Discover the Top 5 Fishing Lakes in Iowa: A Fisherman’s Paradise

Clear Lake

Iowa, a state known for its picturesque landscapes and abundant natural resources, is a haven for fishing enthusiasts. Among its many attractions are some of the best fishing lakes that offer a diverse range of fish species, scenic beauty, and excellent recreational opportunities. In this article, we will dive into the best fishing lakes in Iowa, exploring each one’s unique features and what makes them stand out as top fishing destinations.

Clear Lake

Clear Lake, nestled in North Central Iowa, is a gem among fishing enthusiasts and is renowned as one of the best fishing lakes in the state. Its diverse aquatic ecosystem supports various fish species, making it an attractive destination for anglers seeking a wide variety of catches. Here, we delve into the specifics of Clear Lake, from its location and fish species to its unique features.


Clear Lake is situated in the picturesque region of North Central Iowa, making it accessible to anglers from various parts of the state and beyond. Its central location and ease of access contribute to its popularity.

Fish Species

One of the main draws of Clear Lake is the range of fish species it offers for angling enthusiasts. Here are the primary fish species you can expect to find in Clear Lake:

Fish SpeciesDescription
WalleyeAbundant population, a prized catch
MuskellungeElusive and challenging, sought-after
Yellow BassPlentiful, excellent for beginners
Channel CatfishSizeable catches, popular among anglers

Whether you are an experienced angler looking for a challenging catch or a beginner hoping for an exciting and successful fishing experience, Clear Lake has something to offer.

Special Features

Clear Lake has unique features that make it a standout destination for fishing enthusiasts:

  • Ice Fishing During Winter: Winter transforms Clear Lake into a haven for ice fishing enthusiasts. When the lake freezes over, it offers a distinctive and thrilling experience for anglers. Drill through the ice, set up your gear, and enjoy a different dimension of fishing;
  • Annual Summer Fishing Tournaments: Clear Lake hosts several annual fishing tournaments during the summer months. These events attract anglers from all over the region, providing an opportunity to compete, socialize, and showcase your fishing skills. The camaraderie and competitive spirit during these tournaments create a vibrant fishing community.

Spirit Lake

Spirit Lake, located in the Iowa Great Lakes Region, is another exceptional fishing destination that distinguishes itself due to its status as the largest natural lake in Iowa. Its unique features and abundance of fish species make it a preferred choice for anglers seeking diverse and rewarding fishing experiences.


Spirit Lake is situated in the Iowa Great Lakes Region, which is known for its scenic beauty and abundant water bodies. This pristine location adds to the allure of fishing at Spirit Lake.

Fish Species

Spirit Lake is home to a variety of fish species, catering to different angling preferences. Here are the primary fish species you can expect to find in Spirit Lake:

Fish SpeciesDescription
BluegillAbundant, popular for panfish fishing
CrappieGood-sized catches, sought-after
Northern PikePredatory species, known for their fight
Smallmouth BassAcrobatic fighters, prized by anglers

With this assortment of fish, anglers can enjoy a wide range of fishing experiences at Spirit Lake.

Special Features

Spirit Lake’s unique characteristics set it apart as an exceptional fishing destination:

  • Largest Natural Lake in Iowa: Spirit Lake’s distinction as the largest natural lake in Iowa not only adds to its charm but also provides a substantial and thriving aquatic ecosystem. This size allows for a variety of fish species to thrive, creating an attractive fishing environment;
  • Excellent for Both Boat and Shore Fishing: Spirit Lake offers versatility when it comes to fishing methods. Whether you prefer casting your line from the shore or venturing out onto the lake with a boat, Spirit Lake accommodates both approaches, ensuring that all anglers can enjoy their preferred fishing style.

West Okoboji Lake

West Okoboji Lake, nestled in the Iowa Great Lakes Region, is a prized jewel among Iowa’s top fishing lakes. Its pristine reputation is built on the foundation of clear, blue waters and a diverse range of fish habitats, making it a favorite destination for anglers seeking a unique fishing experience. Let’s explore the specifics of West Okoboji Lake in detail.


Located in the Iowa Great Lakes Region, West Okoboji Lake benefits from its proximity to the picturesque surroundings of the region. Anglers from across the state are drawn to this stunning location.

Fish Species

West Okoboji Lake offers a variety of fish species, providing anglers with a range of opportunities to pursue their preferred catch. Here are the primary fish species you can expect to find in this lake:

Fish SpeciesDescription
BluegillAbundant, popular for panfish enthusiasts
Yellow PerchGreat for all-age anglers, prized for their taste
Largemouth BassPopular among bass anglers, known for their size
Northern PikePredatory species, challenging to catch

The presence of these diverse species ensures that West Okoboji Lake has something to offer to anglers of all skill levels and preferences.

