Tuesday, September 1, 2015

2015 Iowa Mussel Blitz

This annual research project continued this season to inventory and map the distribution of Iowa’s mussels on the Wapsipinicon River and for the first time since the first survey in 2005, the Mississippi River.

Ten species of freshwater mussels were collected in the Wapsipinicon and 23 species in the Mississippi by nearly 70 biologists, students and volunteers during the three day event. “We had excellent participation from volunteers and county naturalists in this year’s survey,” said Scott Gritters, Iowa DNR Fisheries Biologist.

Live mussels were inventoried, measured for growth; and then returned to the water. Most of the mussels were found using a technique known as pollywogging, which consists of crawling along a stream bed, probing the bottom with gloved hands.

“There’s a lot of purposes for these studies,” said Gritters. “One of the biggest things is we don’t want to harm them, and we also want to learn about the areas they live and thrive.”

“On the Mississippi River we are looking at habitat restoration projects that not only benefit fish but also provide the flows and substrates needed for mussels,“ added Gritters.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began researching the disappearance of native fresh-water mussels ten years ago in Iowa, including the federally endangered Higgins eye pearly mussel. Once ranging across most of the upper Midwest, this species has been eliminated from most of the river systems it once thrived in.

"Historically, there were maybe 54 species in Iowa. Now, it's about 42. Of those, nine are endangered. Another six are threatened," explains Gritters. Several more species are very hard to find any more in Iowa

Over the past several years, stretches of the Cedar, Wapsipinicon and Iowa rivers have been stocked with walleyes and bass whose gills had been inoculated with the mussels’ larvae.

“It’s a way to reintroduce mussels into our rivers by stocking fish, which is something we commonly do anyway,” applauds Gritters. “We stock a lot of fish for our anglers and this way we can ‘double dip’, so to speak.“

This year’s Mussel Blitz proved that the Higgins eye mussels stocked previously are still successfully reproducing in the Wapsipinicon.  

“Finding young Higgins eyes in the river proves they are reproducing — a milestone in our efforts to establish sustainable colonies in the state’s interior rivers,” Gritters said.

Mussels are a good indicator of the health of a river. The better the water quality, the more mussels there are in that water. Mussels compact the algae they filter then kick out the crushed pellet to waiting fish; much like the feeding done in fish hatcheries. Many of the major walleye spawning areas are in mussel beds on the Mississippi River.
“Fish and mussels have ‘co-evolved.’ They somewhat depend on each other,” said Gritters. “The more mussel species; the better the mussel density; the better our fish populations; the better our water quality.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Kayak Fishing Tips

Fishing from a kayak is great way to stay active and get up close with nature. There’s a unique angling challenge around each bend. Try these tips to get you started.

Travel light
Leave your packed tackle box at home. Bring only the basic tackle you need for the specific fish species you are trying to catch.
Be Confident
Make sure you are confident paddling before you load your kayak with fishing gear. Learn the basic paddling strokes and how to rescue yourself if needed. Hands-on instruction and online paddling safety courses are available.

Stay Safe
Check water levels before you go. Fish with a buddy and let someone know where you’re going. Wear a properly-fitted life jacket and bring along a basic first aid kit. Carry your cell phone in a water tight dry-bag for emergencies.

Go with the flow
If you’re on a lake with a light breeze or a current, start fishing the shoreline on its windward side and let it push you down the shoreline.

Stay hydrated
Bring along plenty of water to drink. Wear light, loose fitting clothing that dries quickly. Make sure you have a hat, good sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen.

Be cautious of your surroundings
Stay well downstream of any low head dams. Use caution fishing around wood debris (strainers) on the outside bends of smaller fishing streams. Be careful paddling around obstructions - new snags, log jams, submersed logs and other debris.

Get an appropriately sized anchor (~10 lbs or less)
Major sporting goods retailers sell specialty kayak anchors that have a folding “claw” system for a better hold in current or winds. Most kayaks move at the slightest breeze or even from your casting motion. An anchor is helpful when you want to lock in your position so you can continually cast into a school of fish or a piece of cover/structure.

Secure your gear
Tie down your paddle, tackle box and other fishing necessities to avoid losing them.
Use your strengths
Kayaks are smaller, quieter, and more maneuverable than almost any other boat on the water.  Head deep into the flooded timber on a relatively new reservoir (e.g., Brushy Creek or 12-Mile Creek Lake).  Get close to shore in areas where other boats have to rely on less accurate, long distance casting. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fishing Fridays at the Iowa State Fair

Join the IDNR Aquatic Education Program, IDNR Fisheries biologists and staff, and several Fish Iowa! school groups for a fun-filled fishing Friday!

August 14 & 21, 2015
Noon to 4:00 PM
Iowa Department of Natural Resources Building Courtyard
at the Iowa State Fair Grounds

Activities will include:
  • Fish cleaning and cooking demonstration – try a sample of Iowa fish!
  • Casting – try your hand at casting for accuracy.
  • Fish printing – create fish prints on paper.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Hooking Summer Catfish

Fishing for catfish is a fun summer activity for the whole family. Bring along a cooler with ice to keep your catch cold and preserve that great taste. Try these simple tips for catching Ol’ Whiskers.

