11 Best Bass Fishing Lakes and Rivers in Iowa

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If you live in Iowa, you live near a great bass lake. From the natural lakes that dot the northern part of the state to southern Iowa’s productive reservoirs, excellent bass fishing is never hard to come by. 

And that’s before you even consider Iowa’s many, many miles of superb flowing water. Just like its lakes, Iowa’s rivers support an abundance of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. 

Brushy Creek Lake

Brushy Creek Lake has been one of Iowa’s top largemouth lakes since it was completed in 1998. The lake has gone through cycles of low productivity due to fishing pressure, but it always seems to bounce back. 

With a depth of 80 feet and a surface area of 690 acres, Brushy Creek Lake is a deep reservoir but not a large one. That makes it fairly easy to pattern on any given day, and there are options for anglers who like to fish deep or shallow. 

Beating the banks can pay off, especially in spring, but Brushy Creek Lake’s offshore groves of standing timber are often even better. Some of the best spots to find bigger bass are areas where a sharp channel swing meets submerged timber or rock. 

Like a lot of Iowa lakes, Brushy Creek has experienced a proliferation of invasive curly pond leaf, which provides great largemouth bass habitat but is also dense and difficult to fish.

The pond weed starts to die off in July, which reopens the shallows to bass fishing in summer. A thermocline typically sets up at around 15 feet this time of year, too, so that’s a good depth to start fishing.

A wide range of lures can be effective here, but wacky worms are a perennial favorite. The slow fall and subtle wiggle of a wacky-rigged 6″ soft stickbait seem irresistible, especially among Brushy Creek Lake’s timber.

You might hook more than you bargained for since Brushy Creek is also in our rundown of Iowa’s sensational muskie-fishing lakes.

West Okoboji Lake

Part of a chain of glacial lakes known as the Iowa Great Lakes, West Okoboji Lake spans 3,847 acres and offers phenomenal bass fishing for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. 

West Okoboji Lake is Iowa’s deepest lake at 136 feet, offering excellent deep, rocky structure and healthy weed beds. Its water has been exceptionally clear ever since the introduction of zebra mussels a couple of decades back. 

Fans of shallow fishing tend to find bass—especially largemouths—under boat docks and in the residential canals that extend off the main lake. Pitching and flipping soft plastics deep beneath the docks tends to produce a lot of fish. 

Another good tactic is to head deeper and fish the edges of the lakes’ extensive weed beds.

This lake can produce some big smallmouths, including the Iowa state record.

If you’re looking for them, look to rocky cover. Fort Dodge Point and Gull Point are a couple of well-known smallmouth spots.

Miller’s Bay and Emerson Bay also have scattered rock piles interspersed with patches of weeds, which are great for smallmouths. Hair jigs and drop-shot rigs are popular, and smallies over 4 pounds are not unusual.

West Okoboji Lake is one of Iowa’s all-around best destinations for anglers, with a range of gamefish to catch, including plentiful and tasty yellow perch.

Three Mile Lake

An 880-acre impoundment of southwestern Iowa’s Three Mile Creek, Three Mile Lake is an excellent largemouth lake. It’s known more for big bass than for numbers, and chunky largemouths weighing 5 to 7 pounds are not unusual.

The reservoir was left with a lot of standing timber, and although that timber has deteriorated since the lake first filled in 1995, it still offers great bass habitat. The lake has also undergone a major habitat restoration project in recent years, including new rock piles and gravel spawning sites.

Some of the best fishing in Three Mile Lake takes place in its coves, including the cove on the east side of the lake just above the dam and the cove on the west side adjacent to the boat ramp in Three Mile Lake WMA

Multiple boat ramps and bank access sites are on the lake’s east shore, home of Three Mile Lake County Park.

Top bass lures here include crankbaits and Texas-rigged worms and creature baits.

Green Valley Lake

Located just a few miles west of Three Mile Lake in southwestern Iowa, Green Valley Lake offers a very different fishing experience. Built in 1952, it’s much older, more sedimented, and smaller at 338 acres. 

Green Valley Lake has also been managed specifically for big bass since the 1990s, with a length limit previously set at 22 inches for many years before being reduced to 18 inches. Overall, anglers catch a lot of healthy largemouths in a range of sizes, including some trophies.

Ample artificial cover has been placed in Green Valley Lake over the years, including brush piles, which are some of the most reliable spots to fish. There are also a lot of stake beds, especially along the west shore of the V-shaped lake’s west arm.

Bluegill are a major forage species, and bass often strike bluegill-patterned cranks and swimbaits.

Green Valley State Park surrounds Green Valley Lake and offers boat ramps and fishing jetties lined with riprap.

Big Spirit Lake

A stone’s throw from the Minnesota state line, 5,684-acre Big Spirit Lake is considered one of the Iowa Great Lakes. Like neighboring West Okoboji Lake, it’s a multispecies fishery that offers both largemouth and smallmouth bass, but is especially well-known for the latter. 

Compared to West Okoboji, Big Spirit Lake is very shallow, and you can virtually always find bass in less than 6 feet of water. The lake’s maximum depth is about 20 feet, but it’s essentially bowl-shaped with little structure to hold bass out in the middle. 

That makes it a dream lake for anglers who like to beat the banks. The shoreline is highly developed and lined with hundreds of boat docks that are especially productive for largemouths. 

Rocky structure, including reefs, points and shoals, is also available at a wide range of depths.

In the lake’s northeastern section, rock bars extending from Big Stoney Point and Cottonwood Point are phenomenal areas for smallmouth bass.

There are great options for bank fishing and wading, too, including Big and Little Stoney Points and the old footbridge on the north shore of the lake. The latter is a prime smallmouth spawning area in May and June.

Big Spirit Lake also is among Iowa’s top-rated walleye fisheries.

