can later lead to severe cold if your a long ways away from your vehicle.
Scenery on Iowa streams is boundless. Many streams in Iowa have carved canyons and bluffs over thousands of years. Often you'll see many different species of wildlife and some of mother natures rarest beauties. Last winter I saw my first ice lilies. On a below zero morning the water was flowing steadily into a large pool. The bubbly foam that came away from the current was freezing shortly after formation. The way the water was moving created an eddy which brought the foam around quickly again and again. Each time they circled and collided they froze to each other. Instead of forming into odd shapes the eddy was such that it made oval and circular cakes. As they gained in size they would eventually gather the momentum to be cast from the current and collect on the opposite side of the pool leaving a flat of ice lilies.
Stream fishing can be as challenging as you wish or as simple. From a light rod and reel with some bait (where permitted) to fly tackle and a minute midge, it's up to you. You will experience a lot of success with a six foot ultra light rod and a small spinning reel spooled with four pound fluorocarbon. Tip your line with various small jigs from 1/64 to 1/8 oz. Depending on current and depth you want your jig to work from just under the surface all the way to the bottom in some cases. Simple jigs like small tubes and marabous in natural colors like pearl white and black work well.
Presenting these baits is a large part of the equation. Casting and simply retrieving these lures doesn't create the action necessary to get many strikes. The ultra light rod is needed for its fast tip which creates the action. Twitch the tip of the rod fairly rapidly and watch the tail of your jig dance. With a good set of polarized glasses many times you can keep the jig right in front of the trout your after. If they are active you can see their excitement build before they strike. Under bank hides however is where the trout you'll tell stories about often live. Make sure to keep the jig close to the bottom and as near to the edge of the hide as possible. Bounce the jig along and when a twenty incher shoots out and smashes it, SET THE HOOK! Have an incredible new New Year everyone. Hope it's safe and adds some new fish pictures to your wall!