Spring Branch is the most well-known (and possibly most-fished) trout stream in Iowa. Its convenient location just outside Manchester, great access, and adjacent hatchery make it a favorite for serious fishermen as well as more casual anglers. Families will enjoy feeding the giant hatchery trout with pellets available for purchase. There is a nice screened gazebo and picnic tables for a lunch. And, it may be the only trout stream in Iowa with flush toilets and running water!
Because of the easy access, many anglers deride Spring Branch, saying the trout therein are “PhD fish” that have seen it all. However, if one walks downstream beyond the accessible fishing area, the crowd thins out and the atmosphere becomes wild. Continuing past the ford and fence area, there are miles of fishable stream between here and Bailey’s Ford, which hold jaw-droppingly large trout. Seriously, just last month I missed hooking a giant rainbow, and my jaw dropped open like an idiot! They may be wise, but they are out there.
The area upstream of the parking lot is very beautiful and more pasture-like. I have followed it all the way up to the spring from which the stream emerges. It is a very pretty walk, but I’ve never caught a lot of fish upstream.
The stream is catch-and-release below a certain length limit, and artificials only. My best luck has come at the extremes- either dry fly fishing tiny mosquitos or Adams, or spin fishing with mini Rapalas colored like trout. With either setup, you will want very light line, as the water is clear and the fish are smart.
Just because Spring Branch is well-known doesn’t mean it is average. If you fish here, you always have a chance, even in winter. That makes Spring Branch my go-to stream. I enjoy the challenge. I hope you take the time to go beyond the parking lot and explore the stream! Watch out for cows!
|Spring Branch Creek|
|Park or Wildlife Area:||Manchester Trout Hatchery|
|DNR Stream Map:||http://www.iowadnr.gov/Portals/idnr/uploads/fish/maps/tsb28.pdf|
|Access:||Public, hard surface roads. Fishable year-round.|
|Pros:||Easy access, good picnic spots, there are always fish here. Solitude if you’re willing to walk a ways. Banks are grazed, so easier fly-casting than some streams. Kids (and adults) like seeing the giant brood trout in the nearby hatchery, which you can feed. This is one of the most consistent places to fish and catch trout in Iowa.|
|Cons:||Can be quite busy with visitors to the trout hatchery, picnickers, bikers, cruisers etc. Artificials only, catch and release only for most fish. Fish here see a lot of lures and are educated – “PhD fish.”|
|Additional Information:||Try fishing the tiny creek that runs behind the hatchery buildings. There may be a surprising number of trout in it.
Grumpy Bill’s in Manchester has great (and huge) hamburgers.
I was finishing up up fishing on Spring Branch (Manchester) today when I saw a DNR guy carrying a MONSTER (15 lb.+) trout “out back” of the buildings. I asked him “what happened to that guy?” and he told me it was a big breeding hen that had gotten sick and died in the hatchery. He tossed it out in a ditch there – can’t say the thought of asking to quickly pose with it didn’t cross my mind.
Today was great on the stream, I was the only one fishing. I caught three beautiful brook trout, two on a very small sinking firetiger Rapala. Years ago I read on these boards that the small Rapalas are the key to trout in this stream, and I can’t agree more. I also got many strikes, and landed one, on a little Beetle-Spin type lure with a soft-bodied trout on a jighead (picture below).
It sounds funny, because this stream is so popular, but I really feel it is underrated. There are fish here all year round – I have caught them standing in six inches of snow or sweating under 100 degree sunshine. If you walk quietly, use very light line, and have patience, you always have a chance at catching good fish at Spring Branch. Even if it’s one of those days and you can’t manage any of the above, at least you know you are casting over fish – something that is not always the case at every trout stream in Iowa, outside of stocking season. Some don’t like the artificials-only or 14″ minimum, but it is hard to argue with the numbers and size in this stream.
I also like that the stream changes year to year. Until last year, there was a big blow-down tree just past the cattle ford (at the point where most people turn back). This made a big deep hole with a very challenging flip-cast needed. Now, the tree has been removed, and it is just a deep run. Plenty of trout in there still, just a different approach.
Call me silly, but I also kind of like that the cows graze it down. I spend a lot of time brush-busting on streams (Ram Hollow, etc.) and it is refreshing to just stroll along a golf-course trim streambank.
If you have fished Spring Branch on a weekend and been repulsed by the crowds, I encourage you to try it on a weekday, and walk past all the usual spots until you get to the less-used areas. Apparently there are 3 or so miles of stream until it reaches Bailey’s Ford, I find that it hits a weed-choked spot after 1-2 miles, but this could change according to season.