Iowa isn’t a state that jumps to the front of the mind when it comes to pike fishing, and it’s true that many devoted pike anglers who live in the Hawkeye State take annual trips to Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Canada to get a chance to find that big trophy-sized pike to mount on the living room wall, but that doesn’t mean they only get a shot at pike once a year during that special fishing trip!
There are northern pike found throughout large parts of the state of Iowa, and the state record of 25 lbs 5 oz has been approached many times. Even if the bigger pike haven’t been hitting a lure that day, in the right spots there can be a lot of fun to go pike fishing for those moderately sized fish – especially if you weren’t expecting them to hit as you were fishing for trout or bluegill or something else when suddenly that fishing rod tip bends over.
Northern pike are found throughout the state of Iowa, but there are a few real hot spots for pike anglers including Lake Okoboji, Clear Lake, Des Moines River, various river dams, and the Yellow River Outlet.
Let’s dive in and lead you to the absolute best northern pike fishing that the state of Iowa has to offer.
Pike Fishing Throughout Iowa
There’s no denying that the best place for pike fishing throughout Iowa tends to be in the northern part of the state, especially the north central. Not only does being further north help them grow immensely, but many of the larger lakes where these fish can thrive are found in the northern parts of the state. Two of the top picks on this list are located in the far north of the state – one on the Northeast side and one on the Northwest side.
Because there are many interconnected rivers and creeks, the occasional pike can be found in some really strange or interesting places, but there are also separate lakes and farm ponds, stocked county lakes where a population can do very well or stays because of the abundance of food versus going off various tributaries. While pike are almost always in play, there are some places where it’s just better than others.
So even if Iowa isn’t quite the pike fishing destination that Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Canada are, there are still plenty of chances to have a good day on the water. Let’s dive in and look at the best places to go pike fishing in the great state of Iowa!
Lake Okoboji, Iowa Northern Pike Fishing
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: Lake Okoboji is hands down the best place to find northern pike in the state of Iowa. West Okoboji Lake is not only home to the Iowa northern pike state record, but along with East Okoboji Lake there are more big pike and legal pike caught from these lakes than any other section in the state of Iowa.
There’s a reason they’re known as “Iowa’s Great Lakes” and located in the far northwest section of the state, they might be a pretty long haul for anyone not living the Mason City or Council Bluffs area, but it is definitely worth the trip if you want to run into some decent pike fishing – and one of the very few chances of hitting a decent sized muskie in the state of Iowa.
The largest northern pike caught in the state of Iowa almost always comes from either Okoboji, West Okoboji, or the nearly attached and right there Great Spirit Lake. While some in the town of Spirit Lake might disagree, most Iowans refer to all three lakes and that area in general as “Okoboji” and there’s no denying that you will have plenty of opportunity for some really top notch fishing up in that area.
Not to mention consistently the best northern pike and muskie fishing you will be able to find in the state of Iowa.
Official Website: Lake Okoboji Website
Pike Fishing Season: May 21st – November 30th (keep an eye on this as the dates for muskie/pike season can change though generally it starts a week before Memorial Day Weekend and will usually always end the last week of November)
If you don’t believe me, here is one of dozens of videos on YouTube showing an angler catching a nice northern pike. How does this not make for a great afternoon of fishing?
Yellow River Outlet, Iowa
The Yellow River State Forest is one of my favorite outdoor spaces in all of Iowa. Located in northeast Iowa among the bluffs, this is an area that is just filled with gorgeous campsites, thick woods, charming unique little towns, and plenty of great fishing and hiking among the bluffs. This is a very popular area and is best known for amazing hiking, the nearby Effigy Mounds and Pike’s Peak, and incredible camping.
The Yellow River itself is more likely to have panfish and trout, but where the Yellow River meets the Mississippi River is just plain fun. It’s not going to be the best place for northern pike from the standpoint of consistent catches but it’s fun because of the wild array of fish where al lthat water mixes.
To quote my Uncle Gary, who has lived there his whole life:
I love where that river opens up to the Mississippi. One moment you’re getting tapped by a trout, the next a 10 lb northern slams into you. You never know what you’ll get there. Trout, panfish, pike, a big cat, it’s just free for all over at that spot.
