Ice-out on southern Iowa reservoirs usually occurs between the middle and the end of March. Game fish seasons remain open there year round. Last year I road-tripped to southern Iowa the first two weekends of April. You may not think that one state to the south is far enough to make a difference but that’s simply not true. It’s a fice-and-a-half hour drive from central Minnesota, but it’s a world away from the icy grip of winter. Down there, the birds were singing, frogs were croaking, geese were fighting over nesting sites, and the bass were biting. Those things happen incrementally as spring approaches. Regrettably, when it happens that slowly I can almost overlook them or take them for granted. When I go from the haunting silence of winter to the beautiful sounds of spring in one day, I have a heightened sense of appreciation. For an ice-bound Minnesotan with cabin fever, it’s like a big sigh of relief.
Although the sounds of spring fill your ears, remember that the water is still quite cold. At that time of year in southern Iowa, the surface temp will be 45°F-52°F (unless it’s been unseasonably warm). With that being the case, leave the topwater box of lures at home in the garage. The key is SLOW. You can’t fish slowly enough! The lures that top the list for me in this situation are the suspending jerkbait, jig, crankbait, and tandem spinnerbait. Work the jerkbait and the jig very slowly, with long pauses, on any riprap or point. Start the morning by focusing on the areas that had the best exposure to the sun on the previous evening. They will hold some heat from the previous day and serve to concentrate the fish. As the day begins to warm, try the suspending jerkbait and crankbait in treetops along ditches or creek channels. The fish will suspend in the upper part of the water column as it warms. In the afternoon, try the tandem spinnerbait and the jig on some of the shallower cover. Focus your attention on the shallow cover that has a ditch or creek channel near by or leading directly to it.
If you live in one of the northern-most states and spring just can’t get here soon enough, take matters into your own hands and make it happen. Drive south. The grass will be showing some green. The birds will be loud. The pussy willows are bursting forth. A chorus of frogs may be filling the air. The sun will have a hint of warmth you haven’t felt since last October. There will be open water. Remember that? This year in early April, when cabin fever starts to drive you insane, try a road trip to southern Iowa or Nebraska. It could be just what you need!