Mississippi River

A little over 300 miles of the Mississippi River forms Iowa’s eastern border. Its main channel is divided into pools by a series of locks and dams—Pool 9 in northeastern Iowa through Pool 19 in southeastern Iowa—and a maze of backwaters crisscross the surrounding floodplain.

It’s an imposing, intimidating river, but one that offers some of Iowa’s best bass fishing. Largemouths and smallmouths are both abundant if you know where to look.

Largemouth bass tend to avoid strong current, and they’ll mostly be found in the cuts, channels, sloughs and backwaters away from the main Mississippi River channel. Such habitat borders most of the river’s pools, but Pool 13 is a perennial angler favorite. 

Stretching from Bellevue to Clinton, the edges of Pool 13 are a near-continuous network of fertile, productive backwaters loaded with largemouth bass. Most of it is just 2 or 3 feet deep, but channels are dredged down to 6 or 8 feet in some areas.

These deeper spots allow bass to survive the winters, when the Mississippi backwaters freeze, and also provide summer habitat. Some of the best spots are lily pads and weed lines that border the dredge channels. 

Smallmouth bass are more at home in moving water and are abundant in the main river. Prime areas include riprap banks, wing dams and tailraces. Pools 9 and 10 are especially renowned for their smallmouth bass fishing.

The Mississippi River’s backwaters also provide some of Iowa’s best crappie fishing.

Lake Wapello

Despite its small size, 289-acre Lake Wapello is one of the best spots to catch big largemouth bass in Iowa. Bass fishing in Lake Wapello is strictly catch and release, ensuring that big bass are returned to the water, at least in theory. 

The results of that regulation have been mixed. While bass measuring 15 to 18 inches are very abundant, true giants are often hard to come by. Your best shot at a trophy is the pre-spawn period in early spring.

An impoundment of Pee Dee Creek in southeastern Iowa, Lake Wapello has also seen some serious habitat improvements over the years—stake beds and brush piles sunk throughout the reservoir, riprap added to the banks—and the bass fishing has inarguably benefited.

There’s excellent access, thanks to boat ramps and shoreline jetties in Lake Wapello State Park. The lake has abundant shallow lily pad fields and weed beds that produce a lot of average-sized bass, while anglers catch most bigger fish from deeper cover.

Cedar River

Iowa’s rivers haven’t always always been known for smallmouth bass. But waterways like the Cedar River, once polluted and muddied by industrial and agricultural runoff, have greatly improved since the 1980s.

Today, most of the Cedar River supports a thriving smallmouth population. Bass measuring 10 to 13 inches are very common, but there are bronzebacks up to 20 inches here too.

The key to finding them is rocky habitat. River-dwelling smallmouths typically position themselves below current breaks like bridge pilings and boulders, in deep holes at river bends, at the upper ends of pools, and in tailwater areas below dams.

The Cedar River begins in Minnesota, and there’s a lot of great smallie water from the state line through Iowa’s Mitchell and Floyd counties. A little farther downriver, the area around the confluences with the Shell Rock and West Branch Cedar rivers is also excellent.

A handful of dams break up the Cedar River’s flow, but most of it is suitable for canoe and kayak trips. Low water often makes the river hard to float in summer, but it’s still great for wade fishing. 

The Cedar River also is home to some excellent catfish fishing.

Lake Sugema

Located on Big Indian Creek in southeastern Iowa, Lake Sugema is a 579-acre reservoir surrounded by roughly 3,000 acres of state wildlife management area. It has an abundant population of largemouth bass, though it’s mostly a numbers lake. 

You can expect to catch a lot of healthy 15- to 18-inch bass here, but seldom will you encounter one bigger than that. The stair-stepped face of the dam, which produces great bass habitat at a series of varying depths, is a great place to start. 

Lake Sugema also has many acres of standing timber, especially in the upper half of the lake. Try running a spinnerbait through the trees or twitching a soft jerkbait around the branches.

The extreme upper end of Lake Sugema is shallow and heavily sedimented, and it becomes too weed-choked in summer to be fishable. But in early spring, it’s the fastest part of the lake to warm up and is absolutely loaded with bass during the first sunny days of the season.

Hawthorn Lake

A little over an hour east of Des Moines, 182-acre Hawthorn Lake is a small reservoir with major bass fishing opportunities. It’s easily one of the best largemouth lakes in eastern Iowa. 

It’s especially good in springtime. The lake is clearer than most reservoirs in the part of the state early in the year, and it’s fishable right after ice-out. The first string of warm, sunny days will reliably bring some bass into the shallows.

Subtle, natural-looking offerings like jerkbaits and plastic lizards are great options this season. Riprap banks are quick to warm, and Hawthorn also has some timber and weed beds that start to become productive as the season progresses.

Hawthorne Lake gets a bit clogged with surface vegetation in summer, but you can still connect by scooting a Scum Frog across the surface or using a heavy weedless jig to punch through the slop.

Maquoketa River

A tributary of the Mississippi River, the Maquoketa flows through about 150 miles of northeastern Iowa. Like the Cedar River, it was once inundated with sediment that all but ruined the smallmouth bass fishery. 

And like the Cedar River, it has made a marvelous comeback. The Maquoketa River of today is easily one of the best smallmouth rivers in the state, supporting abundant 10- to 15-inch bass and a growing number of larger fish.

The stretch from Dundee to Pictured Rocks is arguably the best, boasting an abundance of rocks and boulders that provide excellent smallmouth habitat and several dams that create productive tailwater fisheries.

The catch-and-release section below Delhi Dam is particularly good.

May and June are great months to fish for bass on the Maquoketa River, and fly fishing for smallmouths using poppers and streamers can be productive all summer long.

Catch More Bass

We offer strategies and tackle suggestions in our simple bass fishing how-to guide.