Fish Rivers
Iowa rivers are loaded with catfish. Look for eddies, fallen trees or brush piles, below riffles or the outside bends of rivers where the water is deeper and there are snags or log jams that provide cover for catfish. Fish upstream of the snags and log jams and cast the bait (prepared cheese/stink baits) back towards it so the scent of the bait is carried downstream into the structure by the current drawing the catfish out. Use the smallest slip sinker possible, a longer rod and 8-pound test line. Also try below navigation and wing dams on the Mississippi River.

Move Often
Catfish will either react to the bait or not. If there’s no nibble in 15 minutes, it’s time to move.

Try different baits
Try different bait on each rod to help figure out what works best (e.g. worm on one and chicken liver on another).  Other great catfish bait include cut bait, stink bait, crawdads, frogs or live minnows, and chubs.

Fish after Dark
Catfish are bottom feeders, so they are more accustom to cooler water. The water in the shallows gets cooler at night, drawing the catfish in.

Go Live for Large
Catfish longer than 15 inches primarily feed on live bait such as large minnows, sunfish or night crawlers.

Cats Fight Back
Catfish have three spines that can cause a nasty puncture wound or cut: one on each pectoral or side fin and one on the dorsal or top fin. The barb is sharp and serrated. Use a glove if you are not comfortable handling a catfish.

Visit the DNR website for more information about Iowa catfish and tips for catching channel catfish throughout the year. Sign up for the weekly fishing report to find out where the catfish bite is the hottest.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Test Your Fish ID Skills

How well do you know your game fish? Being able to properly identify the fish you catch will help you know follow Iowa fishing regulations. Test your fish identifying skills with this simple quiz.

Which is the White Crappie

The easiest way to identify a black and white crappie is the pattern of spots on the side. White crappie have spots arranged in vertical bars; spots on a black crappie have no distinct pattern. Identifying fish solely by color is not always reliable so double check by counting the number of dorsal fin spines. Black crappie have 7-8 dorsal spines while white crappie have 6. 

Can you identify the Smallmouth Bass?

A smallmouth bass has a smaller mouth than the largemouth bass. Hence their common names. Look at the location of the upper jaw and eye. A smallmouth’s upper jaw does NOT extend past the eye. The upper jaw of a largemouth bass extends past the eye. 

Which fish is the Bluegill

Bluegill have an olive green back with sides that are yellow or reddish brown and often have dark vertical bars. A bluegill’s chin and gill cover is blue with a black, flexible tip at the rear of the gill cover. A green sunfish is mostly green with a yellow belly. Its ear flap is black with a white or yellow margin. 

Which one is a Walleye?

A walleye has a white tip on the lower lobe of the caudal fin and no distinct dark bars or mottling on the side.  A sauger has 3-4 dark saddles extending down the side with 2-3 rows of dark circles on the first dorsal fin. 

Can you pick out the Rainbow Trout?

Rainbow trout have a pink horizontal stripe along the side with dark spots. Brook trout have light colored “worm-like” markings on the back and a white line on the front edge of the lower fins. Brown trout have dark brown backs and a greenish yellow belly. The spots on the side of a brown trout are surrounded by a yellow “halo”. 

Which is the Muskellunge?

Muskellunge (or muskie) have an olive to dark gray back with light colored sides. Dark markings on the sides are arranged in vertical bars. Northern pike have irregular rows of light colored spots which are arranged in a horizontal pattern.

Find more information on fish identification and waters where these species are located on our Iowa Fish Species website

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tips for Cooking Fish

Wash cleaned fish thoroughly. If you are not going to cook the fish right away, freeze immediately in a container (milk carton, pop-top plastic container, freezer bag, etc.) filled with water. Thaw fish in the refrigerator or under cold running water. Do not thaw fish more than one day before cooking.

Rinse fresh fish in cold water and pat dry. Make several shallow, diagonal cuts in large fillets to shorten cooking time. Cook refrigerated fish within three days.

There are several ways to cook fish. Fish cooks very fast. When done, it will pull apart and flake. To check if it is done, cut into the thickest part and make sure there is no opaque color or jelly texture left. Do not overcook.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Top Reasons You're Not Catching Fish

Are you struggling to catch fish this summer? Don’t get discouraged – you are not alone. Here are some common reasons why you aren’t catching fish and tips for being more successful.

Fishing too deep
Don’t fish deeper than 10-15 feet in most Iowa Lakes after mid-June. Anglers often fish too deep – below the
thermocline, a natural barrier between warm water in the top of the water column and cold water in the bottom. These warm and cold layers do not mix. Cool water is heavy and sinks to the bottom of the water column. The lack of mixing with surface waters prevents new oxygen from entering this cool water and over time, organisms use up most of the oxygen. By mid-summer, the oxygen levels below the thermocline fall to the point where fish cannot stay for long. Use our handy infographic to know how to fish by depth.

Wrong time of day
Fish bite best in the morning and evening.

Hook too big
Size 6 or 8 hooks are best for panfish.

Bobber too big
Try a 1-inch or smaller bobber to catch panfish.

Fishing in the wrong location
Fish close to structure like brush piles and stumps. Downloadable fishing structure location maps are available on the DNR’s Where to Fish website. Use these maps to pinpoint panfish hotspots.

Retrieving bait too fast
Fish often become lazy and sluggish in the summer heat. Reel in your line a bit slower to make your lure an easier target.

Find a great place to fish close to home on the DNR website along with tips for catching specific fish species this summer. Sign up for our weekly fishing report to find out what’s biting where.