Rathbun Lake Fishing

Rathbun Lake is an 11,000 acre on-stream impoundment built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The gently rolling hills of the Chariton River valley surround this southeast Iowa lake. There are over 900 campsites, 13 boat ramps, 3 swimming beaches, a marina and Honey Creek Resort available for the recreational enthusiast at various sites around the reservoir.

Fishing for crappie is very popular on Rathbun Lake. These fish are most vulnerable in the spring. Crappie become shore-bound by late April and fishing becomes hot and heavy by May. Spring fishing methods differ from summer because the crappie are spawning near shore among submerged brush and rocks. If conditions are right, one might try quietly easing up to the brush and presenting a minnow directly among the limbs. This method usually works when all else fails. Jigs may also be fished with white or chartreuse twister grubs.

Summer crappie fishing will mean new techniques. Crappie move offshore after spawning and suspend. However, they still must feed and are susceptible to hook and line. They are present in deeper bays and in the main lake near underwater structure, such as flat areas near drop-offs, along deep shorelines, and points. A good place to start is along the 15 to 20 foot contour. Crappie often suspend from the surface to the bottom with prime depths between 10 and 15 feet. A depth sounder can be an invaluable tool to help locate these fish.  Probably the best bait presentation is to drift minnows at these depths during early morning and evening hours. When a crappie is caught, you can bet it will have a few friends down there, so anchor (quietly) and fish until the action dies down, then begin to drift again. Sometimes drifting the same area several times will work to fill a stringer. When fishing the bays, keep your eyes along the shore and watch for fish feeding on schools of young shad that concentrate among the partially submerged willows to feed. Minnows fished with bobbers near the brush can produce crappie and bonus fish, such as white bass and channel catfish.

Ice fishing for crappies is not only very productive, but also a good way to prevent cabin fever. Early and late winter offer the best action. Look for crappies to hang out in about 15 feet of water near the old creek channel. Much like open water, crappies are generally found suspended, and it may be necessary to experiment at several depths until they are located. Small minnows are the most common wintertime bait.

Crappie can be caught throughout the lake; however, there are several areas that are better than most. The number of fish harvested will depend upon wind conditions, depth occupied by the crappie, and water clarity. Start searching where all of the above conditions will be at their best. A few examples of good crappie fishing areas include the face of the dam, points and bays of Honey and Buck Creek, and the timber areas of Crappie Cove and Bridgeview.

Walleye fishing is in its prime from the first part of June until the end of July. Trolling artificial lures is one of the more productive methods to fish walleye. Artificial favorites include bomber baits, crank baits (either deep or shallow runners). Colors that seem to turn the walleye on include crappie colors - silver background with black spots or stripes, crawdad colors, chartreuse and lures with orange or red on them. Trolling or drifting worm harnesses is another good fishing method on Rathbun Lake. One other trick is to drift jigs or spoons and bounce them on the bottom as the boat moves over different types of structure. The best areas to fish appear to center around the lower lake area. Fishing is good around Island View, the face of the dam, the "cut" (Buck Creek Connecting Channel) into the main lake and the points and drop-offs along the northern shoreline.

White bass are caught on a variety of spoons, jigs and plugs. Watch for schools of these aggressive fish to break the surface as they feed. Popular spots include Island View, Honey Creek, face of the dam, and the "cut" (Connecting Channel). Channel catfish angling becomes very productive from the end of June until September. These whiskered wonders can be caught just about anywhere on the lake. Bays are probably the best place to fish. Favorite baits include night crawlers, cut-bait (cut up fish), chicken liver, and stink baits. Channel catfish can be caught during the day but most of the action occurs after dark. A very good tactic to try later in the summer is to fish feeder streams after a good hard rain. As the streams rise, they collect and carry food organisms that draw the channel catfish near and into the mouth of these streams.

Largemouth bass can be found throughout the lake near several types of cover. Bass in the two major forks of the reservoir will be associated with the old stream channel and vast amounts of standing timber. Main lake bass are more oriented to rocky points, drop-offs, old river channels and coves. The location of largemouth bass in the main reservoir and the two forks will depend on the time of year, water quality, and level of the lake. Prime times

for bass fishing at Rathbun Lake are during late April through the middle of June and again during late September and October.

The most effective bass lures include artificial night crawlers, shallow and deep running crank baits, buzz baits and spinner baits. Darker colored artificial night crawlers and crank baits in the colors of silver, blue or black over silver and crawdad appear to be the way to go. Buzz baits fished with trailer hooks late in the summer and early fall during early morning or late evening hours can be effective. Spinner bait colors will vary with water

quality and time of day.

Rathbun Lake fishing reports are available to the angling public by contacting the Iowa DNR Website: 


Or calling the Rathbun Hatchery at 641-647-2406

GPS Locations of Fish Attractors

Cedar trees, South Fork N 40° 50.700 W 93° 01.184

Cedar trees, South Fork N 40° 50.990 W 93° 01.459

Berkley fish habitat, Honey Creek N 40° 51.723 W 92° 55.120

Berkley fish habitat, Prairie Ridge N 40° 51.557 W 92° 53.640

Pallet structures, Buck Creek N 40° 50.217 W 92° 52.405

Berkley fish habitat, Buck Creek N 40° 50.294 W 92° 52.217


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