The Iowa Great Lakes are located in Northwest Iowa in Dickinson County.
There are several lakes that make up the IGL. The three most popular lakes on the chain are West Okoboji, Spirit Lake, and East Okoboji. Also included in this area are Upper Gar, Lake Minniewhasta, Lower Gar and Center Lake. All of these lakes offer very good fishing for multiple species.
There are several state record fish that have come from the waters that make up this chain. Anglers come from across the area to fish for walleye, largemouth bass, muskies, northern, bluegill, perch and smallmouth bass. These are all very fun species to target and each deserving their own articles. But we are going to go off the grid so to speak and talk about a species that is unique to the area, the yellow bass.
Yellow Bass showed up in the IGL chain about 12-14 years ago. They are not a native species to the area and how they showed up is a mystery. Once they were introduced into the system, they took hold and have exploded in population. At times yellow bass will take over smaller bodies of waters and cause problems with stunted growth. This happens when there is limited fishing pressure and lack of predator species to keep them in check.
Yellow bass grow very fast and few adults live past 4-5 years of age. Both sexes mature around 3 years of age. The state record is 1# 9 oz. but there are several fish every year caught off the IGL that are over a pound. Yellow Bass will spawn when water temps are between 60-65 degrees and will use rock, gravel, and sand bottoms. They are broadcast spawners and will hatch in 4-6 days. No care is given to eggs or fry.
Now to the fun part of the article-targeting this ferocious species.
There are multiple different techniques to use when fishing for yellow bass. Each has its time and place. We will cover a few of the more popular ways to add yellow bass to your livewell. I will add there are no limits when it comes to keeping yellows. You can catch and keep as many as you want. Yellows are such prolific spawners and will cause problems when overpopulated. I encourage everyone to keep them for the table instead of throwing them back. They are some of the best fish to eat in the system and if you have never tried them do yourself a favor and make a point to get out on the water and add them to your meal plan.
Yellows love both live bait and artificial presentations. During a typical year, my clients and I will start with slip-bobbers using minnows, leeches and red worms. Once we get a few bobbers out away from the boat we will start to vertical jig under the boat to see what the fish want. Yellow bass will school in very large groups of fish and once you find them and what they want it can be absolute chaos.
Equipment & Bait
I really like to use small jigging spoons when jigging. A couple of excellent choices are the Johnson snare spoon and the Shucks jigger. Both of these offer multiple colors to choose from and can be found at our local bait shops. I will tip the jigs with wax worms, spikes, or red worms.
Don’t forget artificial baits when jigging. At times they will out-produce live bait. My clients and I have found that Gulp! Minnow Heads and Powerbait Honey Worms to be the best.
I love to use ultralight set-ups when targeting yellows. Pound for pound they are some of the best fighting fish you will ever target. Add that with an ultralight set-up and you will have the time of your life.
I like to use Fenwick rods like the HMX or HMG models in ML action. There are several great spinning reels on the market including Abu Garcia, Pflueger, and Mitchell. Another fun technique to target yellow bass is to cast for them. Again, think ultra-light and ML action spinning rods. Berkley Ripple Shads and Berkley Flicker Shads are two great options for casting for yellows.
Once you find schools of yellows and they are on the feed, there are multiple ways to catch them. Try as many different presentations as you want and enjoy the experience. Each spring I will start on East Okoboji as it will warm up fastest. I like to move to West Okoboji later in the spring or early summer once those waters temperatures warm up. Think shallow early in the open water period, deeper during the hot summer months, and back shallow in the fall.
I hope you have enjoyed the article on the yellow bass. Try to find time to get out and enjoy this species. Get the younger generation out fishing and yellows offer the perfect opportunity to keep the kids busy.
Ryan Hale runs Hale’s Guide Service on the IGL.2019 will be his 16th year of operation. Please check out www.ryanhale.net for more information.