Monday, December 24, 2012

How to Catch Stocker Trout - 2012 Iowa Urban Trout Program

I don’t like spending precious fishing time driving to far-off destinations, so I tend to fish very close to home.  There are very nice streams in NE Iowa where anglers can fish for trout.  Unfortunately, many of those streams are a three-plus hour drive from Des Moines!

The Iowa DNR implemented the Urban Trout Program, and has been expanding this program, which is designed to bring trout fishing closer to anglers across Iowa.  The increase in sales of the Iowa Trout license funds the cost of this program.  Not only does the program introduce anglers to catching trout, it also sparks Iowa tourism by getting anglers interested in making the drive to experience the trout fishing in NE Iowa’s streams.  Since the Urban Trout Program is designed as a “put-and-take” and seasonal fishery, anglers are encouraged to keep their limit of up to five trout for a tasty meal.

It’s practically a year-round opportunity.  In certain lakes, at least some of the trout are actually able to survive even the hottest summers, like we just experienced in 2012.  With the Fall and Winter stockings, anglers are able to ice-fish for trout, provided there is safe ice on the lake.

I fished three different Iowa Urban Trout Program lakes in 2012: Banner Pits in Summerset State Park, Lake Petocka, and Ada Hayden Lake.

I made it out once in late January to ice-fish a nearby lake for trout.  It wasn’t a Stocking Day.  Fishing was tough!  Very few other anglers were finding/catching fish, so it wasn’t a case of fishing like/near the successful anglers.  I did manage to land a couple of trout, however.

In past years, I have ice-fished these trout on Stocking Day, and have often done extremely well.  In one freakish instance back in February of 2008, I landed 115 Rainbow Trout in 5.5 hours of ice-fishing.  Crazy! That day was so crazy, that for awhile two friends and I were all standing around and fishing out of one 8” diameter ice hole at the same time, and all catching fish.  We fished holes just a couple feet away from this particular whole, and wouldn’t catch anything.  Yes, we were laughing at ourselves while this ridiculous scenario was playing out, and enjoying every minute!  It was a similar experience in January of 2007, when I landed 88 Rainbow Trout through the ice in 5.25 hours of fishing.  On each of those days, I just shook a small Reef Runner Cicada about 18” below the ice.  The trout would come in and hammer the lure repeatedly…coming back again and again if they didn’t get hooked!

This year, open water arrived early in central Iowa.  I was fishing open water during the last week of February.  During the first week of March, I flyfished for trout at a central Iowa lake a couple of times during my lunch hour.  With the driving time to get to the lake and back, I was left with about 20 minutes to fish.  Using sinking fly patterns, I caught (and released) five Rainbow Trout each time.

I flyfished for trout a few more times through March and April.  April 21st was my last brief trip to an Urban Trout Program Lake before the Spring heat arrived, and I did catch a trout that evening on flyfishing gear.

On October 19th, Banner Pits was the first lake in the area to get a Fall stocking of trout.  Using a couple different fly patterns, I caught 21 Rainbow Trout on Stocking Day.  (I’ll talk about fly patterns later.)

My next trip to Banner was not until 9 days later.  I caught a bass, a crappie and a bluegill, but no trout.  I did have one trout follow my fly, and another actually hit it, but shook free almost immediately.  After talking with several people, only one had caught a single trout that day.  One guy had located hundreds of trout in one area, and threw everything he could think of at them, but couldn’t get them to strike.  Hey, it happens!

The next lake to receive trout this Fall was Lake Petocka on November 1.  I flyfished it on Stocking Day for a couple hours.  I caught/released 5 trout and a bass, but fishing (catching) was extremely slow for everyone.

I continued to flyfish at Lake Petocka occasionally thru December 1.  I had some excellent days flyfishing there, catching 64 Rainbow Trout in 6 hours of fishing one day, and then catching 78 Rainbow Trout in 4 hours a couple days later.  Trips like those are outstanding…and not typical by any means. I had a few other days with shorter fishing trips, and fewer fish caught.  In that first week following the stocking, I had caught 10% of the 1,500 trout that had been stocked.  And within one month following the stocking, I had caught a total of an even 200 Rainbow Trout there, or 13.33% of the stocked fish.  Not too shabby for 9 fishing trips!