Special Features

West Okoboji Lake is renowned for its unique features that enhance the angling experience:

  • Known for its Clear Blue Waters: The lake’s clear, blue waters are not only visually stunning but also add an element of challenge to fishing. Clear waters mean that fish can easily spot anglers and their lures, making it necessary for anglers to employ advanced techniques and tactics to succeed. This challenge attracts experienced anglers looking for a test of their skills;
  • Diverse Fish Habitats: West Okoboji Lake’s diverse underwater terrain, including vegetation, rocky areas, and drop-offs, provides a wide range of habitats for fish to thrive. This diversity creates opportunities for anglers to explore different fishing techniques and adapt to varying conditions, ensuring that each visit is a unique adventure.

Big Creek Lake

Big Creek Lake, located conveniently in Central Iowa and in close proximity to Des Moines, is a beloved choice among local anglers. Its accessibility and the presence of regularly stocked game fish make it one of the best fishing lakes in Iowa, providing a convenient option for a quick fishing getaway.


Situated in Central Iowa, Big Creek Lake’s proximity to the state’s capital, Des Moines, makes it a popular destination for both local residents and visitors seeking a convenient fishing spot.

Fish Species

Big Creek Lake is known for its well-stocked populations of game fish, ensuring that anglers have ample opportunities for successful outings. Here are the primary fish species you can target in this lake:

Fish SpeciesDescription
WalleyeRegular stocking, prized catch
Channel CatfishAbundant, popular among catfish enthusiasts
CrappieGood-sized catches, enjoyed by many
BluegillIdeal for panfish fishing, especially for beginners

The presence of these frequently stocked game fish enhances the chances of a rewarding fishing experience at Big Creek Lake.

Special Features

Big Creek Lake boasts special features that contribute to its popularity among anglers:

  • Proximity to Des Moines: Being located close to Des Moines, the state capital, Big Creek Lake provides a convenient escape for city-dwellers looking to enjoy a day of fishing without traveling far. Its accessibility makes it a top choice for locals seeking a quick outdoor adventure;
  • Regular Stocking of Game Fish: Big Creek Lake is regularly stocked with game fish, including walleye and channel catfish. This practice ensures that anglers have consistent opportunities to catch prized fish, making it an attractive destination for those looking for dependable fishing experiences.

Lake Rathbun

Lake Rathbun, located in Southern Iowa, stands as the state’s second-largest lake and a prime destination for anglers seeking large game fish. Renowned for its abundance of crappie and walleye, this expansive lake offers a wealth of fishing opportunities within its vast waters. In this detailed exploration, we delve into the specifics of Lake Rathbun.


Situated in Southern Iowa, Lake Rathbun’s location provides access to anglers from various regions of the state. Its prominence as the second-largest lake in Iowa makes it a focal point for fishing enthusiasts.

Fish Species

Lake Rathbun is celebrated for its diverse range of fish species, with an emphasis on large game fish. Here are the primary fish species you can target when fishing at Lake Rathbun:

Fish SpeciesDescription
CrappieAbundant populations, prized for taste
WalleyeRenowned for their size and challenge
Channel CatfishPlentiful catches, popular among anglers
Largemouth BassAcrobatic fighters, a favorite of many

The lake’s reputation for large game fish, particularly crappie and walleye, attracts anglers seeking impressive catches and a thrilling fishing experience.

Special Features

Lake Rathbun’s distinct features contribute to its status as one of the best fishing lakes in Iowa:

  • Iowa’s Second-Largest Lake: Lake Rathbun’s size is a significant draw for anglers. Its vast expanse provides ample space for exploration and ensures that there is a suitable fishing spot for everyone, even during peak fishing seasons;
  • Excellent for Large Game Fish: Lake Rathbun’s focus on large game fish, including crappie and walleye, sets it apart. The lake’s abundance of these species offers a unique opportunity for anglers to test their skills and potentially reel in impressive catches.


Iowa’s best fishing lakes offer a diverse and enriching fishing experience for anglers of all levels. Whether you’re looking for a quiet spot to fish from the shore or an adventurous boat fishing experience, these lakes provide the perfect setting for a memorable fishing adventure. So grab your gear and head to one of these top fishing lakes in Iowa for an unforgettable day on the water!


What is the best time of year to fish in Iowa’s lakes?

Spring and fall are generally the best times for fishing in Iowa’s lakes, as fish are more active during these cooler months.

Do I need a fishing license to fish in Iowa’s lakes?

Yes, a fishing license is required for anyone aged 16 and older. Licenses can be purchased online or at various retail outlets.

Are there boat rental facilities available at these lakes?

Most of the best fishing lakes in Iowa offer boat rental services, including pontoons, fishing boats, and kayaks.

Can I find camping facilities near these fishing lakes?

Yes, many of these lakes have nearby campgrounds with various amenities, making them great for multi-day fishing trips.

Are there any fishing tournaments held at these lakes?

Yes, several of the best fishing lakes in Iowa host annual fishing tournaments, attracting both amateur and professional anglers.

Jerry Miller

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