Thursday, June 2, 2011

Diamond Lake, Iowa - 6/1/2011

Diamond Lake is a 98-acre "electric motor only" man-made lake right next door to a slightly larger high-traffic recreational lake, Lake Ponderosa, both just west of the town of Montezuma, Iowa.

I thought I had heard reports from the previous year that there were large bluegills in Diamond Lake.  Memory being what it is, I may have misremembered the name of the lake. The IDNR website says the lake has a population of Redear Sunfish, which I've been wanting to catch.  A friend at the IDNR said he had heard there were nice crappies in the lake too.

I took the day off work, and it turned out to be about the nicest weather conditions one could ask for!  I took my kayak and 2 fly rods and got on the lake around 9:45am.  I crossed the lake and searched the shoreline shallows for evidence of bluegill spawning beds.  Found them right away.

I caught bluegills on foam Gurgler topwaters and yellow Boa Yarn Leeches.  I caught a few crappies too, as I worked my way down the shoreline.

I reached a shallow bay and saw a HUGE tail fin waving from the water, and then saw the back of the HUGE Grass Carp!  I'm somewhat obsessed with these creatures.  I've only caught 3 of them so far, but they are a lot of fun when you can get them to strike your offerings.  Bad thing (for me) is that they are extremely wary and picky creatures.  They will take nymphs and streamers, but not nearly enough for my liking. After all, they are vegetarians who normally dine on aquatic lake plants.  I've heard from more than one source that they seem to like white Woolly Bugger fly patterns.  I don't think I was carrying any of those, so I put on a white Boa Yarn Leech.  I spent some time casting to these creatures, but had no takers.  Probably a good thing, I'm sure they would have snapped my line in seconds...but then again it would have been very interesting to be taken on a kayaker's "sleigh ride" by one of these big beasts!

I eventually made my way to the dam.  It had some taller grass and weeds along the edge of the water, but beyond that was mown grass.  I figured it would give me a better vantage point to spot fish and it was easy to walk along and cast, so I beached the kayak and fished from shore for awhile.  Almost right away I spotted some really nice Largemouth Bass hanging near nests.  Well, one was definitely on the nest, and the other 2 or 3 were just hanging around.  I didn't have all the patterns I would have liked to try in this situation, but I tried large topwaters, a bunny-strip leech (5-incher), a hard-hackle rubber worm, a Clouser Deep Minnow, EP Minnow, a large Woolly Bugger...absolutely NOTHING got anything more than "a look".

I gave up and moved on, but there wasn't much else going on along the section of dam I walked.  Back to the kayak!  I decided to try the upper end of the arm of the lake across from the boat ramp.  I could see a culvert under a road there, and it looked like a little water was flowing through it.  On my way there, I noticed a Loon on the lake.  Loons are awesome birds that we encounter a lot when fishing in Canada.  Sometimes they are extremely friendly and will swim around our boat and beg for fish like a dog begging for a treat.  This one kept its distance.

As I was heading towards the culvert, I passed an overhanging tree with some branches in the water that had a dozen or so small Common Carp sitting completely still beneath it.  Then I passed a small stick poking above the surface that had a crappie hiding beneath it.  Next, I steered slightly around a clump of "gunk" floating on the surface that turned out to be a large sleeping snapping turtle.  He spooked when I got next to him...I think I could have grabbed his tail I was so close!

Its amazing how stealthy kayaks can be and how close you can get to fish and other creatures.  I have a paddle for emergencies or for backing up, but I have a Hobie Outback with the Mirage Drive propulsion system.  You basically pedal the thing almost like a reclining bicycle, and there are fins beneath the kayak that make it go forward...quietly.  There is a rudder at the rear of the kayak whose direction you control with a lever near your left hand.  Otherwise...its hands-free operation.

I made it to the culvert, and could see the bluegills swarming where the water was dumping into the lake.  I caught a handful of bluegills here, plus a chunky 13" bass.  The drawback of this kayak is, without grabbing the paddle, you can't just "stop" when you want to, but rather you glide until wind or water friction stops you.  I ended up getting too close to the culvert and the remaining bluegills scattered.

I headed halfway or more back down this arm of the lake and decided since I didn't catch any Redear Sunfish by fishing the shallow spawning areas, I would fish the deeper weedline in 4 to 7 feet of water and see if I could use a black microjig and strike indicator to get the fly near the bottom where Redears might be foraging for snails.  Each time the strike indicator would jiggle or dive, I would set the hook and hope it was a Redear.  But each time it was another Bluegill.  They were fun, but the biggest one I caught all day was probably 8", and most were smaller at 6.5"-7.5".

As I was drifting and the action slowed, I would check the electronic fishfinder/depthfinder.  It showed some interesting minor humps and small pieces of structure in one area.  Down went the indicator.  I set the hook and felt a decent fish on the line.  I brought it to the surface and...WALLEYE!  I'd been wanting to catch a walleye on fly gear, and figured I had a good chance to do so when I go to Canada in a couple weeks.  But here it was!  I didn't have a net, and didn't want to lift it into the boat because it might throw the hook.  I had it out of the water, and my hand around it at one point, but in the end it thrashed, squirmed and escaped the torturous procedure of being photographed.  It was probably 13.5" long.  I later learned they had been stocked "experimentally" into the lake.

