by Bob Luck
The last time I fished in Iowa was in early October of 2005. I arrived during a warm spell and had a couple of days of amazing hopper fishing. Every year since then I have told myself I need to get back to Iowa, but all of that closer water in the Minnesota Driftless got in the way. My sense of urgency increased this year after hearing John van Vliet talk about Iowa at our chapter meeting last November and reading his book. Last week, with nearly all of Minnesota closed and my wife out of town, I finally made it down for a few days. It was terrific!
On October 31st I woke up to 2" of fresh snow, air temps in the 20s, and wind gusts up to 40 mph. It was tough to convince myself to leave the house, but I finally got out around 8:45 by telling myself that it would be warmer and snow-free a couple hours south. I arrived at my first destination, Forestville State Park, just north of the Iowa border at about 11 am. (A few state parks and towns in SE MN are open between Oct 15 and Dec 31). Forestville had 2" of fresh snow, air temps in the 20s and wind gusts up to 40 mph. Happy Halloween. But the winds were quite a bit lighter once I got down into the river valley, and the hike to Canfield Creek warmed me up. Canfield Creek flows out of a cave at the park border and empties into the S Branch of the Root River. I figured that the constant spring flow would keep the water warmer and the trout more active. The water level was low and a half-hour of nymph fishing produced nothing but weeds. On a whim, I tied on an old school size 10 Prince wet fly and dead drifted it through some slow water. That was the ticket! I had great action until about 1:30 when the sun came out. After experimenting a bit more, I found that I could attract trout by fishing deeper with a beadhead woolly bugger fished slowly as a streamer through the deeper pools.
I left the stream at 4 pm and drove an hour over to Dorchester, Iowa. I checked into the Sportsmen Motel, which is practically on the banks of Waterloo Creek. The motel is clean, quiet and comfortable, and a single room was 80 bucks a night. Dorchester has a couple of restaurants; I ate at Wings one night and had some pretty good fried chicken. The salad bar had 4 kinds of macaroni salad along with potato and jello salad, but fresh vegetables were in short supply. Fine with me, I don't love lettuce and I didn't go to Iowa to lose weight.
On November 1st the sky was overcast and it was just as cold as the day before, but the wind was light. I figured the stream would need some time to warm up, so I drove 2 minutes over to the Highway 76 bridge and started fishing at 11:30. This is a beautiful stretch of runs and riffles that reminds me of the Rush River. The water temp was still cold at 39 degrees, but I did entice a few rainbows and one brown on streamers in about 2 hours of fishing before deciding to head farther upstream where there might be warmer water and more action. At 1:30 I drove about 4 miles upstream and parked beside a large pool where fish were rising to a good blue wing olive hatch. I fished that hatch until 4 pm with good success, catching a large number of rainbows and one brown on a #18 Paul Johnson BWO special. Yes, Waterloo Creek has a lot of stocked rainbows, and I have even caught them up in Minnesota where the creek starts out as Bee Creek. I don't love the idea of stocking rainbows over a population of wild browns, but these rainbows were holdovers; brightly colored and strong fighters.
On November 2nd I decided to seek professional help and hired Mike Rogers of Bear Creek Anglers to guide me for half a day. We fished North Bear Creek--nymphs under an indicator in the morning, and the Blue Wing Olive hatch in the afternoon. The hatch lasted all afternoon and I did even better than the day before. Mike gave me a #20 imitation to use. This size was closer to the naturals and it seemed like I was catching more fish, including more browns. Mike is also the president of the Iowa Driftless Chapter of TU, and they had their monthly meeting that night at T-Bocs restaurant in Decorah. I had a burger and beer at T-Bocs and joined the meeting, with Megan Giorgenti of the Iowa DNR talking about what they were doing to try to control pollution of Siewer spring, the second largest spring in Iowa and the source water for the hatchery in Decorah. Lots of commonalities with the Minnesota Driftless: dedicated DNR and TU folks facing serious issues with runoff that they are trying to address with landowners.
I spent my last day, November 3rd, at Coldwater Creek on a tip from Mike. Like Canfield, Coldwater comes out from a cave, but it has significantly higher water flow. I caught a few fish in the afternoon on dry flies, but the hatch wasn't as big as the two previous days, and I got most of my fish on nymphs. Today, it was almost all browns, including some big ones. Around 3 pm I was tightlining a #16 beadhead nymph on 6x tippet through the fast water at the head of a pool with my Tenkara rod. A large fish took it, and after convincing myself to be patient, I babied it over to the bank and netted it. A perfect bookend to my first day of the 2023 season when I got too impatient with a large fish and it broke me off. No doubt I will have to learn the same lesson again next Spring!
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