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Saylorville Spillway, Des Moines, IA

July 10, 2013

Father’s Day weekend was booked for a wedding in Des Moines, IA, so I’d spent the proceeding days and nights searching for fishing opportunities in Des Moines, IA.   Other than a non-productive trip to Decorah a decade or so ago, I was O for Iowa.  I started my search at the Iowa DNR,, and located a number of fishing ponds, parks, and rivers, all of which seemed promising.  The primary species seemed to be bass, panfish, catfish, stripers and wipers.  Since we’d be heading down late Saturday morning and leaving late Sunday morning, my time was limited to early Sunday morning.  Too much water, not enough time.  The standard lament.

Trying to narrow things down a bit, I searched Iowa fishing blogs and came across a couple that were very informative and educational, fishndave, and iowaflyfisher.  Minnesotans have generally viewed their home state waters with an air of superiority, generally looking down at the fishing opportunities available in Iowa.   What I found on these two websites were two dedicated anglers honing their craft and catching some really nice fish, typically on a fly rod and tiny little flies.  Although I don’t fish exclusively with a fly rod, both writers gave me some ideas for new fly patterns and methods to try on my local waters.  Another site I’d recommend is warmwaterflytyer, which has a number of artful patterns that would be productive on most bodies of water.

Saturday morning I logged on to the Iowa DNR website to purchase my license and take one last look at their fishing reports.  The stripped bass were hitting anything white and flashy at the Saylorville Spillway  according to the report. That seemed like a safe bet as I packed my spinning rod along with some white twisters, jig heads, and a few other odds and ends.  Arriving at the Saylorville Spillway at about 6 a.m. on Sunday I saw a couple of deer foraging in the park.  After crossing the dam I found my way down to the spillway and carefully walked down the riprap to the water’s edge.  Two things that surprised me: the amount of trash in the riprap and the schools of bait fish amongst the rocks.  The first was disappointing.  The second was promising.

The water was really flowing out of the spillway and it took me awhile to get used to the current.  Watching the other anglers along and across the river, I noticed that most of them were casting their offerings upstream and working them back rather that swinging them in the current and letting them drift downstream as I’d been doing.  I soon switched to casting upstream and cranking my jig back.  Several casts later I felt a tap and set the hook as I landed what looked to be one of the shad schooling amongst the rocks – good bait for musky I thought as I released in back into the water.  A little while later I felt a nice thump and set the hook into a 14″ stripped bass that put up a nice fight in the current.  The action went cold until I felt a sold whack and set the hook into a nice fish that began pulling drag and putting up a good fight.  It took several minutes to get it near shore but it appeared to be a good sized Bigmouth Buffalo fish.  Not necessarily what I had in mind but the strength with which it fought and its size made it enjoyable.  I was disappointed when my lined snapped just as I was about to drag it out of the water.  I’m sure I was putting too much pressure on the line but I had no interest in taking a spill into the drink as the water discharge is pretty rough as it splashes and rips along the rocks. Tying back up, my heart was pumping and I caught several more striped bass, one of which is pictured.


Calling it quits a little after 8 a.m. I headed cautiously up the riprap and collected arms full of plastic bottles and worm containers and threw them in the trash.

If you are ever in Des Moines, give the Saylorville Spillway a try.

– Hats

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