Tips for Fishing in Iowa with Your Family


fishing in iowaAdmit it – you’ve purchased that Barbie and/or Snoopy fishing pole for your kiddo and it’s still sitting in the garage and has never touched the water.

It’s time to dust off your fishing hooks and go fishing with the whole family!

Overcome whatever excuse is holding you back and use these tips and resources to cross off that summer bucket list item.

Tips for Fishing in Iowa


First, make sure you get a license, parents. Kids under 16 do not need a fishing license, however, parents WILL need a fishing license if you assist your child in any way (removing the fish from the hook, etc).

While we want our children to learn independently if this is your first time fishing they will need the help. Don’t worry, getting a license is easy. You can buy it online here. If you buy it online and don’t want to print it, you can even carry a screenshot of it on your phone and carry that fishing with you (since you need your license on you while fishing). An annual fishing license is only $22 and goes back to the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund to keep improving fisheries and wildlife habitats.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has many tips for going fishing as a family that I encourage you to review here. Among their top 10 tips they encourage you to keep it simple, go early in the day, and of course pack snacks!

fishing at Terra Park Iowa
Terra Park. Image courtesy of the Iowa DNR.

Grab your fishing pole and some simple bait, then plan where you will hook your first catch.

A good first bait is just a worm and a bobber, specifically a night crawler. These are the kinds you can dig up in your backyard but they are also available at outdoor stores (like True Value) and bait shops. While it’s gross, you don’t need to use the whole worm and can just rip off a small piece for those little fish mouths.

Take it easy and slow – fishing will be a lesson in patience for both the parents and kids. You can also practice catch and release if you don’t want to filet and cook your fish at home (just don’t wait too long before you throw the fish back).

If your child is a master angler, they could challenge themselves by learning how to fish for specific species.

Fish Local

You don’t need to go much further than your own Des Moines community to fish with the family. This list from the DNR pinpoints dozens of accessible and stocked lakes and ponds all across the Des Moines metro. Our personal favorite is the new fishing lake at Terra Park in Johnston (a park I fangirl over anyway).

first fish
Courtesy of the Iowa DNR

Fish in Iowa

We are a land between two rivers, the Mississippi and the Missouri, both of which are thriving with native species. This Where to Fish guide from the DNR shows you which spots you can fish in each Iowa river, lake, pond, reservoir, and trout stream.

My family goes on a fishing trip to northeast Iowa each year, and we often stay in Decorah, which has many family-friendly trout streams with easy access. Trout fishing requires an additional trout stamp purchase, which you can still purchase online. 

Finally, after you have caught that first fish, you can apply to get a First Fish certificate from the DNR here to capture the memory.

What are your favorite fishing spots?


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