It was mid-afternoon by now and I had brought water along, but no food ( I knew I forgot SOMETHING). I decided to call it a day and headed for the boat ramp.  I was happy to have caught the walleye, but disappointed I didn't catch a Redear Sunfish.  I got everything loaded back into/onto the car, and decided to fish the rip-rap along the shoreline for a bit.  I put on my version of a Rubberlegs pattern, unweighted.  First cast...Redear Sunfish!  It was a 7.5" female, with a belly full of eggs:

I was thrilled, and hopeful that continued fishing along the shoreline would result in more Redears!  But, that was the only one I caught.  I did catch a few Green Sunfish.  I debated photographing one that had a beautiful electric pinkish-orange edge to its belly and fins, but didn't. This one had interesting "Tiger Stripes" that I could see in the water even before I hooked it:

I also caught bunch more of the smallish Bluegills, and about another dozen or more Crappies.  The Crappies were all 8"-10", but small.

I had switched from the Rubberlegs to a Dragonfly Nymph pattern with beadchain eyes at some point, and continued to catch crappies and bluegills.  At one point I got a solid strike and then the fish started swimming directly away from me, taking line.  Nice fish!  I was being extra careful to fight this fish...I didn't want to lose it!  It was a really nice bass!  I know this, because it came to the surface, shook its head, and spit the fly back at me.  Shucks.  I've lost a quite a few large bass this year from them throwing the flies!  I guess that's how they get big...avoiding capture.  It was fun anyway.

So, my take on Diamond Lake is this:
Its a really nice lake with lots of fish.  Right now, the bluegill and crappie populations are high, but the size isn't large.  Check back from year-to-year...Crappie populations and sizes are generally very cyclical.  This lake is tons of fun to fly-fish, and it would be an excellent place to stalk large Grass Carp from a canoe, kayak, float tube, or other quiet non-motorized watercraft.  Lots of limestone rip-rapped shorelines offer good structure for fish and a good substrate for many of their food items like crayfish, snails, and aquatic nymphs.  Since this is my first trip to the lake, I can't say how much the fish utilize this shallow structure following the spawning season.  There's fair numbers of bass here, and some really nice ones if someone wants to target them.  There's some good camping areas around the lake for people wanting to "overnight".  With all these crappies and bluegills, this would be a GREAT place to take kids fishing.  There were 2 boats on the entire lake when I got there in the morning, which eventually left.  After 4pm, 2 bass boats showed up.  I liked that this lake didn't have much boat traffic.

I'm not particularly prone to requiring LARGE FISH to enjoy a day of fishing, but I think this lake has some big fish potential, especially if you go after Grass Carp or Largemouth Bass.   I enjoy fish of all sizes and types.  All things considered, I give Diamond Lake a top-notch rating.


  1. Beautiful gills!

    btw.. Totally with you.. I just like catching fish.. Who cares how big they are! Fish on!

  2. As always great post Dave-----nice catch

  3. Hey Dave,
    I'm going to be visiting my cousin on Lake Ponderosa soon.  I haven't fresh water fished in years.  Apparently there are Walleye, Blue gills, LM Bass etc. to be caught.  Looking for advise on rigging, bait, and timing. 
    Currently set up with a 4 lb test with a Carolina rig for surf fishing. I don't want to re-line but can easily re-rig otherwise. 
    I'll probably be shore fishing mainly, from the property as well as from the rock lined bridge. 
    Any advise would be greatly appreciated but the bait and rig are paramount. 

  4. Ps. Since it's a private lake I've been told I don't need an Iowa fishing license. Is that true?

  5. GV, I just noticed your comments, I hope I've caught you in time, or that you've already had a successful trip to Lake Ponderosa. I've not fished there, but I imagine the lake type is very similar to its next-door neighbor, Diamond Lake. The main difference is that I believe Lake Ponderosa gets a LOT of recreational boat traffic, which might stir up sediment and diminish the water clarity.
    I'm assuming your gear is spinning gear, so that is what my advice below is based on.
    4lb test should be fine, but if you hook a bass or catfish you will certainly have your hands full! :)
    As far as baits go...I rarely use bait anymore, but nightcrawlers should catch you plenty of bass, bluegills, and maybe even walleyes or catfish. I would try putting 1/2 or 1/3 of a nightcrawler on a hook and putting a medium-sized split shot about 18" above that when casting from shore. You can put a bobber on the line and wait for a bite, or cast and bottom-fish, or cast out and slowly retrieve back in. Casting and retrieveing 1/32 or even 1/64 oz crappie-sized tube jigs should catch you some fish. At this time of year, I'd put these under a bobber as well, since the fish may be holding deeper, and the light jig will work better under a bobber. A little wave action will give the jig nice motion. You can tip the jig with a tiny piece of nightcrawler if you wish, but it may not be necessary. Crappies will usually hit fine without the bait, but sometimes bluegills prefer it.
    Hope this helps. Good luck!

  6. Yup. There and back. Didn't catch anything clearly due to bait as other anglers around us were pulling them in. No worries. It's a family house and I will return.

    Thanks for posting.