American Fly Fishing

Spring Creek Nirvana
By Jeff Erickson

Upper Iowa River Trout Tributaries, IA

Wild brown trout inhabit more than 50 of northeast Iowa’s 100-plus trout streams. Photo By Jeff Erickson

Geographic stereotypes and misperceptions are rife, including those involving trout habitat. When many people think of Iowa, for example, the images springing to mind are thousand-pound, blue-ribbon-winning hogs named Betsy or Bertha by their 4-H kid owners, tabletop-flat cornfields, and maybe hordes of politicians and reporters descending on the state for the nation’s first presidential primary every four years.

If anyone pictures fish, it might be slimy catfish pulled from silty streams, bluegills or largemouth bass from lily-pad-punctuated farm ponds, or walleyes from the Mississippi. But trout? Think again, because northeastern Iowa shelters some of the most alluring, publicly accessible spring creeks in the country, holding native brook trout, wild browns, and stocked rainbows. At the epicenter of this bounty are tributaries feeding the 156-mile-long Upper Iowa River.

Rising in southeastern Minnesota, the Upper Iowa slithers back and forth across the Iowa border before definitively taking up residence in the Hawkeye State. The watershed’s trout treasure troves are the smaller, colder streams feeding the Upper Iowa.