That’s the type of place I certainly love to go fishing at and if I have a three hour span where I hook a couple of trout, a large catfish, a giant carp, a pike, and a mess of bluegill – I’m not going to be disappointed about how the day went.
Official DNR Website on Yellow River State Forest
Yellow River Iowa on Wikipedia
If you are about pike fishing and pike fishing alone, this is where you go in the area when you have to be here and don’t have another option. If you enjoy all kinds of exciting fishing, this spot is fantastic and in the middle of an area that really offers so much to locals and visitors alike. It’s a great spot that needs to be checked off your Iowa fishing bucket list.
Des Moines River Pike Fishing
The entire river isn’t teeming with them, but as smart local anglers and the right DNR reports (if you know where to find them) will tell you, there are sections that sometimes seem like they’re just teeming with pike. And that makes for a really good time fishing whether on a boat or casting from shore!
There are a couple of places that consistently come up whenever I’m talking about pike fishing and someone brings up the Des Moines River as the place to be. One is the river right below Red Rock. This makes a lot of sense because the Red Rock Dam is located there and any area with a lot of churn and baitfish that bring in moderate sized fish are going to attract the aggressive and always hungry pike.
I’ve seen stringers of 4-6 pounders come from this area and although that is an exceptionally good day, they are possible and getting 2-3 good pike that are proper eating size is a more than common occurrence around those parts.
Occasionally, you do get the larger ones, as well, but one thing all of these river pike have in common in this area is that they hit like a Mac Truck and fight like crazy. They’re pike that have to fight with catfish and bass, and take to it pretty which is great news for local anglers.
The other section of the Des Moines River that seems to be absolutely hopping with hungry Northern Pike most of the time is the section that runs from below the Saylorville Dam all the way to the earlier aforementioned Red Rock Dam. I have many friends from my hometown who swear by this stretch, and they are serious anglers who know what eastern and central Iowa have to offer as good as anyone I know, so I trust their reports.
Especially since they are completely confirmed by so many other anglers looking for some decent pike fishing.
If you’re fishing in this section of the Des Moines River, don’t be surprised if at some point that fishing rod doubles over and you have a serious fight with a pike going on. If you can’t make the northern parts of the state you still have plenty of options in the central region for finding some good pike fishing.
Pike Fishing in Clear Lake, Iowa
Finally, the 5th major spot (since the Des Moines River has two) for pike fishing is in Clear Lake. This shouldn’t be a big surprise as this is the largest lake in far north central Iowa, heading towards the Minnesota border. This wasn’t always the case as water quality issues in the early 2000s made it so Clear Lake was known as the Bullhead capital of Iowa and non-catfish anglers were…well the local ones were kind of out of luck.
Major renovations were done to Clear Lake, especially around 2008, and while the lake is still known for catfish it’s also now known for walleye, northern pike, and some of the best muskie fishing in Iowa – certainly the best muskie fishing outside of Lake Okoboji.
Clear Lake is a nice little area to visit and the lake offers plenty that visiting anglers should be able to enjoy. While going for pike and muskies you may also hook a large walleye they were looking around to feed on. The fishing here is vastly improved and has far more to offer local pike anglers than it did even a decade ago.
Iowa Northern Pike Fishing – In Conclusion
Although it’s not a pike fishing destination, there are plenty of Iowans who can still enjoy a day out in the water casting for that pike hit. Where the Yellow River meets the Mississippi River is the last place I hooked a decent pike, and it’s one of the places I think is the most fun to fish because that location is where there is just a mix of crazy fish all in one place: trout, bluegill, pike, catfish, bass, all kinds of fish all in one area.
Put out a cast and you’ll never know what you’re going to get, and on a day when we were using ultralights for small trout and panfish I was hit by a 4-lb pike and that was fun.
There are places to find some northern pike and to enjoy everything they bring to the table. While Iowa is never going to be a premier location for pike fishing, locals have options when it comes to finding the type of fight not even a good bass can put up. Take a look at some of these spots and you are likely to have a very good time on the water!
Other northern pike fishing articles of interest