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Fly Fishing in Iowa - Fly Fishing in Decorah, Iowa

Fly Fishing in Decorah, Iowa

As fly fishing has gained popularity in the past few years, places all over the East Coast and Western United States have seen an increase in people visiting their waters. There is a section of country, however, called the Driftless Region that’s some of the best trout fishing water in the country. It’s spread across southern Minnesota, southern Wisconsin and Northeastern Iowa. The town of Decorah is in the heart of the Driftless Region in Iowa.

Geography and Topography

The Driftless Region was created because glaciers during the most recent ice age failed to flatten this portion of the country. As a result, there are soaring bluffs, steep cliffs and narrow valleys filled with spring-fed coldwater streams.

As you drive through this part of the country, you’ll quickly notice the interesting topography. The hilliness of the region looks nothing like much of the rest of the Midwest. The main similarities are the large number of trees that cover this region. Most of the streams are heavily covered by vegetation and most of the area is extremely green and lush.

It’s one of the most unique ecosystems in the entire United States. 

Type of Water

The Iowa portion of the Driftless Region is filled with small streams. Many of the streams you’re fishing rarely get over 20 feet wide. Plus, the banks of the streams are covered in thick vegetation. The streams require finesse skills and the ability to calmly work your way around the water.

Most streams are spring fed, so the water temperatures stay between 30 and 55 degrees all throughout the year. It’s extremely clean and highly oxygenated, so the fish are extremely healthy.

The streams near Decorah are rarely straight, so anglers are going to see many eddies. Deep pools, riffles and beautiful-looking seams are spread all throughout the streams in the Driftless Area. If you’re able to find a few deep sections of water, you can almost guarantee that there are fish holding there.

The Driftless Area is the best small stream fishing in the United States.


Like most Midwestern States, Iowa sees extremely cold winters, volatile springs and falls and warm summers. The winter is challenging to fish due to the consistently low temperatures.

In April, average temperatures are 59 degrees and they quickly warm up to 70 degrees in May. The spring in Decorah is fairly rainy, so beware of the weather before you head to the weather.

The summer months (June, July and August) see average temperatures in the mid-80s. September and October have temperatures that live in the mid-60s.

Overall, Decorah has a fairly mild climate with many great days to fish. The fish are hungry from the spring all the way into the fall because of how extreme the winters can get.

Fishing on Coldwater Creek in Decorah & Surrounding Waters

There are dozens of miles of trout streams within 30 minutes of Decorah, but my favorite stream is called Coldwater Creek. While it’s only 4 miles long, the fish numbers are extremely impressive. Brook, rainbow, and brown trout live in these waters. Pocket water, pools, and eddies are found all throughout Coldwater Creek. You can easily spend two days covering these four miles of water with technical casts and different techniques.

Other streams like Ten Mile Creek, Casey Springs, Trout Run, Smith Creek, Canoe Creek and Silver Creek are all close to Decorah and hold nice populations of fish. Again, it requires some work to access these streams and a willingness to test your skills, but it’s well worth the effort.

Best Time of Year to Fish the Coldwater Creek & Surrounding Waters

The best time of year to fish Coldwater Creek and the surrounding streams is from April through October. The weather is the warmest and most consistent during these months. The most productive time of year is May due to the warming temperatures and the eagerness the fish have to eat. They’ve waited out a long winter and are desperate to feed themselves. Plus, the hatches start occurring more frequently.

How To Access the Coldwater Creek

Access to Coldwater Creek is best done via the Cold Water Spring State Preserve. You can access it near the town of Bluffton via Coldwater Creek Road. There are plenty of parking spaces and you’re able to walk up and downstream fairly easily as long as you have waders or are willing to wet wade.

Gear & Flies to Use

When fly fishing Coldwater Creek, you want to use a 3-weight 7’ or 8’ rod. You don’t need much power or length to cover this stream. A moderate fast action is also nice to have because you’re able to get a better feel for the fly and present things better. You’ll want a 3x 9’ leader wherever you’re fishing!

In terms of flies, size 18 Pheasant Tail Nymphs are one of your best choices. Fish these below a Chubby Chernobyl in a dry-dropper rig. If you don’t want a dry dropper, use a small indicator.

Another good choice is a size 14 Pink Squirrel. These flies work great when the water is clear and temperatures are warm. Dead drifting these through seams and shallow pools is a great way to land fish.

Recommended Fishing Techniques

As mentioned earlier, the water near Decorah is tight and condensed. When you’re looking for the ideal spot, look for deep sections of water near structure. These are always going to hold fish. When you find these deep sections with nymphs or streamers, cast your fly 10-15 feet above them, so it has a chance to get low enough in the water column. As it’s drifting for the deep water, strip in the slack and raise your rod tip, so the fly controls the destiny.

If you're throwing streamers, you want to dead drift them into the pools, let them sit for a bit and give them a few hard strips. Trout holding deep love chasing after streamers like Woolly Buggers and Clouser Minnows.

Don’t throw dries unless you see rises. When you do see a rise, cast near it and see what happens.

Types of Fish Near Decorah

Decorah streams primarily have rainbow, brown and brook trout! They’re all extremely healthy and many streams have wild populations of these fish.


Decorah, Iowa is near and dear to many fly anglers’ hearts. It’s a perfect home base for some of the most fun fly fishing you can find in the country. Enjoy the beauty the area has to offer and be sure to take good care of it. The Driftless is cherished by many and it’s our duty to make sure it stays healthy.

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