Rathbun Lake Fishing Info.

category : Fishing
Rathbun Lake Fishing Info. The information below is provided by the Corps. of Engineers - thanks for the great information.


Rathbun Lake is an 11,000-acre lake that provides a variety of fishing opportunities for any angler. This primarily includes crappie, channel catfish, walleye, and large mouth bass. The gently rolling hills of the Chariton River valley surround this southeast Iowa Lake, and provide a wide possibility of camping opportunities while visiting the area. All of the major parks offer boat ramp access to the lake with shower houses, many sites offer electricity.

The Rathbun Fish Hatchery is located below the main dam, and is a warm-water fish hatchery. That is, the fish would grow best between 50 and 90 degrees F. The hatchery is designed to raise channel catfish, walleye, saugeye (a hybrid walleye/sauger cross) and largemouth bass. Fish produced at the Rathbun Hatchery are stocked statewide.

Visitors are welcome at the hatchery. Tours of the visiting facilities are generally made on a self-guided basis. Employee-guided tours for large groups can be scheduled. Visiting hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Fishing for crappie is very popular on Rathbun Lake. The best time to fish for crappie is in the spring, when they become shore-bound due to spawning. Walleye fishing is at its peak from the first part of June until the end of July. Trolling artificial lures is one of the more productive methods to fish for walleye. White bass are caught on a variety of spoons, jigs and plugs. Look for large schools of these fish to break the surface when they feed. Channel catfish becomes most productive from the end of June until September and are caught through out the lake. Largemouth bass fishing is best from late April through the middle of June and again during late September and October.

Walleye Fishing

Rathbun Lake is an 11,000-acre impoundment located in Appanoose, Wayne, Lucas, and Monroe Counties in Southern Iowa. The walleye populations in Rathbun Lake originated from May 1970 when nine million walleye fry (<1") were introduced into the lake. Subsequent stockings of both fry and fingerling (6"-8") walleyes resulted in a walleye population that became an important source of recreational angling and broodfish for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' Rathbun Fish Hatchery. While the hatchery supplies Rathbun with a reliable source of walleyes to stock, ongoing research into Rathbun walleyes supplies answers to what it takes to maintain quality walleye angling. The Iowa DNR estimates that the walleye population in Rathbun Lake has tripled over the last ten years as a result.

When, Where, and How

Walleye fishing at Rathbun Lake is best late in May after the fish recover from spawning until the end of July. Very few fish are harvested either through the ice or during the spawning period in April. Fall can provide some hot action for Rathbun walleyes but tends to be hit or miss. The most productive period is almost always during the late spring and early summer period.

Rathbun Lake provides walleye anglers with a variety of structures to fish including flats, points, humps, and drop-offs. Some of the best areas include the South Fork island, Rolling Cove flats, Island View island, the face of the dam, and points in between. Look for fish on the South Fork island and Rolling Cove flat in late May and early June. By late June and July the areas around the dam and Island View become more productive.

Every angler has their favorite technique and all will work on Rathbun walleyes from time to time. Some of the more popular presentations on Rathbun include trolling or drifting jigs tipped with a minnow, trolling or drifting "lindy" rigs tipped with either a nightcrawler, minnow, or leech, and trolling deep diving crankbaits. One other effective method is to vertical jig spoons over different types to structure.

The Iowa DNR is committed to providing quality walleye angling at Rathbun Lake for the angling public. To date research has not warranted the need for any size restriction on walleye harvest at Rathbun. Recruiting new fish into the population through survival of stocked fish has the biggest impact on numbers of walleyes available to anglers. Ongoing research will continue to look for ways to improve survival of young walleyes and ultimately increase the numbers of walleyes available to anglers. It is however important that anglers return larger (4 and 5 pound) fish to insure a consistent source of broodfish for Rathbun Hatchery. The daily bag limit is five and the possession limit is ten. Good luck.

Iowa Department of Natural Resource
Rathbun Fish Hatchery
15053 Hatchery Place
Moravia, Iowa 52571
(641) 647-2406

Crappie 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, and 2 marinas 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 lake 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 chatreuse twister tail 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 cannot only be 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 Bridge View.

White Bass, Largemouth Bass, and Channel Catfish

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".

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 nightcrawlers, cut-bait (cut up fish), chicken liver, and stinkbaits. 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 rock 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 trough the middle of June and again during late September and October.

The most effective bass lures include artificial nightcrawlers, shallow and deep running crankbaits, buzz baits and spinner baits. Darker colored artificial nightcrawlers and crankbaits 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.

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

Address: 8 miles N.E. of Centerville Iowa
Phone: 641-647-2406

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