7 Best Muskie Fishing Lakes in Iowa

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Muskies in Iowa? It may come as a surprise to many, but the Hawkeye State offers some impressive fishing opportunities for these toothy critters, which occupy the top spot on the food chain in any body of water they call home. 

Iowa’s muskellunge fishery tends to get overshadowed by that of its neighbor to the north, Minnesota. Indeed, anglers can find some of Iowa’s best muskie fishing in the Iowa Great Lakes, a chain of natural lakes situated a stone’s throw from the Minnesota state line. 

But muskellunge have also been stocked in reservoirs across southern and central Iowa since the 1960s, establishing muskie populations across the state. 

They’re also native to the upper Mississippi River drainage, which includes waterways like the Cedar, Iowa, Shell Rock, and Des Moines rivers, where anglers most often encounter them in tailraces and below low-head dams.

Suffice it to say, Iowa’s muskie fishery is highly underrated. With heavy line and a selection of outsized plugs and spinners, any Iowa angler has a fair shot at landing the fish of 10,000 casts.

The following lakes will give you the best odds when it comes to Iowa muskies.

Big Spirit Lake

The northernmost of the Iowa Great Lakes and the largest natural lake in the state, Big Spirit Lake spans 5,684 acres and offers one of Iowa’s best muskellunge populations. Some of the biggest muskies in the state, including the Iowa record at just over 50 pounds, have been caught here. 

Though Big Spirit Lake is large, it’s also fairly shallow. It’s just 22 feet at its deepest point, and as the lake warms every spring, it develops thick, healthy weed beds that harbor muskies.

Like a lot of lakes, Big Spirit fishes best for muskies in spring and fall. This is partially because the relatively shallow lake gets quite warm during the summer months, but also because boat traffic can be a real problem between Memorial Day and Labor Day. 

Local muskie hunters on Big Spirit Lake typically spend their time throwing blade baits along the edges of the lake’s prolific weed beds. Weed lines are key muskie spots, especially areas where weeds thin out gradually rather than ending in a hard line. 

The best times to be on the water tend to be late morning and early evening. The area known as Angler’s Bay at the east end of the lake is a good place to start, and trolling perch-colored plugs sometimes does the trick if spinners aren’t producing.

Big Spirit Lake, or Spirit Lake, is also a powerhouse of a multispecies lake, including some of Iowa’s best walleye fishing.

West & East Okoboji Lakes

Located directly south of Big Spirit Lake in the Iowa Great Lakes, 3,847-acre West Okoboji Lake and 1,835-acre East Okoboji Lake each offer some excellent muskie opportunities. 

West Okoboji is the more well-known of the two connected lakes, and at 138 feet it is by far the deeper of the two. As such, it stays cooler in the summer and is one of the best bets for muskies during the warmer months. 

Prime areas on West Okoboji Lake include Miller’s Bay, Little Miller’s Bay and Little Emerson Bay. Aside from a period in early spring when muskies are spawning, the best fishing tends to be along deeper weed lines.

Casting and trolling are both good options on West Okoboji, with Phantom Soft Tail lures and Hell Hound glide baits being popular. Topwaters are known to produce some epic strikes here, especially around dawn and dusk. 

East Okoboji Lake fishes more like Spirit Lake, with shallow weed beds and a maximum depth of just 21 feet. Bucktails and spinnerbaits are popular.

One key area to focus on is the spillway where Big Spirit Lake empties into East Lake Okoboji. The current reliably attracts muskies to the area in spring and fall, and it’s one of the best options for bank anglers.

Like other Iowa Great Lakes, you’ll find much more than muskies here. For instance, West Okoboji made our best-of lists for several species, such as offering some of the state’s biggest channel catfish.

Brushy Creek Lake

Brushy Creek Lake is a central Iowa reservoir with 690 acres of water and depths up to 77 feet. It can be a challenging lake for muskie fishing, but it’s produced some real monsters.

Spring is prime time, with May being arguably the best month to target muskellunge. Look for them in the shallow bays at the upper end of the lake, and try slow-wobbling muskie plugs like 10-inch Jakes. 

The face of the dam is always worth a few casts as well, with a steep slope that drops off swiftly into some of the lake’s deepest water.

Brushy Creek Lake has a lot of standing timber, which makes trolling difficult, but muskies definitely use the trees as ambush points. 

Brushy Creek Lake is surrounded by Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, which includes campgrounds, boat ramps, and plenty of bank fishing access. 

The spillway below the lake is also a great spot, arguably even better than the lake itself. The deep pool beneath the dam is home to numerous muskies that high water swept through the spillway. 

Clear Lake

A 3,684-acre natural lake in northern Iowa, Clear Lake is one of the best all-around multispecies fishing lakes in the state. Muskellunge are not nearly as sought-after as the lake’s abundant bass, walleye and panfish, but they are fairly common.

It’s possible to tangle with a real giant here, too. Muskies over 40 inches are not out of the ordinary. Finding them can be tricky, as Clear Lake is essentially a broad, shallow bowl with minimal structure. 

Shallow flats on the east side of the lake and emergent reeds that grow along the north shore are high-probability muskie targets, and Woodford Island is another good area. There’s some rocky structure around the island with sharp drop-offs that often hold muskellunge. 

Spring is generally the best season. The lake hosts a muskie tournament in April, and the fishing is usually good through May. Warming waters create a challenge as June progresses.

In summer, one of the best tactics is to cast around the many boat docks that line the shoreline. Muskellunge often use the docks for shade and ambush points.

Pleasant Creek Lake

A short drive from Cedar Rapids in eastern Iowa, Pleasant Creek Lake is the most consistent option for big muskies in Iowa’s reservoirs. This 400-acre impoundment produces more than its share of muskies over 40 inches. 

Pleasant Creek Lake has depths up to 55 feet, with an abundance of submerged humps, ledges and sloping points that offer a lot of territory for anglers who like to fish offshore structure. 

Shoreline laydowns and standing timber also provide potential action near the banks and in Pleasant Creek’s coves. The arm north of the swimming beach in Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area produces a lot of muskies, as does the face of the dam.

Another prime spot is the shallow hump off the southwest end of the dam. The lake shallows out to about 9 feet at the top of the hump, and the DNR has sunk artificial fish-attracting structures around it.

Big Creek Lake

Big Creek Lake has historically been a top choice for muskies in Iowa, but it’s not an easy place to catch one, even by muskie standards. There’s no doubt that there are huge fish here, but you really need to put in your hours. 

Just a few miles outside of Des Moines in the central part of the state, Big Creek Lake spans 814 acres and is just over 50 feet at its deepest. The lower end of the lake near the dam is relatively narrow and steep-sided, while the upper end is shallower and more gradual. 

Trolling is a good way to cover water efficiently. Work the edges of weed beds at the upper end of the lake as well as along the face of the dam and across the lake’s wide-open bays.

A survey conducted by the DNR in 2023 found muskellunge up to 47 inches long in Big Creek Lake, and the reservoir has the potential to hold 50-inch fish. Patience and persistence pay off here.