Ada Hayden Lake was stocked on Nov. 20, and it was an interesting experience.  I flyfished it on Stocking Day.  One DNR employee I talked to said he counted 95 anglers there at the time the fish were put in the lake.  It was crowded!  I caught and released 5 trout fairly quickly, but then the crowd got under my skin and I decided to call it a day (part of the reason was that I had already caught 22 trout at Lake Petocka earlier that same day, and I was worn out!).

A buddy and I flyfished Ada Hayden once more on the day after the Fall trout stocking.  It was extremely windy.  We thought the trout would be along the north shoreline where the wind was blowing in.  Casting into that wind was tough, and we didn’t see anyone catching any trout.  We walked 4/5 of the way around the lake before we finally found any trout.  It was apparently the mother lode!  We fished those pods of trout along with several other anglers.  In the next couple of hours, my buddy and I caught/released a total of 112 Rainbow Trout between the two of us!

What works for catching these “stocker trout” at the Urban Trout Program lakes?  Anglers using live bait or prepared baits can catch trout on live minnows, nightcrawlers, canned corn, marshmallows, salmon eggs, and artificial scented baits such as some Berkley products developed for trout.  Bottom fishing can work, but suspending the bait under a bobber keeps it up where more trout are likely to see it.  Anglers casting lures can catch trout by retrieving small jigs tipped with plastics, small in-line spinners such as Mepps or Panther Martins, and small Kastmaster spoons.

I have tried most of those lures and baits, and caught some trout on them.  Anglers tossing artificial subsurface fly patterns with fly rods usually out-catch the other fishing methods by a substantial margin.  I’ve personally switched to fly-fishing for these trout, and have seen my success rate soar during the open-water season.

Different days see some fly patterns working better than others.  The most consistent pattern is a Woolly Bugger, in about a size 8 or 10.  Those that have a beadhead for weight are more versatile, but some days unweighted ones are useful if the fish are in the shallows.  Total length of the fly at about 1.5” seems to be an effective size.  Feel free to experiment.  This fly pattern can be bought or tied in a wide variety of colors.  Darker colors seem to work best the majority of the time, but some days the fish want white.

 Another color scheme that worked really well for me this Fall is called a “Chili Pepper”, and is made with a lot of flashy copper-colored materials.

Another idea to keep in mind when choosing fly patterns to use for these “stocker trout” is that they have been raised in a hatchery on pelleted food.  So, it stands to reason they will want to try to eat a fly that looks to be close to the color or size of a trout food pellet.  I tied up a pattern like those in the picture below, and some days have done well on them, either retrieved or suspended under and indicator (and indicator is a fly-fisherman’s version of a bobber).

At every lake I visited, each day the biggest challenge was to locate the fish.  Once located, they could usually be tempted to strike.  Wind and waves sometimes made it difficult to detect, but watching the surface of the water and looking for trout to give their location away by swirling or jumping at the surface of the lake is a good way to discover their location.  Another good rule of thumb is to fish the downwind shore of the lake.  This rule isn’t 100% accurate…but pretty close.  Some days the fish were out away from shore, other days they were cruising the shallows just a few feet from the shoreline.  Sometimes you can see pods of trout near the surface.  If these are within casting distance, you are in for some excellent action!  Try to pick off fish from the edges of the pod to avoid spooking them.  Other times, looser and smaller groups of fish can be seen cruising along the edge of the first dropoff near shore.  Cast ahead of their direction of travel and bring the fly/lure across in front of their path.  Trout are aggressive when they strike, there is no doubt when you have a fish on the line.

Fishing the Urban Trout Program is a great time!  Plus, fishing for trout extends the fishing season, since these fish stay active in colder water when most of our warmwater species are fishing much slower due to the colder seasons.  Get out there and have fun!


  1. Awesome Dave! MDC (Missouri Department of Conservation) stocks a few ponds close by Nov. 1st through January XX is catch and Release after that you can keep up to 4 per day. The fish don't have much color as the water in the lake I fish in Jeff City is pretty dingee. Bright colors worked the best and Flor. Orange best of all. I'll go back maybe Christmas Day!


  2. Thanks, Kevin! Most of the waters locally that are stocked with trout are reasonably clear (none are truly CLEAR), because they are relatively infertile waters...mostly old gravel-mining pits. There is one muddier pond, though, and I never had the success there that I experienced at the other ponds. That is a good tip for me to try orange. What pattern do you use in the orange?